I missed my post last week for a few reasons. For one, I’m working on recipes for a deadline (poor excuse, I know), and the other because I was wrestling with my first bullying experience from a parental perspective.
Boys around the age of my son, six, are enjoying their first freedom on playgrounds, gymnasiums, and athletic fields. They’re also often experimenting with strength and physicality. All of which was fine, for me, at first, until patterns started to emerge. Amazingly, my wife had to point out to me that one boy ought not consistently seek out another particular boy for these experiments. This began to occur one weekend. Physically my son held up fine, but he seemed to grow emotionally weary -I’m not convinced he’s certain when another’s horseplay has become intentionally hurtful. His attention (easily taxed anyhow) and performance eventually seemed to suffer. He told me, unsolicited, of his strategies to avoid being tripped and ignore insults. At a point he chose to fight. Standing up for himself this way resolved nothing, perhaps predictably. The next night out the other boy made a beeline for him. Found him, behind the action.
This is one of those situations where hard fast rules are tough to apply. On a team it’s difficult to avoid an antagonist, especially in a sport that necessitates physical encounters. If one boy (or girl, of course) wants to find another he need only take an errant shot in practice. Benches and sidelines are animated spaces and tough to police. What is celebration one second can quickly become shoving. Some kids might choose to endure something unjust to feel part of a team. Bullying isn’t as simple as we once supposed; today we must assume that they’re socially adept and intelligent. Today’s wisdom holds that they’re trying to project shame. Sensitive and/or silly kids are a natural targets.
How would one model for a boy (or girl), at an age where lengthy explanation loses them, how to make judgments for himself in dynamic circumstances? Well, I imagine the answer is to spend time with him navigating situations which call for guidelines rather than rigid rules. It occurs to me that, at a point, a mind must move beyond a recipe and begin to interpret signs and evaluate variables. But there’s no lecture to get this across. Confidence in one’s reactions is probably more profitable than any rule, to a child, in the long run… because there are other little people out there experimenting with exploiting blurred boundaries. It’s weird, in this way, that risks contain opportunity for growth, so it’s important to find ways, activities, to start small so that a kid isn’t burned when it comes to making an important call. I guess the best ways are ones where parents themselves find confidence and mastery. One could be cooking.