Monday, January 19, 2009


We went to the park today. It's the January version of Indian Summer, and we are enjoying consecutive days of sunshine and sixties. Pretty amazing. It feels downright sinful to stay inside.

So, we ventured to our favorite park, met up with some friends, and settled in for some swings, slides, and sand.

Tyler explored near the sandbox, where some bigger boys (probably six or seven) were building a fort or digging a tunnel or something equally important and intentional. As Tyler looked more closely (but not too closely), one of the bigger boys said, "Hey! Hey, kid! Get away, now! Don't you touch my sand!"

Okay. Hold it right there, kiddo. There will be no more of this.

Here's the thing. I may look like a softie, and in general, I am. But don't mess with my kids. And, don't lose sight of the fact that I was a teacher before I became a mom. Classroom management is a strength of mine, bullying is not something I tolerate anywhere, and you just entered the wrong sandbox with those fighting words. I know how to take charge of such a situation. This scene called for an adult.

I got down on my knees next to this six-year-old, and in my effective and highly authoritative teacher voice, I said, "Excuse me. He is a little boy, and those are not kind words."

Before the boy could respond at all, his dad spoke up. "He was just trying to tell him not to kick over his sand."

Are you seriously defending the fact that your first grader just yelled at my toddler? For no reason?

Turns out, this scene had an adult. Super Dad who brought his kids to the park to teach them social agression.

I stood up, looked at him squarely, and said, "He can use kind words."

He continued to explain that kind words had not worked with other children in the park, and his son had done what he had to do.

This was not a conversation worth continuing. It was time to go anyway, so we packed up our things, gathered our friends and our toys, and we left. No need for that. Sunny days are too short to tolerate bullies at the park. Sons and dads alike.

I was fuming. Fired up. It happens to me. From zero to sixty. That scene pushed all my buttons. I do not lose control, but I do get fired up. Anything that questions the safety of my children, anyone else's, or the integrity of parents and their modeling... well, that's a recipe for my response.

But now, a few hours later, I have replayed it in my mind dozens of times. I'm wondering if I spoke too quickly. I was a mom at the park, but I wonder if I acted as if I was the teacher monitoring the park. It really wasn't my job to correct (or discipline? did I?) the stranger's little boy. And it didn't even occur to me that an adult was standing nearby, supervising, and approving.

Should I have simply intervened by steering Tyler to another corner of the park?

I can't say I would have been thrilled if a stranger had corrected my son's behavior, but if it had been my son to speak so sharply, nobody else would have needed to correct him. I would have been all over it. I have read articles and opinion polls on disciplining other kids in public settings, and it turns out that I could have cast a strong vote in those percentages.

What do you think? Feedback, please.


Mellifluous said...

Ah, the drama of the park. My way around disciplining other kids is by talking to my own. "It's ok buddy, the park belongs to everyone. You can play in the sand, just stay over here. I'll make sure no one hurts you." I'm not saying this is the greatest way to do it...but it lets the other kid know that adults are watching. I wonder if the kid's mom had been there if she would have reacted the same way, or if she would have scolded him for his tone. Sometimes its surprising!

Alli said...

I actually have some things to say about this...but perhaps over lunch would be better than over blog commenting! Just remind me the next time we dine!

Gary Underwood said...

Sounds to me like you handled it well, actually. Very well.

I have toddlers myself, and I feel the same sort of "defensive" when other kids act aggressively toward them. I face some of the same decisions about how to respond... but if I'm going to be at a fault, its going to be in defense of my children.

Nevertheless, it doesn't sound like you did anything wrong...

Tricia said...

Thanks for your feedback via email, blog comments, and conversation. You have all encouraged me.

Melissa, that is a great tip, and I will use that very quote.

Gary, thank you for a dad's perspective.

Thanks, friends. Enjoy your days at the park, and my all your children be safe from bullies. :)

Happy reading.