This entire election season made me acutely aware of unjust and bullying behaviors by others. Though I have always been willing to stand up for myself and others around me, I find that today I am more inclined to meet aggressors head on. So when someone is picking on my kiddo all rules go out the window.
J is never super excited about going to school but today he really did not want to go. When I asked him why he was not in the mood for school he answered, “Because P is mean to me.” I could feel the heat begin to rise through my body. When I probed him further, J said P had punched him while at school. My mind immediately began to race, “Was my son being bullied at school?” “Where were his teachers when this was going on?” “Why am I only hearing about this now?”
Now, sometimes toddlers make up stories. Sometimes their explanation about situations are based on the questions we ask and what they think we want to hear. They have great imaginations and can be wonderful story tellers. But today, I believed him.
He said P had hit him in the back. Of course I quickly checked his body for any bruises but there were none. I asked him when and why his “friend” had hit him and then J’s story changed. He said, “P does not hit me. He is a good boy, Mama.”
At this point I was frustrated because I was not sure what to think. I was angry that there might be even the slightest possibility that someone put their hands on my kid. I was even more upset that I could not be there to protect him. So I said the first thing that came to mind.
“If P or anyone else ever hits, kicks, spits, pushes or puts their hands on you and I’m not around, you punch them hard in the face. You hit them hard, like the way you do when you are playing with Daddy. Do you understand? You will not be in trouble with Mama if you do this. Do you understand? No one is allowed to hurt you. Protect yourself, always!”
I could see his little head trying to process what I had finished telling him. He was looking away attempting to try and make sense of it all. As he nodded his head to let me know he understood J then said, “Hit them hard like I hit Daddy when we play wrestling” as he pretended to punch the air with his fist.
Surely, this was not my finest moments as a parent. I had just encouraged my kid to hit others. Luckily for me, J is rule driven. Almost too much sometimes but I had told him that he was only allowed to hit others if they hit him first. So I do not anticipate that he will be the initiator of any physical fights in pre-school or the playground. Still, I gave him the “OK” to become physical with others.
Was I in the wrong? Maybe. Do I think other parents should permit their kids to hit others? No of course not. But J is my kid. If I am not there to protect him, he needs to defend himself. Period. End of story. No one else will look after you the way you will look out for yourself.
I know kids will be kids. I have worked with children of all ages in schools and as a babysitter for years. They are going to play rough together. Be mean and tease one another. But sometimes even with the best intentions of parent, caregivers, and teachers there will be bullies who take advantage of other’s size, character, etc. It is in those circumstances that I want my children to know it is alright to protect and stand up for themselves or others.
Some might say that my initial response to J’s story and the fact that I gave him permission to throw the second punch is directly related to the way i was raised. Let me clarify, my parents did not raise me to be a bully. My mom never told me it was alright to put my hands on anyone. My dad on the other hand did encourage me to be brave and look out for myself. This was probably because he secretly hoped his first born would be a son that would protect his younger siblings. But that is another story. He always told me that I had the right to make sure I was safe and not let others hurt me. He taught me how to throw a punch and only use this skill if and when I needed it as a last resort.
I only had to use my hands as protection once as a kid. The situation actually called for me to protect my younger sister, not myself. I was eight at the time. My sister was about four or five years old when she was pushed off play structure at a fast-food restaurant. She fell, hurt her knee and started crying. I remember looking around for my dad who was no where in sight. So I ran up to the other kid and sized him up before I reacted. A second later he was on the floor in a fetal position holding his stomach. I had punched him in the gut. Hard. He was crying when his mom ran up to the both of us and started scolding me.
Her son had to be about my age as well so he knew better than to push someone smaller and younger than himself. As I tried to explain what he had done and why he ended up on the floor, my dad approached the scene. He had witnessed the entire situation unfolding as he was gathering our food from the pickup counter. Apparently the mother had watched her son push my sister as well but did not tell him to stop as she sat at a nearby table. A point my dad made very clear to the lady who was clearly embarrassed. He then praised me in front of everyone for defending my sister.
In hindsight maybe I should have run to find my dad and tell him that my sister had been pushed instead of hitting the boy. I was the biggest tattletale growing up. I was always the first to run to an adult and tattle on other kids who were not doing as they were supposed to. My son is the same way. I actually like this about him. Kids need to know that people are going to call them out for not following rules and acting accordingly. But I had followed my dad’s rules. I reacted to witnessing my sister be pushed and my dad was not around to defend her.
I thought about this when I drove home after dropping J at school this morning. Would I have praised J for defending his sister? Yes. Only after letting the mother know that she should have been the first to step in when he son became physical with another child.
Again, I do not condone violence. I do however encourage standing up for yourself and protecting others who cannot defend themselves in the moment. I am that parent on the playground watching my kids like a hawk. I am always looking to ensure that they and their peers play nicely with one another. I do not have a problem calling my kiddos out or someone else’s if I see them being mean. Yes, I am that mom. But I am always watching. My concern is when I am not around to look after my kids.
I will likely give the same “It’s alright to throw the second punch” speech at one time or another to my daughters when the time calls for it. This is not about raising bullies. This is about teaching my children to look out for themselves and know that I will support them when the circumstances call for such actions. This is why I gave J the green light today to stand up for himself when no one else is there to defend him.
I know most parents will probably not agree with me. I am alright with that but I encourage all parents to empower their children to stand up for themselves and support them when they do the right thing. Kids need to know that their parents have their back. I know my kids will always feel supported.