As a male parent, I’m conflicted by two contrasting imperatives when I take Son1 to the playground. I may be an alpha-dog caregiver whose main objective is to protect the progeny, but I’m also a slave to my testosterone-induced appreciation for the playground pecking order, in all its Darwinian glory. It is the Law of the Playing Field that young caribou will sometimes lock horns, and that the victor will walk away with the biggest piece of chalk.
So when the boy mixes it up with another kid, over a toy or swing or whatever, I hang back rather than leap right in to break it up. And usually the other parent will as well, after we make eye contact and exchange the universal Let’s See Where This Is Going look. Most of the time, the dispute is settled without bloodshed (or tearshed) and the combatants are soon playing together as if nothing ever happened.
Fights are regrettable, but they’re part of socialization. As Son1 grows, he has to learn that getting involved in a fight can have unpleasant consequences, so it’s best not to start them willy-nilly. He also has to learn to trust himself and fight his own battles—unless it gets really hairy, in which case he should also know I’ve got his back.