What is it about watching someone’s child teasing your child that makes one want to jump into the action, take advantage of being ‘bigger’ and rescue our kids from pain and disappointment? I know protecting our children is the main element to this response but maybe there’s more in there that brings us back to our own experiences with pain when we were young. It feels like we need to fight that injustice. I’m not really sure. All I know is when Matt and I were with the kids yesterday and three boys started taunting our son, it was really disheartening.
My son is super friendly and outgoing and has always felt comfortable approaching strangers and children he isn’t familiar with, asking them if they want to play. He really does make friends wherever he goes and he hasn’t reached that shift in life where one becomes insecure about their likability and how others view them. Yesterday we had a family day and took the kids out to a park to play. Three other boys showed up, mom still getting stuff out of the mini van somewhere. It didn’t take long for Oliver to approach them and say, “Hey, do you wanna play with me?” Matt and I always smile at this because it reaffirms to us that our kid is comfortable in his skin. He’ll have his adolescent years to become an awkward, lanky kid with a cracky voice and oily skin who tries to conceal his insecurities when dealing with how others are viewing him.
For some reason the boys didn’t give Oliver a chance and just said, “No kid, you’re boring. And you’re no hero, you’re a zero!” I’m not sure they even knew what it meant except that it was some sort of a taunt. They likely heard it on a cartoon or a show. But they kept saying it, even though his parents (us) were right there. Matt and I just looked at each other with that, “I know we can’t really jump in right now but how far do we let this go?” look. Oliver just came over by us and said, “Pappa, can YOU push me on this toy?” and that was that.
It seemed pretty painless for my son but it was gut wrenching for me. Maybe it’s because I know that this is only a small portion of how children actually treat each other and it seems to intensify when they get older; the taunts are more hurtful and I can’t really protect my children from most forms of pain. I hate it when they fall and experience physical pain but emotional pain is a totally different world! It’s a world I’m very familiar with as an awkward kid from a really messed up and poverty-riddled home life. I know very well how deep teasing runs into forming how you see yourself but I’m also aware of how crucial it is for parents not to transfer their pain and insecurities onto their own children. I’m sure we all know of parents (maybe we are those types parents) who instill a false sense of superiority in their kids because they don’t want them to experience rejection like they did and it’s a very dangerous path to walk with formative little people.
So we sat and watched and listened yesterday, wondering how our son would interpret what was happening to him. It’s similar to watching kids play with your child and they are doing the ‘run away from the loser’ game, this time your child is the ‘loser’ they are running away from. You can’t really jump in, but you sort of have to. Or do you? I have no answer for this. I just know when my kids are playing the run-away game from another child it is NOT ok and I for certain jump in. I can’t keep them from experiencing rejection but I can help them learn that inflicting it is unacceptable!
The best part of yesterday was indeed how Oliver interpreted and responded to what will go down in history as ‘the playground event’. When we were leaving we asked him what he thought of what they said to him. His response gave Matt and I the assurance that he’s going to be just fine. He said, “I don’t know why they were saying that to me. A zero is just a number. That doesn’t make sense”. Matt and I smiled and said, “Yes, you’re so right. What silly boys who think it’s mean to call someone a number. Great attitude Oliver”. And that was that!