Monday, May 17, 2010

What Would You Do?

We went up to Grammaland to celebrate Uncle Chuck's birthday, and there was an incident.

I was sitting on a picnic bench talking to the grownups, and I heard Claire crying.  There were at least 50 kids there, so it was kind of awesome - my maternal ears are tuned into my kids so carefully that I heard her over the din and located her.  She was at the upper left of this huge thing:

I flew over the recycled tires that make up the "mulch" under the structure, shouting, "That's Claire," over my shoulder.  I made it up the stairs and had my arms around her within 15 seconds.

Mary Grace told me that "the big kid in the blue shirt" had pushed her, then pushed Claire, then choked a little boy whose mother also has magic ears and was already there.  She looked, and he had angry looking red marks on his collarbone.  He was clearly terrified.  I think he was about four years old.

The perp, who was clearly much older and bigger, I'm guessing 9 or 10 and 85 to 95 pounds, was up the structure further, being scolded by his own mother.  A crowd of wide-eyed kids had gathered to see what happened.

"I'm sorry," explained the mother.  "He's autistic.  He doesn't know any better.  He really tries, but he just doesn't know any better."  She made her son apologize to all the kids.  He tried to hug the little boy he'd choked, but the little boy wanted none of that.  (I watched, and the littler boy's mom tried for 30 minutes to calm him down before giving up and taking him home.  He was truly hurt and scared).  The perp's mom took him off the play structure and to the car, saying, "You've lost your privilege.  You can't hurt children at the park." 

She'd been through this before.

I felt compassion for the mom.  I also felt terrified for my kids.  He was MUCH larger than they are, and they were at the top of a huge flight of stairs, and he could easily have really hurt them. 

I went to my car to get my kids, and the kid who got choked, a Kleenex.  On the way I noticed that the family of the boy with autism was still sitting in their car.  I knocked on the window.  "I used to be a special ed teacher," I explained.  "I just want you to know, I understand, and I don't have any hard feelings.  I hope it gets easier for all of you."

And I could end the story there and sound like the greatest mom on the planet, showing compassion to the poor kid's mom, showing that I understand how hard it is for the boy...  I could leave the next part out, because I don't know, honestly, if it's the right thing to do.  But this is the part I really want to talk about, so brace yourselves.

On the way home, the kids and I talked about what had happened, and I said, "What if that kid had choked you or Claire?  What would you have done?"  They said they would have run, and I said, "But if his hands are on your neck, you won't be able to get away, will you?  Listen.  If a kid ever hurts you, I want you to try to get away and to a grown up.  I want you to call for help.  But if you can't do those things, I want you to bite him or poke him in the eye."

Oh yes, I did.

Nice girls get hurt.  I'm sorry, but it's true and I have proof.  Nice girls get forced to do things that they're not ready to do, particularly when they get a little bit older than my kids are now.  I am not interested in raising nice girls.  I'm raising kids who know how to take care of themselves, and who aren't afraid to stand up for themselves (or their sister).  If another kid starts it, I want my kids to finish it.

We went through a couple situations, "If a kid takes a toy from you, can you hurt him?"  "YEAH!" they both said (they thought it was funny that Mom was telling them to hurt people).  "NO!"  I corrected, "ONLY if he hurts you."  "If a kid hurts your feelings, can you bite him?"  "YEAH!" they both said.  "NO!  ONLY if he hurts you."  "If a kid chokes Claire, Mary Grace, can you bite him?"  "YEAH!" she said.  "That's right, but you'd better also scream for help."  This went on for a while, until I ran out of examples and they got bored.

We're going to have this conversation again, and BJ and I are going to look for a self-defense or martial arts class to get the kids into.

Should I teach my kids to fight to protect themselves?  I told BJ on the phone, "If some other kid starts it, I want our kids to end it.  And I don't care if they get suspended from school for fighting - if they tell me that it was self-defense, I will back them up." 

What would you do?


Amber said...

I think that is perfect!! Any person, boy or girl, should know how to defend themselves. If they are being physically hurt then they need to do anything they can to get away. There is no excuse for anybody to put their hands on another person. If they are an adult doing this to another adult then they go to jail. But with kids, everyone gets just gets kicked out of school - even for self defense. I totally feel that is unfair. I have always taught my kids (both are boys) that they have to defend themselves and that I will support them when this happens but I have also taught them that they are not to be the one starting the fight. They would have major consequences if they do.
I feel it is very important for girls to know how to defend themselves. Someday they will be all grown up and off at college and they will need to know how to take care of themselves.
There are many self defense classes around town here. You just need to find one that is appropriate for you and the girls. My youngest son takes Karate but you have to be 5 yrs old to start that.
So... I agree with you telling them to poke him in the eye or bite him. It will just take some time to teach them the difference in what kind of hurt. This goes very well with your whole stranger danger talk.

Julie McIntosh said...

GOOD FOR YOU, AMY! First of all, I am very sorry that her son has autism. That must be very challenging. That must be frustrating. It's also not YOUR child's problem. Nor is it MY child's problem. If her son cannot understand that his actions can hurt people and that he MUST NOT do these things, and if she cannot impart this on her son due to his autism, then SHE must supervise her child more closely. If this means not allowing him to be more than arm's reach away at any given moment when other children are present, that is her responsibility as the mother. If this means she can't take him to places like this, that's unfortunate... but it's necessary.

Again, HER son's inability to control his behavior, behavior that has the capability to HARM other children, is not a risk to be borne by other children, it's a responsibility to be borne by this mother and controlled with HER VIGILANCE. This applies to autism, ADD/ADHD, ED, LD, or garden variety aggression/misbehavior.

Now, let me say that you get the Great Human Award for saying what you did to this woman. I would not have been able to muster that. (And you know I was a teacher myself in a district that did not remove severely LD/ED/ADD/ADHD students from the classroom except in event of serious problem, so I practically qualify as a Special Ed teacher.) I probably would have told her my first paragraph. So, you're an amazing person. We all know that.

Lastly, teach your children to defend themselves? DAMN STRAIGHT! I taught both of my children that you "use your words" ONCE. "That hurts! STOP!" "I don't like that! Don't touch me!
"Don't kick me again!" Any of those phrases or pick another, as long as it is said clearly, forcefully, and without ANY tone that could be misconstrued as playing around. If the other child doesn't listen... they go down.

Amy, we had a VERY similar situation recently. Katie, as you know, is a senior brown belt in tae kwon do. There is a new white belt child in the class whose mother believes that obviously severe and obviously unmedicated and totally unmanaged ADHD is an excuse. "He can't help it!" is her constant mantra. He kicks people. He kicked my daughter. TWICE. The class was very busy... the instructor missed it. Katie cried and sat out for a moment after the second kick. I called her to me. The mother was sitting RIGHT behind me. She said nothing. I told her, not in a hushed tone at all, "Honey... When you go back out there, you tell Connor not to kick you again. If he kicks you again -- punch him." Katie nodded through tears and smiled. I sent Katie back out to the mat.

Let's say that the mother expressed her displeasure. I told her, "I understand your child has an issue, as you've mentioned it several times. It's not Katie's problem. You may keep him home, you may discipline him, or you can certainly let him suffer the consequences of his actions. If he kicks her again, he will suffer the consequences of his actions, and it will probably do him some good."

See? You're not alone. And I think I'm a wonderful mother, and you are, too, of course! Wonderful mothers raise their daughters not to tolerate violence against them for ANY reason. If she doesn't tolerate a little boy's excuse of autism, she won't tolerate a big boy's excuse of alcoholism.

I love you, and you're amazing. As always.

Kim said...

I would do the same thing you did. But, then again, my boys were raised with a cousin who was a bully, and at a very young age I trained them to not get beaten, battered and bruised by him without fighting back. I told them basically what you told your girls "If this kid hits you, pushes you, punches you or hurts you - I want you to HIT HIM BACK. I don't care if you have to pick up the nearest Tonka truck - you HIT HIM BACK." We had the conversation about "Nice people don't hit or start fights for no reason"- but that was followed up with "but nice people also don't allow other people to hurt them or their brothers."

It worked, too. The bully cousin was still a bully to most kids, but once my boys started ganging up and fighting back to protect each other - he left them alone.

Of course, it didn't help that my Sister in Law (bully's mom) was one of those "Not MYYYYYY Kid" mothers - the one who thinks that if my kid has a black eye and swollen lip and is crying "Bully Cousin did it!" She'd STILL tell you "No, couldn't have been - your kid is lying - he probably just fell..." And I'm SURE that fueled my whole "Hit the brat back!" attitude.

If the kid had been autistic, or the mother was really TRYING to atone for the kid, it may have all played out differently. But the way the situation played out - and the fact that it made the brat leave my kids alone for YEARS, gives me enough confidence to agree with you and tell you that you did exactly the right thing.

Cassondra said...

We've always taught our kids the exact same thing!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Amy but I think there should also be a talk about the age of the child? I mean what if if it is a 1 year old at a friend's house that bites a 5 year old, we wouldn't really want that 5 year old biting back right?

Julie McIntosh said...

Anon, this is why I tell my daughter to use words ONCE. My daughter is seven. The kid who kept kicking her is four. He's old enough to know what the words "Don't do that" or "STOP!" mean. She's to tell them to stop once, then defend herself.

IMO, If a child is old enough to be away from their mother's eye and they're old enough to give a kick that would hurt, they're old enough to get kicked back. If they're old enough to be out of arm's reach of their mother and they bite, they're old enough to get bitten back. (Though I wouldn't suggest my daughter bite a child back, because it's unsanitary. A punch in the gut is much less icky.)

With a one-year-old biting a five-year-old, I'd say that if the five-year-old has to go to these lengths to defend herself, the mother of the one-year-old is not adequately supervising her child, who is obviously too young to be left to their own devices, and it's on the mother if her kid gets hurt.

Again, it comes down to two choices: Parents must teach their children how to behave appropriately, or they must supervise them heavily. It's not the responsibility of other children to tolerate being hurt.

Julie McIntosh said...

(I just asked Katie what she would do if a toddler bit her. She said, "I'd tell him 'NO! BAD!' and I'd tell you!" Then I asked, "What if he did it again?" She said, "I would push him down and go tell you to tell his mom! Where is she, anyway?" Out of the mouths of babes..."

Jen said...

I can't believe, given BJ's history, that your kids aren't already in karate, in one form or another...

Amy said...

Thanks for all the comments, I'm feeling a lot better about what I told the girls!

Anon - my kids LOOOOVVEEE babies, and I can't imagine them ever hurting a small child. But I probably should be explicit, just in case. Good thought.

RobMonroe said...

Nothing I can add - I dread this day on the playground for Abby. She is really mellow and I don't know what she would do.

Honig said...

As always, Amy, I love the conversations you spark here!

We haven't come across this issue yet, but as we hurtle through the 2's I know it's coming soon. I really, really like Julie's philosophy - use your words once and then do what you have to do. I'm sure my daycare director would cringe to hear me say that, but I agree 1,000,000%.

PS - I disagree with you labeling this post under "bad mommy." I'd say this is 180 degrees from that!

Rachel said...

This is such a tough one but I think you handled it really well, and I'm going to have the same conversation with my sons when they're old enough. I have wondered and wondered what to do about the whole bullying thing and I think this response is perfect, and I really like the 'use your words once' rule. I don't want my kids to be pushovers! (I also don't want them to be bullies, hence the reason I've always wondered what the best 'rule' is.) Thanks!