Shouldn't We Encourage Our Kids to Navigate Bullying Themselves? – Kveller
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Shouldn’t We Encourage Our Kids to Navigate Bullying Themselves?

“You mess with my kid, you mess with me!”

Say what?! Was my response supposed to involve something about meeting at the playground after school? Should I bring boxing gloves in tow?

Over the course of this school year, my second grade son has gotten himself into trouble on the playground. The truth is he’s a highly competitive, sporty kid who shouldn’t be allowed to participate in unsupervised sports games. I’m not trying to deflect blame, but he doesn’t have the maturity to handle the responsibility of playing and judging a game.

It’s not that he’s bullying kids after a game goes sour. It’s not that he’s pushing, hitting, or biting after he loses. It’s that getting the ball in the hoop, scoring the goal, or running the bases during recess is so important to him that he’ll nudge, run over, or stomp on anyone in his path.

When he has come home after one of these altercations, I certainly am not high-fiving his “success.” We engage in an ongoing conversation about good sportsmanship. He participates in league sports where that behavior is unacceptable, and he has received warnings (leading to expulsion of the game if continued). He’s young and he’s still learning.

In the recent year, I have had several instances where mothers have reached out to me regarding my son’s highly competitive nature (including the comment provided above). And although I don’t condone his behavior, I feel that it is a job for the school to manage, not me. I am not trying to get a pass—I actually tend to be an overly involved parent. I just don’t understand how I can control his behavior on the playground. And to insult or attack me seems like an inappropriate response.

I have thought about how my reaction would be if it were the other way around—if my child was being mistreated while playing sports. Several things come to mind. For one, my son isn’t the only one who plays too rough. They really all do. They are 7 and 8; they are all guilty. Second of all, my son has also been complaining about a boy in particular all year. My response has been to talk to the boy—tell him that you won’t play with him if he doesn’t lighten up. Talk to a teacher about it. Or play with someone else. Never would I consider confronting the parent. And if I did reach out to the parent, I certainly wouldn’t act aggressively! How would that be the solution for the problem?!

We live in a world of “Helicopter Parenting.” I’m often just as guilty of this. However, if we don’t teach our children how to navigate the playground, how will we ever prepare them for working through their own problems later in life? I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that I will manage all their problems for them. I can barely handle my own! School is an amazing place—a smaller example of the world they will be a part of someday. Coworkers=classmates, teachers=bosses, etc.

I’m not saying we should turn a deaf ear to our kids’ problems. Rather, let’s help to give our children the tools for managing these challenges on their own.

Recently, I suggested to a mom that we sit our boys down and have them discuss their problems (there were considerable discrepancies in the stories they both had). This mother, who had no problem confronting me with the problem when she thought my son was to blame, had no interest in working through it with the boys to teach them a lesson. What could her intent have been in calling me? That I would punish my son once I heard her son’s story? It doesn’t seem like we are helping anyone if we are fighting our children’s fights for them.

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