Thursday, 28 March 2013

Playground politics - Fight or Flight?

This week my daughter was given a choice at school – move off the bench she was sitting on or get kicked. Her options were charmingly laid before her by a boy two years older – and considerably bigger – than her. To my shock, she did as requested and moved. Her pluckier friend however remained at the bench, and interestingly did not receive any punishment for doing so.

When my daughter recounted the story I was quite cross, since her sister had recently witnessed a friend being subjected to an equally unpleasant experience in the playground, and I had told them both after hearing about it that they should try and stand up to people like that. I had basically told them that it is okay to push someone away if they are hurting you or a friend – particularly if it is a boy, and especially if it is an older boy. Scream and shout at them, I instructed, tell them they are not allowed to push you around. Call a grown up and make sure the bully is caught.
No time to learn Jedi mind tricks - get him!!!
But the subject is a sensitive one. Of course I would be mortified if I was called into school because either of my girls had been in a fight, despite practically giving them a green light to bash a bully if needs be. But equally, I can’t bear to think of them being afraid of another child – even a mean one that could actually harm them. Is walking away – even if it is an option – really the best solution? Or should you stand your ground and see what happens? Should you fight fire with fire  – and is 'telling' on someone enough?

If I'm honest, if I thought for one second that they were being bullied or intimidated by another child, I’d have to be held down myself when I saw the parents at pick up. Although I’m sure adults ‘calling each other out’ at the school gates is neither a good example to set, a solution to the problem – or the politically correct way to handle the situation, it would be my gut reaction. And it would certainly make for an unusual front page in the local rag

So how can I teach my children to effectively cope with bullies? Especially when I’m not even sure I can cope with them myself. Because let’s face it, intimidation isn’t just restricted to school playgrounds. How often do we as adults find ourselves doing things we would rather not, saying yes when we want to say no or shying away from a situation because of another person? It happens at work, within families, among friends, in relationships and in everyday situations from the guy peddling dusters at your door to a stranger pushing in front of you at the supermarket. It might not all come with the threat of violence, it might even be cunningly wrapped up as emotional blackmail, but it comes down to the ‘bully’ getting his or her own way because you are afraid of the ramifications of a confrontation.

And perhaps that is why it upsets me so much. I know I have backed down, left good jobs and missed opportunities to avoid upsetting and dealing with difficult people – people that do a good line in overreacting. I can’t bear to think that my girls will go through anything like that later in life – from some miserable idiot that blocks a promotion through jealousy to a boyfriend that doesn’t cut you lose until he has secured his next deal. I don’t want them to feel that anxiety in the pit of your stomach when you know you are putting up and shutting up. I want kick-arse kids – but ones that miraculously don’t get themselves into trouble because of all their ‘tude.
The ultimate blagger - Mummy is too polite to ask him to leave (The Tiger Who Came to Tea - Judith Kerr).
Which leaves me up the do-do creek – without the proverbial paddle. But I guess this is just one of the many paradoxes of parenting. You want your kids to be gentle souls yet tough when needs must, to be self-confident not self-centred, you want them to succeed in life but not be burdened by the worries of practicality, you want them to laugh and play but to study too, to take those risks life presents yet somehow never taste failure.

Basically, you want the impossible for them, because you love them impossibly.

Have you had to deal with bullying – or do you worry about toughening up your kiddo to deal with real life? Is it wrong to hit back – and does ignoring intimidation really work? Help me out by adding your comments and experiences below.


  1. I have no answers, it's such a tricky line, isn't it. I think you put it really well, "You want your kids to be gentle souls yet tough when needs must, to be self-confident not self-centred."

    At this point my son is 19 months. He's very strong willed so I like him to be around older kids that "put him in his place." Now it's a totally different story when I see an older child push him down or take things from him...I'm still just learning how much to intervene. Safety of our children comes first though.

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts. I think I have to mull this one over a little bit more!

    1. I'm still learning about when to intervene when my girls are arguing with each other too - I don't want them to be unable to work it out when I'm not around!

      Happy Easter!