It's Not Cool for Parents to Fight Their Kids' Battles With Other Kids

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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

bullies, safety, girls, boys

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tinyp... tinypossum

I think it depends on the age of the kid and the seriousness of the situation. If some kid pushes my toddler or pre-schooler down on the playground as in your swing scenario, yeah, I'm going to intervene and probably go looking for mom or dad to check their kid's behavior. If my kid is older and needs to learn to stand up for himself, I'm going to try to stay on the sidelines and offer advice and encouragement. If he's really getting bullied or hurt, then I'd intervene no matter what the age. You need to move out here with us in the burbs and get out of DC.

ChellS77 ChellS77

I definitely think that teaching them how to defend themselves in those situations is the best way to go .. however, isn't doing the defending for her the first time or two going to also show her what to say/how to react, etc in that situation? She'll be able to see how she should handle herself if she's ever in that situation again. In other words, if I go over to that kid and say "EXCUSE me. You do NOT push if you want a turn on the swing. And you do NOT put your hands on another person again." she's going to know that it's OK to tell someone that very same thing. If she sees her mom standing up for her/herself and being vocal, she'll know it's OK to be that way too.


I was NOT like that when I was younger - my mother was the type who would just talk crap about the person behind their back afterward .. which led to some bad habits of my own in my adult life! :) Had my mother shown me that it was OK to speak up when something isn't right, maybe I would have avoided certain negative situations later in life.

momka... momkaribg

Depends on the situation.

frysh... fryshannon34

oh wow I hope i wont have to have this situation any time soon

bether89 bether89

I try to watch the situation and step in only if I have to.

elija... elijahsmama09

My son is 2, and he is my only child, but seriously...I am steppign in. I may change my mind as he gets older, but for now, and especially this age you bet your sweet cheeks I am stepping in.

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