Our First Bully

Lily shadow

Today was one of those days when I got a glimpse into some of the parenting obstacles that wait for me in the not-so-far-off future.

It started out innocently enough: freakishly hot Spring day, $.49 Dunkin Iced Coffee coupon, morning playdate with a super cool friend and her sweet daughter.

We chatted away as the girls ran off to play, jumping from swings to slide to see saw –  and then back again.  There were a ton of other kids at the park today and most of them were polite, friendly little souls.

As we moved from pushing the girls on swings to sitting on a bench while they drove big plastic bulldozers through the wood chips, I caught my first glimpse of THE BULLY.  There was one boy on the playground today who seemed to tower over the rest of the toddlers and infants.  Probably closer to five or six years old, we watched this boy terrorize several other kids who were easily half his age.  At one point, he literally picked up a ride-on infant toy, dumping the maybe 2 year old little girl off, throwing her right into the wood chips.  She sat crying and absolutely no one came by to reprimand his inappropriate behavior.  I sat there thinking to myself, “Oh please do not go near my kid.”

Right in the middle of the playground was a small playhouse.  Our girls were enjoying some sort of domestic role-playing imaginative play inside the playhouse when THE BULLY and a couple other kids plowed into the house.  All was quiet for about 3 minutes.  After that, I watched as Lily came bursting out of the playhouse.  Mouth in an unmistakable pout, eyebrows furrowed and arms crossed, she stalked across the playground and sat down under a tree.  I gave her a few minutes to cool off before calling her over to me.

Still brooding about whatever had transpired in the playhouse, she reluctantly walked over to the bench.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“There was a boy in the house.  And he was RUDE to me!  He said the car {ride-on toy that he had thrown the small girl off of} was his SEAT!  And I couldn’t SIT!  HMPHHHH!”

“Well, that does sound rude.  Did you say anything to him?”

“No,” she replied.  “I just left the playhouse.”

So, I commended her for walking away and reminded her that she doesn’t need to play with anyone who isn’t being nice.  She jumped back into the playground activities and we made it through the rest of the play time unscathed.  I was pretty sure she had forgotten about the entire incident altogether.

Then as she climbed into our car to go home, she asked, “Why was that boy so rude?”

I tried to give her the most honest theory I could come up with (also one that would make sense to a 3 year old), “Unfortunately, Lily, some people are just Rude Dudes.  I don’t know why.  You did the right thing to walk away.  I wouldn’t want to play with a Rude Dude either.”

She thought about what I said for a minute or so before looking up at me.  “Mom, I just wish that people weren’t rude.”

“So do I, Lily, so do I.”

We spent the rest of the ride home talking about the happier parts of the morning, though at one point she did feel the need to inform me that the rude boy really needed to “change his attitude.”  I had to laugh at the idea of a 3 year old dishing out advice on who was in need of an attitude adjustment.

Today’s incident was just a glimpse at an entire lifetime of Rude Dude encounters.  As much as I absolutely HATE the thought of some kid hurting my kid’s feelings or giving her a hard time, I thought about how important it is for us as parents to keep reinforcing a positive self-image and a strong sense of confidence as Lily grows.  The more confident that she is in herself, the less room for there will hopefully be for self-doubting when bullies are slinging their hateful words.

I spent countless years in college and then in my own classroom learning and practicing the art of teaching tolerance to kids of all ages.  I felt some of those lessons come flooding back to me today, but at the same time I felt at a loss for the right words to say.  Since the day Lily was born (and every single day since), I have marveled at the impressionability of children.  They are little sponges and every experience plays a role in who they will ultimately turn out to be.  Powerful stuff.

How about you?  How do you teach your kids to handle bullies?  Do you encourage them to fight back (verbally or physically)?  Or do you tell them to walk away?  Or both?