|Image credit Jordan A on Flickr|
At the playground, a boy around five or six started chasing the kids around, making scary faces, growling and pretending to scratch. I am not sure if he was truly upset and didn't know how to handle his big emotions or was just playing. I edged closer as he began to chase my kids. Ariana looked a little uncomfortable but didn't seem to be bothered. Joel was running too fast for me to gauge if he saw this as a game or was getting scared. Elena was curious at first, but when he cornered her and raked his fingers across her (not really scratching, but still touching, if that makes sense), she became upset. I picked her up and opened my mouth to say something to the little boy, but he took off.
A few minutes later, he tried the same thing with some other kids, and one of them was either scared or hurt (I think just scared) and screamed hysterically, at which point the nearby adults intervened. I was slightly bemused as I listened to the boy's mom, who had been sitting only a few feet away, lecture him intensely on how bad his behavior had been. She told him that she had been watching the whole time and proceeded to shame him repeatedly. I understand how tough it is when your child does something in public--I think we all have to fight against reacting out of embarrassment. Still, I wondered why she hadn't stepped in before and redirected him, and was hoping that she would give him some good alternatives for the future instead of merely telling him that he was bad.
Afterwards, we discussed the incident in the car, and I asked my kids how they had felt when he was chasing them and pretending to scratch. Ariana said that she wasn't scared, but she didn't like it very much, and she could tell that Elena didn't like it. Joel said that he was a little scared. From there we began to talk about what they thought were good ways to handle situations like that in the future.
I admit, even now, I hate confrontation. My heart starts pounding, and my natural instinct is to weasel out with some type of passive (or passive aggressive) response. Unless, of course, I am really mad, when I just want to bully back. That isn't the way that I want my children to handle conflict, and I've had to become very conscious of what I model to them. I want them to be both assertive and respectful, to have good boundaries and the skills to enforce them correctly, but it is hard.
So today, we talked about different scripts they could follow when they felt uncomfortable with the way someone was trying to play. First individually, then in unison, they practiced saying, "Stop. I don't like playing that way. Let's play something different." It is clear and unambiguous, doesn't invite further bullying by seeming fearful, yet assumes the best motive (wanting to play) and offers a cooperative alternative (let's play something different).
We also talked through several other scenarios, and talked about when to get a grown up involved (anytime they need support--if they are afraid to say it, I'll go with them or if they don't think the other person will listen).
An ongoing script-rehearsal we've practiced in the past is what to say if anyone ever violates boundaries with their body. This can be anything from rough-housing to tickling to sexual assault--anything that makes them uncomfortable. They have practiced many times saying. "Stop. This is my body and I don't like that. Stop or I'll tell." Ariana said it with very good effect when she was being tickled once, something she hates.
I think that the practice is very important. So often children are taught not to upset others, to allow other people (especially adults) to do things to them that our children dislike without making a fuss. While the goal is to be polite, it can also create victims. We can teach our children to be assertive without being rude, and it is immensely important.
I would love to hear from my wise readers (all 12 of you! ;)) what scripts you give your children to handle difficult situations. I know that I could learn a lot from you. Please share!