Life Lessons From the Playground
by Christy Sillman
I should have known when I heard his parents screaming “be nice” every time he got close to other children that Paul was the playground bully. He had that look. Think Scut Farkus from The Christmas Story, but as a 3 year old. I hovered around my little Noah trying to prevent self-imposed injury through a fearless leap off the jungle gym, but what happened next took my breath away.
Noah rounded the corner and found himself face to face with Paul. Noah looked up at him with a half smile and a look that said, “Ooooh you’re big, maybe we can play?”
Paul, without a word of warning, proceeded to shove Noah down to the ground with a look of pride from conquering someone smaller than himself. His parents scolded him for such an action, and I watched Noah experience life’s cruel reality that some people can be unjustifiably unkind to you. Noah’s pout reflected his broken trust, and I just held him in shock.
Sure, Paul was just testing limits and boundaries. It’s all about experimenting when you’re 3 years old. “If I do something I know I shouldn’t what will happen?” “If I do it again will they follow through?”
I tried not to judge the parents, but I couldn’t help but disapprove of their approach to his discipline. No apology was requested, and there were no consequences for his actions beside a general scold for doing something “not nice.”
Noah may have Paul-like moments himself, but I will see them as learning opportunities. There is no way in hell he’d be allowed to continue playing at the park if he ever shoved another child down like that.
I should have been more aggressive in requesting an apology from Paul for Noah, but this was new territory for me as a parent, and hindsight is 20/20. Maybe I did model good behavior for Noah by just walking away and moving on to other children who wanted to play nicely with him?
It made me think about how I handle aggressive people, and how I struggle with defending myself or others with eloquence. My days of passive aggression need to end and rational retort with confidence needs to take over.
I hated seeing Noah experience this type of unkindness, but I can’t always protect him. I’m going to have to teach him to use non-violent ways to stand up for himself, and to take the higher road when faced with the ugliness people can show each other. I want him to stand up for others and comfort those who have been hurt, including a bully, because those are usually the individuals who hurt the most.
If there is one thing I want most for Noah, it is for him to be a good person. I hope Noah will be empathetic, kind and loving to others without getting hurt in the process — I think I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.
When someone unjustifiably hurts me I hold that pain with me. I analyze it, question my involvement, and re-evaluate how I can prevent it in the future. Ultimately someone’s small action tends to stay with me long after it occurred.
Noah, on the other hand, didn’t think twice about Paul’s actions. He found the sweetest little girl to play ball with and focused his energy on that enjoyment. Ultimately Noah didn’t care. Noah didn’t let Paul’s problem become his own. He allowed himself 15 seconds of pouting and then moved on.
I guess that’s the great thing about parenting — lots of time we find the answers to our own life lessons through our children.