Thursday, August 13, 2015

On Public Correction: Two Tales

Sometimes your kids just pick their noses and ruin the best shot.
Experience 1:

I was eating lunch today at Chick-fil-A with some friends while our kids played when a woman approached our table and asked, "Is one of your sons the boy with the blue shirt, with the turtle on the back?"

She was describing the t-shirt Graham got at our family reunion last year, so I answered, "Yes, he's mine."

"He's bullying everyone on the playground."

Next to her stood a boy, probably seven or eight years old, in a green shirt. The boy Graham had tearfully described and pointed out five minutes earlier as the one who had kicked him when he tried to enter the same helicopter play pod as the boy. Then Graham had hit him back, then the boy hit him again, then Graham hit him back, then the boy hit Graham, then Graham left, then the boy followed and hit him again ... all this was recounted to me in between little sobs. There's something about my little four year old: he's too young to consistently control his emotions or his need to enforce his own vigilante brand of justice, but he's also too young to lie about his role in heated events when he's upset. I knew he was telling (his version of) the truth. I told him to stop hitting and to avoid the older boy. Tears forgotten, he ran back to play. Apparently it didn't end there, though.

This is Graham's gremlin face. 

When the woman at Chick-fil-A declared Graham a bully, I had a few reactions. First, I was embarrassed because I was with two friends. Next, I resisted the minor urge to correct her usage of the word "bullying" (bullying is not the same as being a stinker! Bullying involves abusive power imbalances and/or persistent and aggressive harassment). I also wanted to bring up her son's behavior, but that's really not my style. Finally, I just stood up, went to the play place, and told Graham to knock it off. Then I returned to my frosted lemonade.

Maybe the other mother wanted me to do something more drastic. Maybe my friends thought I was too lenient. Maybe I was wrong to not haul Graham out for a time out. I'll be honest: half of why I went in there was as a token offering to a society that demands a reaction to every reported injustice. I fully believe Graham was playing a part in a playground conflict. I also know my kid, and know he never independently instigates malicious trouble. The other half of why I went in there is because I genuinely want my kids to be well-behaved and considerate of others. A part of me does appreciate another parent letting me know if my kid is acting out. I would certainly welcome such information from a teacher or friend. Perhaps I was irked because she was neither.

I'm probably 50% libertarian, so I believe more in governing yourself than in governing others. When Graham comes and tells me that some kid did xyz, I almost always tell him to play somewhere else or just ask the other kid to stop. In fact, I can't think of a single instance where I've voluntarily gotten involved in a playground dispute (though I can imagine scenarios where I would, of course). In most cases, kids will resolve the conflict themselves (great practice for adulthood!!), forgive, forget, and move on. I don't like denying my kids those important opportunities to practice social skills. Even in this altercation, Graham eventually happily announced to me that the other boy apologized--with no hovering moms in sight! That's a victory!

I don't like tattling. I wish we spent more time and social energy on teaching self-control than on policing and calling each other out.

Except ...

Experience #2:

A while ago, Nathan was spending some time with a group of people that included an older, long-married couple. The husband is notoriously mean to his wife. During their time together, something happened that made him launch into a protracted episode of criticizing his wife. He wouldn't let it go. Nathan finally said something about how he was surprised they were still talking about the issue fifteen minutes after the fact, but he didn't really say anything to condemn the man's words towards his wife, something he later told me he regretted.

Should he have publicly corrected this older man? Would that be interfering with the sovereignty of a marital relationship? Would it have just made it worse for her later on? Is it anyone's business but theirs? When should you say something? Do you have to wait for him to start hitting her? These are real questions.

I've been thinking about this for a while. When is it okay to demand a change of behavior from others? Only when physical injury is imminent? What about emotional? I'm torn between my belief that you should develop emotional grit to deal with other people's lameness and my belief that other people shouldn't be lame. Maybe it's a delicate balance?

What are your thoughts? When do you call other people out? Other parents? Other people's kids? Older people? Friends? Strangers? Experiences?

14 comments:

  1. I'm really not sure what I would do about situation #2, mostly because despite how I may feel about the husband's actions, I would probably chicken out before I said anything.
    But I can totally relate to situation #1. I'm always wondering how much I should discipline my children in front of other parents. Was I stern enough? Did I appropriately address the "injustice" that my child caused? I'm with you, that I would prefer to stay out of child to child confrontation and let them figure it out when possible. I would prefer my kids to go play somewhere else if they are really having a problem with another child. But right now we often play with a little boy with and without his parents and he is VERY into tattling. He will frequently come tell us that Calvin has hit him, but upon further questioning of all parties, it almost always turns out that everybody was running around and they bumped into each other, or Calvin threw a toy into the air and it landed on him. When his parents are around, I feel obligated to talk to Calvin and make him apologize (his parents have a very strong sense of injustice about their children--his mom often tells me that her kids are always the ones who get "bullied" at public play areas). But really I just want to tell the kid to stop being so whiny and mind his own business.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also, I LOVE the family pictures!

      Delete
    2. Thank you! We love them, too. And that situation sounds hard. Maybe you could just have Calvin say something like, "I'm sorry you got hurt. I'll be more careful." That way he isn't apologizing for something he didn't do. But that feeling of obligation is complicated--parents can be so sensitive about their kids, myself included!

      Delete
  2. It's a miracle to get a perfect family picture. We just did our first photo session and for Phebe it seemed to be a torture session as cried through most of it. Haha. As far as correcting... That is a tough issue. I think when there are innocent people to protect or critical values to defen then in can be warranted. I feel like the how is as important --if not more-- than the when.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know! How hard is it to sit still for a second and smile? I agree that the "how" is so important. This probably speaks to my pride, but if the woman would have used a softer approach with me, or different words that still communicated the core message, I would have felt better about the interchange.

      Delete
  3. There was no need to feel embarrassed! I completely thought the other mom was wrong to use the word "bullying" especially when I had witnessed Graham crying over said boy hitting him earlier. And I thought it inappropriate that she called you out like that.

    I can totally relate to worrying about what other people think about how I choose to punish or correct my children in public. It is so tricky!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Haley! I admire how calm and collected you always are with your kids. I also love how you are with the primary kids.

      Delete
  4. I don't know if I'm meddling too much, or hand-holding too much, but I help my children (3 and 4) with their conflicts. I never speak to the offender directly, I just tell the victim to express his or her feelings too the offender. "I feel angry when you take my toy. Can you give it back, please?" "It hurts my body and my feelings when you hit me. Can you do something else?" "I feel annoyed when you say that over and over because it is too loud and repetitive. Can you say something else?" And then I have the offender say, "I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you. Will you forgive me?" I love that phrase because it doesn't affirm or deny guilt. Maybe you meant to hurt them at the time, but now you wish you hadn't. Maybe you don't think you did anything wrong. Whatever the situation, if you are talking through something, you probably don't want to hurt them anymore.

    So I do meddle. I think of it as giving my children tools for their conflict-resolving toolkit. I just don't think kids come up with the best solutions if I let them Lord-of-the-Flies it out.

    So far I've liked the outcome of this way of doing things.

    In the second situation, I can't think of a down side to simply expressing your feelings. "In the case of the older man, an "I feel really uncomfortable with this conversation. Maybe we can move on?" If you are brave enough to say it, which I don't know if I am. They're just feelings, and they're you're feelings, and you're allowed to express your feelings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great ideas, as usual, Holly! I should clarify that I do coach my kids when they are having conflicts at home (using a lot of those same phrases--learned from you!), but I don't feel comfortable telling other people's kids what to say in public, so I see those situations as times when my kids just need to learn that other people often make poor choices and the only thing we can do is choose how we react to them.

      I really like your idea on how to approach the adult. It's simple, honest, and communicates what's important without being accusatory.

      Delete
  5. Great post! I had a similar experience a while back where a girl 2 or 3 years older than Liam pushed him down. When Liam yelled "stop" she went crying to her grandma who proceeded to comfort the little girl.

    Then later while I was helping Liam up on the playground this little girl came back, layed down beside Liam and started crying. The grandma came over again, the little girl told grandma that Liam was being mean to her, and Grandma took her away to comfort her.

    I didn't say anything and I'm still not sure if that was the right call. I would like to know if my kid was acting that way but if a parent was sitting right there I would have asked about it. She didn't ask me so I didn't offer my opinion. Plus it was the grandma and not the kids mom or dad so it made me feel just that much more hesitant. It's so tough to know how to react but like you I try to encourage Liam to resolve issues on his own. And I totally get the embarrassed feeling when you feel pressured into responding to a situation that is ambiguous like that. That's the worst.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That little girl sounds like a sociopath. Hopefully she grows out of that!

      It is more complicated when the caretaker at the moment isn't the parent. Another interesting situation is when kids are being watched by nannies. I used to live in a neighborhood where most of the kids had nannies, and the playground dynamic was very different. Because a lot of the nannies were close friends, they were all comfortable correcting each other's kids, which was nice because there were a lot of eyes looking out for everyone.

      Delete
  6. I love the family pictures too. All I can say is, I FEEL THE SAME WAY, which us how I usually feel about what you have written, just I couldn't have worded it as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kallene! I wish our kids could play together.

      Delete
  7. Your questions have been stewing in my mind for days now. And even though I've had all this time to consider, I am still at a loss! These are tricky situations for sure. I know I engage in "obvious parenting" or whatever you would call the times that I make parenting decisions/corrections/discipline for the benefit of onlookers. It's the worst, I hate when I do that, but I do it anyway. Social pressures!

    As far as intervening in a marital conflict... we have had friends with troubled relationships, and I just don't think much good comes from intervening. Is my loving (or not so loving) correction really going to make the unkind spouse finally "see" things for the first time? I doubt it. That's not to say I would sit back while someone is browbeaten without saying a word... or is it the same thing? So complicated! We've just done our best to keep the conversation and activities away from sensitive topics when we're with those people. I don't know if that's the best approach, but it's one we've felt comfortable with.


    P.S. Your PICTURES. Love them, so much! Gorgeous family and hot mama!

    ReplyDelete

Comments make my day.