Protective motherPicture this: Your kid has been begging to go to the playground all day, and you promised you would stop by so they could run wild for a few minutes, after you finished crossing 5 or 15 items off your to-do list. You take your usual spot on the park bench and your child hauls tail over to the swings — naturally, because the swings are hands-down the highlight of any play area — and is just about to grab one when another child intercepts.

There’s a brief fracas as the New Kid on the Block and yours squabble about who was there first and has rights to first ride. Suddenly New Kid, who’s about the same size, age, and stature as your child, pushes your kid down into the wood chip mulch on the ground. They try to get up; New Kid pushes them down again. Question is: do you watch how your child handles the situation from the sidelines or do you get up and put the other kid in their place?

I’ve been that parent before, so I can tell you from experience that I would rather help her learn how to defend herself than do her defending for her.

When Tween Girl was a smaller tot, she used to be a real pushover, meaning she’d let anybody run all ramble scramble over her. During family visits to my grandmother’s house, her cousin, Isaiah — who is a month younger than she is — punked her for toys even before they were old enough to walk. He was aggressive as an infant, let alone a toddler, so I was always stepping in to cart him off to another space on the living room floor or giving him a gentle “no hit!” scolding, as much as a 9-month-old can comprehend it.

As she got older, it was the same thing in school. My child, though not necessarily meek or mild-mannered, just wanted to be cool with e’rybody, which meant that she let plenty of her “friends” get away with doing things that friends just don’t do. I remember a Hello Kitty folder that didn’t make its way back home because some burly little girl asked Skylar if she could have it. That girl was pretty rough and tumble, so in a way, I don’t blame my kid for giving up the goods. Heck, I might cough mine up if she asked me to.

But there was an incident at the playground, when Girl Child let a boy cut her in line for the sliding board because she was too reserved to tell him he had to wait his turn. There I was, coaching her from the sidelines on not letting him run over her, but when he shoved her as she tried to climb the steps on the second go-round, I had to check his behavior. He was one of these kids whose parents let him loose on the city without supervision. But on that day, he had to get put in his place by a stranger, for his own good as much as it was for hers.

In our neighborhood, bullies don’t get beat up anymore — they get cut, stabbed, or shot.
He needed to learn as much as she did that that behavior wasn’t the way to go.

For the most part, though, I’ve tried to give my child the confidence to stand up for herself, even if she has to fake it. Parents can’t fight their kids’ battles all the time, for a couple of different reasons. At some point, unless you intend on raising children who will inevitably grow into either a) hippies or b) cowering adults, you’ve got to teach them how to fend for themselves.

For one, you’re not always going to be in the vicinity to come to the rescue, and let’s face it — the older we get, the less intimidating we get. So you barking at Little Johnny to leave your baby alone is a lot different in the second grade than it is in their senior year of high school, and when they’re taller than you with more body mass and a few wrestling championships under their belt, they’ll wonder why in the heck they were ever scared of you. (With the exception of my mom, who is still making folks — including my boyfriend — quiver in their boots as adults.)

But secondly, you’re doing your kid a disservice by stepping in to fight their fights for them, even if you, by some stroke of superheroism, could be around every time trouble befalls them.

How do you handle your kid’s battles: do you let them fend for themselves or do you intervene on their behalf?


Image via SashaW/Flickr