But this morning, our time at the playground was interrupted by a bully, and I have to say, I'm not sure I handled the situation well, which is why it keeps playing in my mind. Vijay is a very docile, almost shy kid at the playground- he doesn't take other kids toys (yet!) or get in their way- he pretty much keeps himself entertained, and is very happy to play on his own.
He was doing just that, playing with an excavator in the sand, while I was sitting on the bench looking on, when a child his age came over and took his toy. Obviously this happens all the time- no big deal. I never jump in as I view it as the other parents job to deal with their child's behavior in the manner they see fit. However, I was shocked when the other mom said to her son, "Very good, now the little boy is sharing the excavator with you. After you have a turn, we'll let him use it again."
Ummm....what? That is not sharing- your child took the toy that my child was actively playing with. Of course that child had no use for the toy, so he threw it, and took off. I went and retrieved it, and made my way back to Vijay, who had big elephant tears rolling silently down his cheeks. I sat in the sand with him, and he sat in my lap, repeating, "Mama," as if for reassurance. We began to play together with the toy. The little boy came over again, and took it out of my hands. I explained, "Sweetie, we are playing with this toy. There are many other toys to play with. Can we please have it back." To which his mom replied, "Well, you have been playing with this one for a while." As if there were not 100 other toys to play with, and as if her son had any real interest in playing with the toy. The boy quickly discarded the toy, and the same scenario played out at least four or five more times, the boy actually laughing, and aggressively patting/slapping Vijay on the head the last time. Each time, I tried to explain to the child that we were playing with the toy, and each time he grabbed it out of our hands- and his mother did nothing. I couldn't bring myself to pull the toy back out of his hands- I couldn't do that to a child- and I was speechless, not knowing what to say to this mother- herself, a bully.
I almost died. I was too shocked to say anything, and so I just sat there, with my son- both of us feeling bullied.
There is no manual that prepares you for parenthood- but I don't feel I handled this situation to the best of my abilities. Should I have said something to the mother- "Your son is being inappropriate, and I would appreciate you giving us some space?" Should I have just gotten up and left- made a point that way?
What I do know is that my heart broke seeing Vijay's reaction, his crestfallen face, and retreat into my lap. I can't imagine when the stakes are higher- when we're talking about middle school bullies, or high school bullies, and when Vijay can articulate his hurt feelings. Will I be that mom that sounds the battle cry and takes on the bullies for my child? Or will I try to talk to the bully's parents? Or will I try to give Vijay the tools to handle the bully on his own terms?
I don't know the answers- and I am sorry if this story is long-winded, and seems very silly- but it brings up feelings of vulnerability as a parent. What is the best way to protect our children from bullies (and their parents), while still teaching them to stand up for themselves. Clearly, I don't know the answer.