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Friday, November 18, 2005

I don't get the moral of Laid-Off Dad's story: "Don't launch a frontal assault against superior numbers armed with big, plastic sticks." Does this mean it's okay to launch an assault on smaller kids? Or kids who don't have big sticks? Or kids who look different from you? Especially if those kids are hogging the structure that you want to play in?

I like what Goldberry said: "My daughter, when caught in a confrontation, looks up at me for guidance. I have no problem nodding or shaking my head...Soon enough, they will implement what they've learned." Here, here. And, LOD, it's totally irrelevant if our kids are different ages. There is no age too young to start learning about sharing, taking turns, or peaceful ways to end disagreements. And there is no age too old to be using language instead of fists--if only our President would have learned this valuable lesson when he was a kid.

All I can say is that I'm grateful our kids don't hang out at the same playgrounds.

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Whoa-whoa-whoa, there. No one's advocating naked aggression--especially since it's really hard to be aggressive when you're naked. The Star Wars incident actually had the opposite effect; my son tried to achieve an end through overly aggressive means, and he learned it wasn't such a hot idea. Kids learn that hitting is wrong when they get hit and realize they don't like it. This is why a decorated general sees war as a last resort, while someone with five deferments from Vietnam becomes a strident war hawk.

And what's all this "boys will be boys" stuff? You think we Y-chromers are the only belligerents? Have you ever seen two little girls slapfight over a doll? It's brutal! When they're young, girls can be just as violent as boys; it's not until later in life that they develop such fine-tuned passive aggression, which all would agree is a far more potent weapon.

If a fight shows signs of being a real donnybrook, parents must obviously jump in and break it up. But if you trail your child everywhere and straighten out all of life's wrinkles for him, you're just another over-involved parent, spinning your rotors and stifling your child's sense of self-reliance.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I have a real problem with the "boys will be boys" mentality, or the idea that the biggest or pushiest kids are entitled to the shovel, the basketball, or the "biggest piece of chalk." Grown-up life doesn't work that way, so why would we want our kids to sort out their differences that way?

You don't get to take something from another kid just because you want it. You need to wait your turn, ask if you can play with it, or barter: offer up a green dump truck in exchange for a red bulldozer.

Tolerating violence or aggression at any age teaches that violence and aggression solves problems. It does NOT. Mostly I'm amazed that parents encourage their kids to live "eye for an eye." PHAT Mommy commented, "[I]t's fine to teach a child not to hit *unless someone else hits first.* If you keep jumping in to rescue, you'll not only embarrass the child, but you'll raise a wimp."

Teaching your kids to walk away from a bully does not make them a wimp. It takes a strong person to be able to talk through a dispute. If kids are old enough to understand that hitting is wrong, then they are old enough to be taught alternatives to hitting. Adults are there to set an example. If we set the example that bullying is okay--at the playground or anywhere--then kids are going to think that it's okay too.

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I think part of the disconnect here stems from our sons’ difference in age. Mine is a preschooler who is learning to interact with kids on his own. At this age, some of the best behavioral lessons are learned by deed, rather than by word. It takes a lot of self-control for me not to rush in and keep things “civil,” but I know that if I do Son1 will think he can act with impunity before Annoying Helicopter Dad swoops in to save his bacon.

For example: We were on the playground last summer when he decided he wanted to play fireman in one of the little playhouses. Trouble was, the houses were all infested with grubby 6-year-olds who were playing Star Wars (i.e., beating the snot out of each other with those plastic telescoping light sabers). So Son1 marshaled up all his older-child bossiness and told all of them to EVACUATE NOW! Predictably, the older boys weren’t all that excited about being yelled at by a vastly outnumbered kid half their age, so they demurred.

And my son, the little engine that could (but really shouldn’t have), grabbed the biggest kid by the belt loops and tried to throw him out. There was a little shoving, and my boy got the worst of it, but overall the boys showed admirable clemency. And five minutes later they were all playing together.

The moral of the story? Don’t launch a frontal assault against superior numbers armed with big, plastic sticks. It was an important lesson to learn, and he learned it himself.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Some of Toddler in Chief's friends are bruisers. They're big and they'll knock him down, crash into him, or crush any and all limbs blocking access to a cool toy. Other friends enjoy cause and effect. They pinch, squeeze, bite, pull hair, and kick because it's fascinating to hear the cries and see the tears that inevitably follow. TIC even has a feisty side if cars are involved--or if he's functioning without a nap. But even these mean moments don't makes kids bad at heart. Kids are simply puny humans without the vocabulary, patience, or self-control, or awareness to know what the right thing to do is.

And without guidance, there is chaos. How would TIC know that hitting or pushing to get what you want is wrong? And if no one pointed it out, how would he know it's not okay to push or hit back? "Preschoolers are so focused on their own wants and needs that sharing just isn't a priority...[But] they can be surprisingly generous when adults encourage them and set a good example." And that's what parents are for. Part of my job is to intervene, to provide guidance, to teach the rules, to help TIC learn to settle the score in a positive way. If parent just stood on the sidelines, kids would not learn the socially acceptable way to avoid, diffuse, or resolve disputes. We'd end up with a toddler version of anarchy.

Sure, kids are capable of working out small disagreements without intervention, but if it escalates to include words or actions that are hurtful (like biting, hitting, or pulling of hair), then it's time to get involved. Besides, kids need boundaries and consequences to help them feel safe and loved.

Permalink | Playground Fights | Comments (1)

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.

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