April 9, 2012

Bully or Bullied?

Photos courtesy of Aunt Texas
Last weekend, Aunt Texas and I took the girls to the playground.

SI atop the tallest slide
They love the playground.  We don't get to go as often as any of us would like.  They're still young enough that I feel they require fairly constant and close supervision- they try to do all sorts of things that the bigger kids do, and frankly... there's a lot of room for injury.  I let them play as much as I feel I can, but when one child is climbing twelve feet up a rope ladder to go down a slide and the other is running pell mell to the other side of the park... Let's just say it's a two adult job, going to the playground, and usually there's just me.  Pregnant, tired, not-terribly-able-to-help-with-the-monkey-bars me.

So when Aunt Texas (I gave you a blog name!) asked to come by and play with the girls and her new camera, I said YES PLEASE!

So we went to the playground.  Aunt Texas took all sorts of wonderful photographs of my children, who behaved mostly like angels.

DD on the big girl swing
In comparison, at least.

There are always bullies at the playground.  In any age group, in any number of children.  I don't exactly know why that is, but you can bet that one kid is going to throw their weight around and generally be a jerk to the other kids.  And, I'm sorry to say, the last time we had gone to a playground, that bully was DD.

Normally, the only other kid around for her to play with is SI, and she and SI have their own dynamic.  It's not so much that DD bullies her as that DD resorts to physical shows of strength more often.  We find ourselves needing to put DD in time out for hitting her sister, while SI would rather manipulate her parents through lies and deception to get what she wants.  Or, just a simple round of high pitched caterwauling.

SI on the big girl swing
Last time we went to the playground, there was only really one other child that the girls interacted with besides each other- a little boy who was probably a year younger.  DD was so excited about the slide that she pulled and shoved both SI and this little boy out of her way repeatedly, and I found myself pulling her back, reminding her to let the others take their turns, and generally trying to gently remind her that she needed to follow the same rules as in our house.

It sucked.  But that wasn't a problem at the playground last weekend.

There were four or five other kids at the playground that afternoon.  One of them, a little boy probably just a bit older than my kids, decided that DD was a problem, his personal problem.  He followed her, yanking away any toy she might pick up.  Pushing past her to get on the slide.  Pushing her away- at least once I was afraid he would actually push her off of the ten foot high play structure.  His mom was busy hanging out with another mom- she couldn't care less.

And DD?  She was obviously confused.  Not quite hurt, but very confused.

DD at the bottom of the little slide
She has never lived in a world where she wasn't beloved by everyone around her.  In fact, when she's in a singing kind of a mood, she dances around to a song of her own invention that goes, "Everybody loves me!"

And that little boy wasn't alone in targeting DD.

The oldest child on the playground was a girl, easily two years older than DD, if not more so.  And she took it upon herself to actually taunt my child.  She would block her path to the slide, mocking her verbally while contorting her body back and forth to keep DD away from sliding back down to the ground.  Every once in a while DD would look at me in confusion and fear, a, "What do I do now?" kind of look.

When she did this, I would loudly and firmly tell her, "Go ahead to the slide, it's your turn," in a tone of authority.  The other child inevitably let her through, temporarily reminded that there was an adult who was watching and had some sort of authority to do something.  But I have no authority over other children.

SI- my little monkey
And I didn't want to step in and solve DD's problems for her.

Don't get me wrong, I did want to.  I did want to storm over to that kids' dad, tell him his daughter was being a gigantic asshole and that he needed to teach her some damn manners and common courtesy.  But I didn't.

Because it is so much more important that DD learn a few things about life.

Like that it sucks when people are mean to you.

Like that people WILL be mean to you, for absolutely no reason, just because they can.

Riding a pony
And that you have to learn to coexist with the bullies.

What feels like an improbably long time ago, I wrote that I would rather have my kid be bullied that be a bully.

I was right.  Watching DD get teased and occasionally pushed, my heart broke for her.  I didn't want my child to experience a moment of pain, a moment of fear.  But that is life.  And I firmly believe that it is so much better that she learn to live with the hardships of being occasionally victimized by her peers than that she learn to be a bully.  Than that she learn that she is entitled to simply take what she wants, to simply behave in whatever manner entertains her.

Like all mothers, most likely, I believe my children are angels.  But I was once a child.  I know it's a lie.  I know that other children are mostly monsters.

I would rather that my children learn to cope with the monsters in their classes, at the park, and even in their family than that I would ever find out that my children are tormenting some other mother's angels.

I understand helicopter parents.  There is a pain in watching something bad happen to your kid, however minor it might be, and feeling that you are helpless to stop it.

SI and DD playing at the playground
And when it comes to mean kids?  You're not helpless.  You're an adult.  You have the perceived authority of adulthood in the eyes of most children.  But I think it is better not to act.

Children need to learn.  They need to learn that life isn't a happy song where everybody loves you.  Not most of the time.  Life is... life.  And I do my kids no favors by protecting them from it.  I hate that part of me has become the "it builds character" stereotype of parenthood.  But this is what growing up is about.

Growing up is painful.  Childhood is painful.

But childhood is also wonderful, in that children live in this magical temporal state where it doesn't really matter what happened ten minutes ago, right now is fantastic.  And it doesn't matter how wonderful things were ten minutes ago if right now is awful.

DD loves the swings
Children exist right now.  It's only with the experience of having lived for a few more decades that we can realize that right now has any kind of implications beyond the moment.  And it's our responsibility not to take all of the lessons out of life.  All the pain out of childhood.

I hate that DD was bullied at the playground.  I hate that someday, something much worse is going to happen to her.  I hate myself for knowing in advance that, in many cases, I will do nothing to stop it.

What I will do is hug her, and tell her that it's all going to be okay, and that any time at all that she needs me I am here.  That I love her.  That I can't stop other kids from being awful.  But that she is an angel.  She is wonderful.  She has nothing to apologize for when she is made a target.

I will protect her from what I can, which I hope is any feelings that she might actually deserve to be treated poorly.

And if the bullying ever gets bad, ever gets to the point that it was when I was a child and I was breaking under the strain of constant torment, I will beg her to tell me, and I will try everything I can to ease her burden.

But I cannot eliminate it.

SI's faraway look
And she must learn to live with the unkindness of others.  Because unless she knows that other people can cause real pain, real hurt with their words and their actions, her words and actions will seem meaningless.  Harmless.  And they're not.

I know how to teach a child to live with the unkindness in the world.  I have been that child.

I have no idea how to teach a child who bullies others how to stop.  I have absolutely no context.

But my heart already breaks for her.

And I wish we lived in a world where the lessons of being bullied weren't so damn important to learn.

I wish I could solve everything with a chocolate milk break.


  1. awesome post.
    it's TOUGH to watch your kid being bullied- for sure. i encountered this a lot last year when we went to the park. i have the same thoughts- it kills me to watch it happen, but unless things are out of control (or about to be), all i can do is just keep a watch and keep telling her to wait her turn, etc. it SUCKS. and Lovie is currently such a gentle, sweet girl- why anyone would even dream of being mean to her is beyond me but it's happened and it will continue to happen cuz some people (and kids) just suck. i hope that by us showing compassion to her and others and not reacting negatively toward negative situations will keep her sweet. but i've also recently taught her to tell somemone, "no hitting, no biting!" if needed.

  2. I think you are doing the right thing even though it is hard. I let my daughter work out most of her issues as well. She needs to learn how to take care of herself and pick herself up and move on. What really bugs me are the parents that are not even watching their young children at all. I have witnessed children falling, cutting themselves, and crying bloody murder and their parents don't even lift their heads to see if the kid crying is theirs.

  3. I am so happy that my state is passing laws to protect our kids from bullying in schools. I only wish that an anti-bullying class was a mandatory EVERY DAY ciriculum That our children MUST take. As expected as gym class. Adults forget to be nice to eachother (I do sometimes) (my husband does while driving and frustrated) We all do...so how can we expect children to if they are not reminded EVERY DAY. I feel this class should be common sense .....don't you?

  4. @NJ HOUSEWIFE I agree. Unfortunately, I think that it's not just a matter of grown-ups forgetting to be nice. Some grown-ups- moms even- really are bullies. And it's awful, and it's how children fundamentally learn that it's an acceptable behavior. Yes, anti-bullying classes would be great. But I fear that they would have the same effect as DARE programs- pointing out kids for their "other"ness and making them targets outside of class, teaching kids the tools to use in order to bully, and not the tools to deal with adversity in their daily lives.

    I would like to be clear though- there IS a line. There IS a point when bullying goes from being petty and mean to being genuinely abusive, and I think we need (as a culture) to start treating that as what it is- harassment. Which is a crime.

    And worst of all... middle school. Where every child is either a bully or a victim, or desperately trying to be invisible. I don't think there's much we can do about that, I think it's basically an unstoppable force of nature and hormones.

    But the line remains- and when it goes from dealing with the occasional batch of jerks to constant harassment and abuse... we need to treat it like the crime that it is.

  5. I have always tried to give my kids the necessary tools to deal with bullies. It is heartbreaking when you child is on the receiving end. However, I think it is so important for us to teach our children empathy. To be able to consider what it feels like to walk in another's shoes. If more parents did that, we would never have a bully issue.




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