Okay, so this is a long piece for me, but bear with me as I’d welcome any comments. Sometimes growing up is difficult: stuff happens and as a parent you’re supposed to have a solution – a piece of advice for the child to follow so that the situation doesn’t rear its ugly head again.
Take my youngest. I know I’m biased but he’s a lovely chap; happy, sporty, smiley and a lot of fun. He can be a huge pain in the arse, granted, but generally he’s pretty easy going. He lost his sparkle for a while when he had a difficult time at his last school, but he’s fitted in just fine at the local school and comes back full of tales of what he’s been up to, with a big smile on his face.
I do think, though, that what he went through at that school knocked his confidence. He plays well with a bunch of kids, but although he’s friendly and likes them all, seems to keep a little bit of distance. I’ve taken the opportunity, while the big fella’s away to encourage him to ask a couple of different kids round to play. We’ve had one so far, which went well, and he’s slowly getting used to the idea again.
Recently, though, a child that he plays with quite a bit said something mean to him. This is normal kid-to-kid stuff and nothing unusual – a little playground snipe. A play, quite cleverly, on the fact that #2 doesn’t hang around with many people. ‘You’ve got no friends’, said Child A. ‘Yes I have’, said #2, ‘go on, then, name them…’ said Child A.
Now at home, none of us are backward in coming forward – we are all quite quick with the wisecracks and #2 is no different – he’s very well equipped to deliver a stinging rejoinder to anything anyone can throw at him – in fact, on several occasions it’s how he gets himself in trouble: these little sarky replies going a little bit near the knuckle when directed at one’s parents. So what did #2 do? Did he redirect with a stinging comeback (of which he’s quite capable)? No. He dissolved into tears, tried valiantly (but failed miserably) to hide it and carried on. I went to talk to him and found out what had been said, and this is where I’m doubting myself.
In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m furious with myself. I talked to Jen about it afterwards who quite rightly said ‘what, and you didn’t say anything to Child A?’ Er.. no. I’m terrible with any sort of confrontation. If there’s any telling off to be done, I tend to direct it to the group as a whole and will ignore things with other children that I would no way tolerate in my own kids. I took #2 to one side, told him that he should brush himself down, ignore it and get on with stuff – that he knew better than to take any notice of silly ‘sticks and stones’ rubbish like that.
But have I made it worse? By not taking Child A to one side and saying ‘now hang on, that was mean and I won’t tolerate you being mean in my house’ have I shown Child A that spite has no consequences? That next time #2 gets on Child A’s nerves will they deal with it by another spiteful comment? By not encouraging #2 to fight back (verbally), do I make him less well equipped to deal with the slings and arrows of the playground?
Hubby is of the opinion that if someone is mean to you then you’re quite entitled to be mean back: ‘f*ck that’, he told #2, if Child A’s mean to you again you bloody well give it back double. You know you can’. However, I’ve always followed the tack that two wrongs don’t make a right, but now I’m starting to wonder if Hubby’s right and that the best course of action would have been for #2 to turn round to Child A and deliver one of his rather witty and stinging put-downs. Child A would be instantly silenced, and everyone would carry on.
We talked about it a bit last night ‘but you’ve always told me not to be mean’, argued #2, ‘in fact, the one time I did say something back to Child A when I was at their house, #1 told you and you went mental’. This is true. It was a lot to do with the fact that I feel strongly that my children should be polite in someone else’s home – I was furious to think that #2 could have been overheard saying something rude when he was a guest there.
Ugh. I’m so confused. As parents, should we get involved? Should we take a step back? And if we take a step back should we allow our children to sort out their own battles in the way they best know how, even if, to a certain degree, they’re doing stuff that we wouldn’t normally encourage?
Maybe I should borrow Rosie’s book?