Taking the bully by the horns

 I am in a bit of a dilemma. Roughly 10 months ago, the boy was un-insulated from the comfort of his home and his stroller and introduced to the big bad world in the form of play-dates, restaurant visits, the mall, walkabouts in the buildings, and the rest.

I reckon he is a nice boy. Perhaps I didn’t have much to do with it, but it has just turned out that way. Neither does the OPU (other parental unit) for that matter, who spent most of his childhood fighting for his place. Being the third born, he figured being a bad boy was the only way to get noticed. Until he met me, of course.

It’s different with Re. Being born in a house with two cats, he has had a sibling advantage from the word go despite not having any. He has learnt to be compassionate towards animals — not just ours, but even those outside our universe. He has learnt to apply the same logic to people on twos, both little and large. So it shatters me when another boy walks into my house, pushes him, pushes the cat, or worse, pulls its tail or whiskers. Or sometimes, when Re is walking about in the park, doing his thing, and another kid just walks up and pushes him. Or he is putting his musical instruments back in class and another child just walks through him, tripping him. I fear that he may be too nice.

The first time it happened, I was shocked. The mommy-in-charge (MIC) told me this is normal, and that her boy had also been pushed and shoved when he was Re’s age, and that he will also do unto others what has been done unto him, so the law of the universe balances it out. It has been a good eight months since we had that conversation, but I don’t see Re indulging in any form of aggression with littler ones. So, a part of me is really happy that I will not have to be the mommy apologising after her child. The other part is hurt that my child is hurting.

Another play-date repeatedly did the same, and when things didn’t get any better and when I got nothing more from the MIC except, “I wonder why he behaves like this?” or, “He is always so good, wonder what’s happened to him today?”, I did what I thought was right. I starting avoiding her and the boy.

Re is confused. His response to such situations is to act slightly annoyed, and to want the object of irritation to disappear. My dilemma is: should I let his innocence and goodness be and just hope that other kids will learn to behave better? It hurts me to see him hurt, but at the same time, I am left wondering at what point should I tell him that a tooth for a tooth, a shove for a shove is how the world works. When will it be imperative for him to ‘be a man’?

 It bothers me that mothers all around pretend that children will be children and that aggression and bad behaviour is normal, and just shrug their shoulders, pretending all is good, when it is so not. Perhaps some of them are not around all the time to see what’s happening and are dependent on day-cares and nannies. I have seen that perhaps one in ten mothers will truly take it upon her to explain to the child and demonstrate to him or her why it is wrong. Perhaps my decision to be a full-time mom has led to my microscopic observation of such things, else I wouldn’t know any better and Re would learn how to fight his battles anyway.

I discussed this with the OPU and his take on the whole thing seems rather simplistic, but fair and sensible. Any act of aggression that does not result in a larger good should be deemed bad. According to him, violence or aggression if used against someone equal or above is ok, if it results in a larger good for the victim. So for instance, shoving an older brat per se is bad. But shoving a brat who is pulling a cat’s tail is not. But shoving anyone younger or weaker than you is never ok.

I am now wondering how to explain this to a 17 month old. Perhaps I won’t have to. I think I will leave the ‘how to be a man’ bit to the OPU, as I still haven’t fully understood the male dynamics despite writing a column about men for years.

You win some, you lose some.

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17 thoughts on “Taking the bully by the horns

  1. My personal take on this ( I have a 6 year old girl who routinely gets walked on by a 5 year old)…. ask that the aggressor stop, real politely once, then its an eye for an eye, a shove for a shove. Took us an extremely long time to get here….there were horrible play dates and group plays before it came to blows. But it worked, the other kid is “nicer” than she used to be. Small victory, but I’ll take what I can get since avoiding this child and mom is not possible.

    • You have a point meera. I may not be able to do the ‘avoid’ thing for very long. I guess one will have to patiently wait and reason things out with the aggressor and the aggressee, try different things, and hope that something will work.

  2. from the other side of the fence….. im also mom to the kind of bully u refer to above…. and frankly speaking it is as confusing to me as it is to u…. i have tried different approaches but none of them works except keeping my son far away from other kids….needless to say that we r not a violent family…nor he is being taken care of by nannies or maids….im a full time hands on mum to him…..but he is still the one who pushes the other kids n i dont know why….coming to ur MIC reactions….the reason she might have pondered aloud was just that….coz she herself was wondering about it…i undertsand y it wud seem inadequate…..ur child was just hurt by the other child for no fault of his own….. so even if the MIC were to apologize non stop or make the child do so it wudnt make things any better….. besides i have seen with my son that he may say sorry if i ask him to but he doesnt realise y he is saying sorry…that i explain to him at home when hes a little calm n after being around 21 months old hes finally starting to get it…..

    • Hi shweta
      I understand your dilemma, but i guess apart from the sorrys, (which the child doesn’t understand at this stage why he’s being made to say) you could try reasoning with him in the presence of a child he has hurt that someone is hurting, and that someone would actually be his friend or give him a hug if he were not hurting him. It will not happen overnight, but something would change upon repeated instances. Since you are a full-time mom, you could intervene before the push or shove and ask if he would like a hug instead (children always like choices..)
      Hope that helps

  3. Hey! I have two boys, now 5.5 and 3.5.
    The older one used to be just like Re. Even after the younger one was born and grew strong enough to bash up his brother. The older one used to take the beating and sit quietly… I think, up until the time he went to school and interacted with some rough boys. We had to keep telling him that it was alright to get back at the “bad guys”. Then he slowly began to realize that if he had to survive he would have to fight for his place. Now our house is a 24×7 WWF arena… (no, I exaggerate!) We have to emphasize often that it may be OK to retaliate, but to strike first is not done! So…. there is hope for Re. Don’t worry… 🙂

    • Thanks for that Shachi. You know, a friend of mine told me that we have to let kids fight their own battles, and we just get all soft on them and if they are soft, they will learn to be tough. I found the logic a bit harsh, but at some level, may be she is right. Apparently, her daughter used to get beaten and one day, she learnt to fight back. I don’t know when that will happen with Re, but I guess I can’t push it. Until then, we will have to live with the shoves and the pushes and just keep a hawk’s eye.

      • My son is now 7yrs old and still doesn’t like to hit anyone. A part of me is happy to see him so gentle and fun loving yet somewhere I really want him to toughen up, especially when he gets intimated by the rough n tough guys. The best part is, he has learnt to judge and avoid the bullies and just doesn’t befriend them. He prefers to only interact with guys who share his temperament or love for cricket. Rest all can take a walk.

      • I think it’s a perfect strategy. He will conserve energy rather than dissipate it. And why interact with more people than you need to? Clever boy!

  4. Hey ! My son all of 23 months surely knows that he cannot be pushed. So he gives it back when required, which I have seen myself in his playschool. But the other day, a just about started to walk 15 month old, made him cry in one of our shop visits. So you know what, your friend is kind of right when she says that if we become soft with them, they will in turn learn to be soft. Am sure Re once left on his own in the playschool will learn to fight his own battles and not keep taking pushes and shoves.
    Also, need any suggestions on what to do if your child hits or kicks. I know that this is a result of seeing other kids who do the same, and I also know that hitting back is not the solution. So is the solution to wait till he really understands when he is told that this is wrong ?

    • I guess there’s no one solution Sulagna. But I think ‘show and tell’ works to a large extent. I mean when he hurts someone, he needs to know that person hurts and that it’s not ok to be ok with that. I guess one can use oneself or the OPU as demonstration (homegrown and always available). It’s too early for them to understand propriety and social behaviour, so asking to say sorry is a bit meaningless really at this age. In my case, we also had the cats as demos, so we showed him what is ok with the cat and what’s not ok (just in case he got too effusive and tried to hug too tight). It worked. I also think asking a child not to do something is pointless, but showing him what to do usually works. I don’t know if i have answered your question though.

  5. Quite an interesting conversation indeed. There are certain aspects of growing up which are interwoven with most basic aspects of our living such as food, sleep, sense of security, love and guidance. Let me explain. I am sure all moms will agree with me when I say most children are tuned out or difficult if sleep or food has been tampered for various reasons children may not have enough sleep or timely refueling of food has not happened. Hunger and sleep deprivation can lead a human being to be aggressive, irritable and disorganized. It might be interesting to learn that not refueling on time is just one aspect and the other is; what food we eat seems to have an impact on our temperament and general mood and behavior. I will not go into the details about here since it is topic of its own. Besides this the underlining behavior issues crop from the natural seeking of power, identity, individuality and WILL (this is mostly the non understood part of growing up) which have not been appropriately or adequately met in ways that boost the self esteem of a growing child. Fortunately this is the controllable part by us as parents. Disciplining strategies that make use of power, threats and social exclusions such as keeping the aggressor or the aggressee away from each other may be only a short cut and what seems to help is setting appropriate limits, enforced with empathy and acknowledging of feelings. For example the MIC first needs to make immediate attempt to connect with her child by making sure she sits down or gets down to her child level and make eye contact and of course moving away from the view of the all others to set an example of respect for the child(yes here I am talking about the aggressor) and not screaming out in front of others. And let the child know it hurts when you hit or push. Asking him to say sorry often makes no difference in the situation. Tell the child “You seem angry.” then say “We use words to say something not our hands” in a firm but soft tone. This over a period of time makes the difference. Children like adults have a myriad of emotions and the big difference is we know what we are feeling but children do not and they need help to identify them and also need to learn what is the appropriate way to express that emotion.

    The agressee also needs to learn a few things here and mom needs to sit down to the child’s level and say nicely, “Please dont push me. It hurts”. You may ask how would a 18 month old say all that. he doesn’t have to, this is a exercise to get your child aware what’s ok and what is not and this needs to be done consistently and when they begin to speak you will see the difference.

    As for whether tooth for tooth eye for eye and allowing your child to fight his own battle’s is concerned, well this is nature’s raw law anyways and you dont have to teach a child to push back or to hit back, the child after a few times of being pushed will anyways do that. However, what we as parents need to teach is civil ways of communicating with each other. If its ok to retaliate or combat(the real word to protect oneself), today’s terrorists have a right a to combat for the oppression they have faced around the world too. Think about it.

  6. Hi
    My baby who is 1 yr 3 mnths has recently starting biting the other infants in the daycare. He has been going to the day care since he was 3 months. Me and my husband are exteremely shy and quite ppl and I wonder at times where he picked all this from. Please advise how we tackle this situation

    I have tried explaining to the baby biting is bad and that he should be friends but I dont know what a 15mnths old will understand.

    Thanks
    Vani

    • Hi Vani
      It might be a response to something and not really a trait. I suggest since he is 15 months old, instead of telling him not to do something, show him what else can be done (you really like this person, is that why you are biting him/her? but that hurts, so why not a hug?). But I guess if you read Yasmin’s response (above), it might really put things in perspective.

  7. I agree with what Yasmin is saying. My 3.5 year old daughter also gets bullied, and so far, going to school hasn’t made any difference. She will still not fight back. We have started teaching her to say: “please do not push/hit/pull me. it hurts.” Right now, it is just me saying these things; hopefully she will start saying it on her own.

    And if she is is the one hitting, usually in a fit of anger, I say:”I do not like to be hit. You seem to be angry, it is ok to be angry, but it is not ok to hit. Show me how angry you are with your hands.” It usually works.
    And we have to be consistent, so every time she hits, we say the above.

  8. My daughter is now going to turn 3 and is one of the softies. She used to get bullied when she started going down to play when she was 18 months old. I am a SAHM and am always with her during her playtime. Initially I would just ensure that no kid physically touched her or hurt her. But they would take away her toys. I dont think kids find a way to deal with it unless they are taught.

    The challenge with letting the kids find their way through is that they also start bullying other kids, because that is the only behavior they have seen. They dont know alternatives. Once when she was 2 yrs old, we were in a restaurant, and another kid her age came to her with friendly overtures and she said No! and started pushing her. I stopped N and the other child went away with a sad expression on her face. I had a simple conversation with N.

    Me: When T pushes you, do you like it?
    N: No!!
    Me: What do you feel then?
    N: Sad…
    Me: What did you do with that girl just now?
    N: Amma Amma… that TV is nice no…
    Me: What did you do with that girl just now?
    N: Pushed her.
    Me: Why?
    N: She was going to push me
    Me: You dont know that for sure. She is very sad that you did not play with her.
    N: Hmmm… (looking at the kid)
    Me: Do you want to go an make up with her? She will stop being sad

    At this point N went up to the girl, shook hands and both of them played for 5 minutes.

    We found a five step formula for dealing with it:

    1. Say a firm but gentle “NO!!!”
    2. Say a loud “NO!!”
    3. Say “No Pushing” or “No Snatching” (Which usually turned out to be “No Talli” or “No Pudungu” given our Tamizh pedigree.)
    4. Say “I will not play with you” and walk away from the person.
    5. Hit back.

    Of course these evolved over a period of a year or so. So by then she also had the power of speech.

    We have never had to resort to step 5 as of now. I think the reason is that I am always with her during her play time and the kids dont resort to hitting her. Dont know how it would be when I am not around. I have also found that she avoids the bullies in the building and walks away when they all cluster around her. I am okay with that. It is okay to pick your battles. But, it is a constant reinforcement with the kid to be assertive and constant monitoring to ensure that she does not become aggressive.

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