Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Right Response

I'm asking for your advice today. Here's the hypothetical:

Susie says something mean to you on the playground. Do you:

(a) Respond "I don't like it when you say that, because it hurts my feelings."

PRO: This is what adults tell you to say. Presumably, that means it's the "right" thing. You are the better person. If a teacher is called in to resolve the dispute, you will be in the clear.

CON: Kids don't talk this way. Nor do adults in most relationships. Kids will mock you.

(b) Respond in anger, saying something mean to Susie.

PRO: It feels good. You are justified in being angry, so go ahead and be angry. Maybe you can inflict some reciprocal damage.

CON: It's mean. You might get in trouble. Susie may turn other kids against you.

(c) Ignore Susie, possibly with a dismissive comment that you have better things to do with your time than argue with her.

PRO: Feels pretty good. Doesn't escalate outright. Doesn't give Susie the satisfaction of a negative reaction from you. You're in pretty good shape if an adult hears what you said.

CON: Will likely make Susie angry, and she may turn other kids against you.

My nine-year-old posed this question to me, and these were some of the possible outcomes we discussed. She found all of them unsatisfactory, and I can see why.

I tried to explain that there might not be a "right" answer. She found that even more unsatisfactory.

What would you do?

*     *     *

This reminds me of when I was about my daughter's age. I was friends with a girl in my neighborhood. My last name was Greene. Hers was Beach.

She called me "Greenbean," which I despised, so she kept doing it.

I asked my mom what to do. Mom's suggestion: "Call her "Beach Ball."

I have laughed about this for nearly forty years. Encouraging name-calling is horrible advice. More importantly, everyone knows that Beach Ball is just dumb, while Greenbean is downright mean.

I now stand in my mom's shoes, and I don't have the right answer either.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Teach Your Children

I have had it with the excuses.

"They're only being kids."

"It's just girl stuff."

And my favorite, the resigned, shoulder-shrugging, "Well, what can you do?"

The answer is that we can raise our kids.

Toddlers take toys from other children. They pitch fits when they don't get their way. I had one with a proclivity for shoe-throwing during fits of pique.

All of that is normal toddler behavior. It's common, and it's expected. But when your child snatches a toy from another kid, you don't say, "He's just being a toddler. What can I do about it?" Instead, you return the toy and explain that one doesn't do that. You teach your child--through example, discussion, and discipline--that it's not acceptable behavior. With enough reinforcement, the child learns to become a member of a civil society instead of the playground terror.

Too often, I see parents abdicating their responsibility with older children. Rather than acknowledge that their child was wrong, they get defensive. Rather than discuss the issue with their child, they get dismissive. Because childhood cruelty is commonplace, they act as if it's acceptable.

It's not.

We must teach our school-age children acceptable behavior in the same way teach our toddlers. Just because they can dress themselves, our work isn't done. At every step of the way, it is a parent's job to teach appropriate behavior and make good and kind humans.

We may not be able to put our kids in time out anymore, but we can lead by example. We can call them out on inappropriate behavior. We can discuss, and we can discipline.

Before we can do any of that, we have to first acknowledge that cruel behavior is not acceptable. Prevalence does not require acquiescence. "Girl drama" may happen, but it doesn't mean it's right. "Kids are so cruel," but we don't want them to be.

They aren't destined to be, unless we fail to teach them otherwise.