Here’s a request for some honest feedback from the few souls who actually read my blog on a semi-regular basis. The events as I related them occurred about a week ago (although I wrote most of this post the day after) and while I am trying to tell the story as objectively as possible, we all saw that ST:TNG where everyone’s testimony in a murder trial was shown on the holodeck and nobody remembered anything the same way.
Mrs. CrazyEngineer and I put both kids in our double jogging stroller and walked to the nearby park around 7PM. The park was moderately busy, but by no means crowded. There is a play structure at the park (slides, platforms, stairs, etc) that Isabel has played on before and rather enjoys. We stopped at the play structure, let Isabel out to play, and Mrs. Crazyengineer and I sat on a bench to talk while I kept an eye on Isabel.
There was one other child on the structure at this time, a boy who may have been an inch or two shorter than Isabel but who I considered to be older both do to his agility and verbal skills. He was being a little wild on the structure, but Isabel didn’t seem to mind. They were even bouncing together on one of the bridges and Isabel would laugh everytime they both fell down. The child’s apparent mother was by herself sitting on a bench about 1/4 the way around the structure from where we sat.
Also on this play structure are several painted vertical bars that the kids can spin. I did not see who started playing with it first, but I did see the boy shoulder Isabel from her position centered in front of the bars to completely out of range of the bars and block her attempt to play with them (she actually had one foot on the stairs that went down right next to the bars). Isabel began to cry.
At this point, while I was quite annoyed at the boy, I didn’t say anything about him. There will always be bullies in this world and several articles I read say that it’s best to let playground squabbles work themselves out between the kids so children learn conflict resolution early instead of having helicopter parents intervene.
The mother of the boy had run up at the same time and scolded her son for his actions, however I did not pay much attention to them as I was asking Isabel if she had an ouchie since it was possible that her hand had been caught on the bars. She seemed physically ok, so I soothed, told her she was ok, and then offered to help her swing on the monkey bars, to which she readily agreed. Incident over, no big deal, no hard feelings, everyone carry on.
Of course, as soon as I started helping Isabel swing across the monkey bars, the boy was right behind her on the platform yelling for my attention then yelling at his mother to come help him. He was really crowding us but his mother did not get up instead just yelled at the kid to stop it from her seat on the bench. I think the kid backed off at this point (again, I was focused on not dropping Izzy as I helped her across the monkey bars).
We sat for a bit, walked a bit, some more kids came onto the structure, and the boy was still being rather wild and his mother was stilling yelling to him to behave from her bench, never getting up and reading a magazine so she didn’t even always notice his antics. I remember that at this point I had already pegged the woman as the “non-attentive, I’m more important” type of parent. I wish to stress that I certainly was not watching her or her son the entire time and very well could have missed her properly correcting her child. Since we won’t have her side written here, I at least would like to point out the high possibility of gaps in my narrative.
So, we were getting ready to go, and I asked Isabel if she would like to go down the slide one last time. She nodded and ran to the stairs that lead up into the structure where the slide is. However, the boy was back, standing halfway up the stairs, hands outstreched grabbing opposite railings, and not allowing Isabel to pass. He then pointed at us and I most definitely heard him say “Go see your mother”.
Isabel backed off and walked dejectedly to us.
At this point, I felt I was in a “no-win” parenting situation. My options, as I saw them were:
1) Ignore what just happened and put Isabel in the stroller and leave.
To me, this was probably the worst thing to do. Backing down and walking away would have been what I did was a child confronted with a similar situation, and it is a character flaw I have been trying to overcome ever sense. Teaching Isabel to avoid conflict by backing down or changing her behavior to make peace is something I do not want her going through life emulating. It’s made me miserable on several occasions in the past and only now have I been able to stand my ground in more situations (possibly to my detriment of course, see below).
2) Try to say something profound about the situation and put Isabel in the stroller and leave.
Great idea, except I didn’t have anything profound at hand. And she’s two and a half; ancient Chinese proverbs or cowboy wisdom probably would have done little to offset the effects of backing down.
3) Try to convince Isabel to go back and try to get past the boy and go down the slide (he was still in his position on the stairs).
At this point, I don’t think I could have been prouder if Isabel had shoved the kid out of the way to go on the slide. She was smaller and in the right, bullies should reap what they sow. And while we all say violence is not the answer, that’s not how the rest of the planet sees it. With the banning of dodgeball and tag (tag FFS!), we’re raising kids who are going to be unable to handle physical conflict and competition when that’s all that parts of the world know.
But at the same time, I didn’t want to try to actively encourage her to push the kid. That would probably just make her upset trying to figure out what she should do since she was getting mixed messages. I would much rather have her solve conflicts with her mind than her fists. And it might have escalated the situation. Since the boy seemed stronger and more aggressive, that could be very bad for Isabel.
4) Walk over with Isabel to the boy’s mother and tell her that her child was bullying my child and could she please move him out of the way.
Yes, this was probably the wisest choice of action. But to expand on the previous point, kids need to learn how to handle conflicts on their own, not always run for help from adults (there are obvious exceptions of course). Today it’s just a toddler bully on the playground, soon it will be a 2nd grade girl in the girls washroom bullying 1st graders. Better to instill an assertive streak in her now that will not only make bullies choose easier prey but will allow Isabel to ask and strive for what she wants instead of meekly taking whatever she gets.
And quite frankly, I was rather annoyed at the mother who in my opinion was doing a very crappy job monitoring her child. I would be horrified if Isabel was shoving other kids around on the play structure and would correct her at close range, if not leave outright, immediately. That she was just sitting on a bench with a poor view and occasionally yelling at her child (who ignored her) probably explained the child’s behavior.
5) Walk over with Isabel to the boy, and if the behavior continued, call to the mother to draw her attention to the unacceptable behavior of her child.
This is somewhat like 4, except with the added benefit of embarrassing the mom and putting her on the defensive in front of several other parents at the playground. I had hoped that walking over with Isabel and appearing slightly menacing to the boy would make him back down. Apparently I can’t even scare pre-schoolers.
6) Walk over with Isabel to the boy, and if the behavior continued with no notice by his mother, move him myself.
Yes, this is what I ended up doing. Obviously, at this point 1 million years of evolution had gone out the window and this had become a primal threat to my genetic legacy which required all the testosterone I could muster for defense of my offspring. After glowering at the boy (with no perceived intervention or calls from his mother), I growled “move kid or I’ll move you”. Hardly a polite warning, but a warning nevertheless.
So I grabbed his right arm, pulled it away from the railing, creating room for me to lead Isabel by the hand past him. I’m fairly certain the boy cried or screamed at this point (not from physical harm as far as I could discern, more of a “why am I not getting my way” cry). I stopped paying attention to the boy and his mother at this point, partly because I think Fight or Flight tunnel vision had kicked in and partly because I wanted to make sure I got Isabel past the boy and to the slide without further incident.
Isabel went down the slide, happy as a clam. We walked back to the stroller and got the whole family strapped in. Wasn’t sure where the boy was, and didn’t care at this point. I considered it over, the boy was probably back playing on the play structure and we were leaving.
However, we had to walk by the mother on the way out, at which point she said somewhat testily “In the future if there is a problem with my kid I would appreciate it if you let me handle it.”
Ah, how I wish I had 30 seconds to compose a perfect response that would have been such a verbal volley has to silence the mother. Something like, “In the future, I would appreciate it if you actually did handle it instead of just sitting over here and forcing me to do it.” However, I was on the spot and merely replied, “Well, if you were paying attention I wouldn’t have had to.”
To which she of course got defensive and replied “I was paying attention.”
With the obvious retort from me: “No you were not. You were sitting over here doing nothing while your boy bullied my child.” Or something slightly less coherent from me. The mother was saying some other things being defensive I think, but I just kept pushing the stroller and left, not wanting an argument over really what was a fairly minor squabble.
So, was I totally out of line? Was she? Mutual parenting failure? Was there another course of action I could have taken? I feel like everything I did was measured and sensible, but intellectually I know I could very well have missed something that should have changed my responses. What could I do to prepare for handling another such incident?