The other day we were sitting in the doctor’s waiting room and Bean was busy exploring, when a mother with her two sons walked in. The younger of the two must have been around 3 or 4 and my 16 month old took a liking to him immediately. He promptly grabbed a children’s book (the first thing he could grab), ran up to the boy with the biggest grin on his face, saying “oooh ooh ooooh” and excitedly tried to give him the book. My heart almost exploded with pride – my little Bean was trying to make a friend! The boy, however, did not think this as cute and promptly waved Bean away. Not in a rude way, but rather, in a confused, ‘I did not expect this boy charging up to me as I was peacefully following my mom into this strange room’ kind of way. My heart sank, but instead of interfering, I decided to watch what would happen next. A little confused by the rejection, Bean tried to make contact again and followed the boy around for a good couple of minutes. The boy however simply did not want to play and after a while Bean gave up, walked over to me with his thumb in his mouth and climbed into my lap.
A few days later, we went to friends for lunch. Another couple and their daughter, who is a few months older than Bean, were also there. Although this girl was initially quite sweet to Bean, something made her angry and she became mean, once purposefully pushing him into a wall and another time yanking at his hair, hard.
I interfered both times: the first time, to take Bean out of the situation and to console my hysterical child, and the second time to calmly tell the girl that she must please be gentle with other kids. Her mom of course also got involved and the rest of the afternoon went by rather peacefully, everyone having a good time.
This scenario reminded me of yet another incident, when we were at a playgroup and one of the older kids decided it was a good idea to throw balls at Bean’s head. That day, I kept quiet, not wanting to reprimand someone else’s child. In retrospect, however, I should have said something. Not something mean, or derogatory, but something firm and gentle. Just a simple, ‘balls are not for throwing at other people’s heads, why don’t we kick the ball instead’.
What upset me the most about all the incidents described above was not that the kids were mean or shy or indifferent, but rather, that Bean could not understand why they were acting the way they were. He could not understand that the child in the first incident was probably just a little bit shy, or a bit confused as to why he was being bombarded with a book. He could not understand that the little girl was probably feeling threatened or that the older boy was probably simply seeing what would happen if he threw a ball at someone’s head.
Being a mom, I want to protect my Bean from indifferent and mean people, I want to protect him from heart ache and I wish there was a way in which I could always protect him from the very many negative aspects of this world. But reality is, I can’t.
We as parents set the example for our children and although I do believe that children need to learn to fight their own battles, they learn how to act, react, and how they fight these battles, from us. By saying something, standing up for my son, I want to teach and encourage my child to stand up for himself. Not in a mean way, but in a fair, firm and gentle way. I want to teach my child to have enough self confidence that he will not allow himself to be bullied, I want to teach him enough empathy to stand up for those who are and I want to instill enough discipline in him not to become the bully himself.
As the Dalai Lama so poignantly said, “It is vital that when educating our children’s brains, we do not neglect to educate their hearts by nurturing their compassionate nature”.