“Jake, honey, that’s not your ball. That belongs to the little boy. Give it back to him.”
“Jacob, the little baby can play with that, too. We have to share, right buddy?”
“Jake, please be gentle. This is a friend, ok? We have to be nice to our friends.”
Sometimes I think I sound like a broken record. But I am Jake’s mother, and it is my responsibility to teach him every step of the way. He is only one year old and knows nothing about the world around him, except what he sees and hears on a daily basis. He is a sponge, constantly picking up cues, so naturally, I take it very seriously that I (or my husband, or whoever happens to be watching him) give him the tools he is going to need to succeed in life. It means teaching him how to interact with people, teaching him to be a respectful person, and also teaching him to take care of himself. I want my little boy to grow up to be an incredible man, and I know that that starts here and now. We don’t become the adults that we are overnight. We grow into them through years and decades of interactions with others.
Taking this into consideration, nothing infuriates me more than when I am out with my son and little kids around him are being jerks. Yes, I said it. Little kids can be jerks. I firmly believe that they all have the capacity to be wonderful, beautiful people. But when no one is around to monitor their behavior, they can be obnoxious. There’s nothing I hate more than having a fun day the playground interrupted by a mean or aggressive kid approaching my son. Or being in music class, only to have a little brute grab Jake’s shaker out of his hand.
Don’t get me wrong. Jake does the same thing to other kids. But I am there to correct him when he goes astray. Kids make mistakes—it’s how they learn. I know that as well as anyone. But how can these kids learn if their nanny is across the playground chatting with friends, or mom is too focused on her smartphone to look up and see her kid push my baby on the Jungle Jim? More importantly, if the actions of these kids aren’t being checked, one by one, they are being reinforced. So a naughty moment snowballs into flat out bad manners and, you guessed it, into a jerky adult.
My biggest concern in these moments is the position that I find myself in. I want to stand up for my kid, but it’s not my place to discipline the random child interacting with my son. I know that if some strange adult tried to discipline Jake, I would be furious. So, I don’t want to step on toes. But what am I supposed to do?
I was at the Children’s Museum recently when a rowdy boy pushed another, smaller child down a couple of steps. (They were three, shag-carpeted, shallow steps—the victim in question wasn’t hurt.) But it was clearly very crummy behavior on the part of the ruffian. A mother nearby witnessed it, and firmly said to the boy, “Don’t do that. Where is your mommy?!” She stood there and made sure that a woman who worked for the museum learned what had happened. The boy’s mother or nanny never did appear, at least while I watched the whole thing transpire. I give this mother props. She made sure that someone was going to hold him accountable for his behavior.
Please note that I am intentionally steering clear of the term “bullying.” First, “bully” is a buzzword, and countless others are writing on the topic these days. Second, this isn’t about bullying. It’s about kids being kids, and no one being there to guide them in the right direction. It’s about being a mom to my awesome little boy, and not knowing what to do when another little kid does wrong by him. It’s about choosing whether to stand up for my son, or to have him learn to stand up for himself (despite the fact that he doesn’t yet have the words or the tools to do so). It’s about deciding whether or how to discipline someone else’s child during a teachable moment.
Because they’re all teachable moments, aren’t they?
How do you handle these situations as a parent? Let me know in the comments below: