|artist Greg Capullo|
It’s difficult to know when to intervene, and when to let our kids deal with conflict on their own.
We were at the park with a ton of friends today. My five year old son was thrilled and couldn’t wait to get there!
We were running late as usual and, by the time we arrived, there was literally a pack of at least ten boys playing a game with sticks, hideouts, and running here and there. It was exciting, overwhelming, and very intimidating to my soft spoken guy who takes a while to warm up in a small group, let alone a wild pack of boys who were too engrossed in their game to want to play baseball (which is what he wanted to do).
He was brave and followed them around, working up the courage to join in, hoping someone would pull him into the fun, but too shy to ask. I encouraged him to keep trying. “Go run with the boys! Ask what they’re doing?!” I’d say.
They noticed him sure enough.
They noticed he did not speak, but just hung around. Someone yelled, “he’s the bad guy! Attack!!” Suddenly a swarm of boys was coming at him with sticks screaming “get him!” I know these kids are good boys with great parents, but I’m sure it was terrifying for my son and it’s hard to stop a riled up pack of boys in mid play!
I could feel the fear and see the crushing hurt in my own boy’s eyes.
One kid hit him in the shoulder, my son clenched his fist and pulled back his arm to hit back, but I yelled for him to stop! We went aside and talked about using his words and speaking up. We’ve had a lot of talks about speaking up lately, due to kids bullying him at school while he just keeps silent; exactly how I was as a child. (Sometimes you don’t want your kid to be just like you!!) Along with feeling his hurt, years of my own childhood trauma came flooding back. I had been in the same situation many times, though I never tried to hit back, I would become paralyzed and could not speak up, either.
I contained myself and tried to keep my tone light.
I know these boys just got carried away. I told my son he needs to let them know right away if he doesn’t like how they’re playing and tell them firmly to STOP if they’re being mean or trying to hurt him. He nodded & agreed.
I was proud of him that he didn’t hold it against them, but continued trying to join in. Staying close to them, though still quietly. Mostly watching the game.
The pack of boys mostly ran from him, still convinced he was “the bad guy”. Some of the other moms tried to encourage their kids to include him, but they were so involved in their game, it wasn’t very effective.
After a while, they got all riled up again and came at him.
The same kid hit him, this time with my son’s his own plastic baseball bat! I’m proud to say he blocked it with his karate upper block! Then stood in “ready stance”, prepared to defend himself. Though, one of the kids noticed the move and yelled, “He wants to fight!!”
I yelled at the kid with the bat, “You DO NOT hit ANYONE with a bat!” and took it away. I talked to my son again, as he had grabbed the bat and was preparing to hit back. I reminded him he should use his voice! Same nod & agreeing to do so next time.
We moved away from the other boys. He brought out a ball, but someone got a hold of it and decided it would be fun to play keep away from him.
I watched a bit, then asked him if it was bothering him, but this time he seemed happy with the attention, so let I him be, only reminding him to speak up if he wanted them to stop. I kept a close eye out. I was so torn between wanting him to learn to deal with conflict on his own and stepping in. I didn’t want to seem like an overprotective parent.
They don’t get enough wrestling around and getting dirty these days to get it out of their systems! Eventually it seemed he was being included and no longer a single target. Still, we didn’t stay much longer.
As we buckled up in the car, I was holding back tears, but did not want to bring my own post traumatic stress into it, so, I simply asked him how he felt about today. He said with a big smile, “Fine! One kid gave me animal crackers!” “Did you have fun?” “Yep!”
I did go over the drill, pointedly, as we drove home; “when they’re doing something you don’t like, you need to tell them because they don’t know that you don’t like it and they think you’re playing. Say- Please stop. I don’t like that. If they don’t stop, Say- STOP! strongly and walk away if you need to. If they still don’t stop, go tell a parent or teacher.”
It’s the hardest thing to watch your kids get hurt.
More so when it’s emotional hurt, I think. And I am just at the beginning of this parenting thing! This was one of the (many) reasons I decided to homeschool. So he wouldn’t have to deal with bullies at school. We won’t let it get us down, though.
We will be back at the park. We’ll see these same kids again. I know they are good kids and, obviously, this can happen with the best of them! I know my son warms up slowly and it takes him a while to feel comfortable. I know this about him, so I can try hard to be on time for him, even early, to anything with large groups. If he can connect with just one kid before others get there, it makes a world of difference.
Sometimes he can be so outgoing, I forget he’s a shy guy at heart. I’m definitely keeping him in karate! His awesome teachers there have been helping him speak up & know what to do in this type of situation. I highly recommend Rod Sanford Martial Arts in Soquel! They are amazing!!
If you’re still in dire worry, my son is perfectly fine. He said he had a great day. We made Easter crafts and then saw some old friends that he always gets along great with. We roasted hot dogs and then marshmallows in our outdoor potbelly stove. It was his choice for dinner tonight! I am still scarred, but will try not to rub my fears off on him.
I later spoke to him about what would he do if he had been there earlier? If he had been part of the group of boys playing and someone else had been the last one there who was deemed “the bad guy”. He wasn’t sure, so I suggested he might try to include him and make him feel welcome. He might ask the other boys to stop attacking him.
He then told me he was glad he had been the last to get there, so it hadn’t happened to anyone else. He really is a gentle caring soul! I hope he can always stay that way!
*If you’re confused about his going to school and homeschooling, we’re part of a homeschooling alternative school.