She’s happily swinging on the “big girl” swing, obviously proud of herself for having graduated from the rubberized, diaper-looking mini-swings. An overgrown lout with greasy hair and what appears to be stubble on his chin – the kid has to be six years old, probably seven – decides that he wants that swing. Now. Glowering at Piper as he towers over her, he casually grabs hold of the chain, yanks it, and sends her dangling off the swing like a marionette. She begins to wail as he pushes her aside. What do you do?
A) You intervene immediately to console your hyper-ventilating child. “It’s okay, sweetie,” you coo into her ear as she sobs into your shoulder. You calmly carry her away from the scene, find a quiet place to sit her down, and then scan the playground for the lout’s mother so you can give her the Evil Eye.
B) You intervene immediately to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. “What seems to be the problem?” you ask innocently as you approach the children. You work to calm them both down and get them to explain what they want. Then you help them find an amicable solution that involves apologies and taking turns.
C) You sit back and watch the scene. You smile inwardly as Piper picks herself off the ground and shoves the lout back. Surprised by her temerity, he pushes her away again. She’s having none of it. Grabbing the bottom of the swing, she attempts to upend him. By this time, the scene has attracted the attention of several parents, and the lout’s embarrassed mother hurriedly hustles him away.
Most modern parenting books would suggest that B is the best way to deal with the situation, though in reality many parents opt for the non-confrontational A. B has its merits, no doubt. The situation gets resolves peacefully, both kids get the chance to use the swing, and you get another line in your Nobel Peace Prize nomination. But what messages is it sending to Piper and the lout? Even in the best case scenario, that approach tells them the wrong things about life.
First, it rewards bullying. Instead of being punished or shamed, the lout gets to use the swing in the end. That simply is not right! Peace must not come at the expense of justice. That almost-old-enough-to-get-a-learner’s-permit brute has no business messing with a pint-sized pre-schooler. He needs to understand that. He has probably been pushing little kids around since he was mobile, and few of them have had the guts to stand up to him. If he gets away with it today, he will be groping other folks’ daughters on the subway ten years from now. Better to set him straight now.
Intervening to bring peace to the situation also sends the wrong message to Rachel. It tells her that when confronted with a bully the best solution is to find a way to make the bully happy, even if it means that she has to give up something he has no right to have. It tells her that Daddy is going to come to her rescue whenever she gets in trouble. It tells her that she is incapable of standing up for herself. She might as well be that wretched damsel in distress who waits helpless for some man to save the day. Sure, it makes you feel good to be the hero, but at whose expense?
Those are not the kinds of messages I want my daughter to internalize. Instead, I want her to stand her ground when she is right, even if it risks confrontation. I want her to stick up for and others, even if it means courting danger. I want her to put bullies in their place so that the bullies will not swagger around the playground wreaking havoc anymore. So I advocate C. Resist the temptation to intervene – intervening may make you feel better about yourself, but ultimately it damages your daughter’s ability to develop courage.
Let Her Fight!