Thursday, November 3, 2011

Protecting Turtle: Part Three - Bullies Are Born

I read an article a while ago about bullies.  I know it's been in the news lately and most of the focus in on teenagers and online bullying.  But the problem starts much earlier.  Bullies are born.  They have to be shaped into young men who will protect rather than harm others.

I was skeptical of the article.  I looked at my little man and thought, "there's no way a child this small could be a bully."

I was proven wrong today.


Turtle is curious by nature.  He likes to point to things and get really close to look at them.  He is an engineer at heart, constantly working to figure out how things work.

I think it's normal for these little cavemen to be curious.

But some of the other cavemen on the playground are not as open to this shared exploration of things... like their toys.

Turtle was walking around the jungle gym, staring at the tiny stickers someone has peppered all over it.  A young boy, about two and a half, walked up to him and screamed at him.  Turtle just stood his ground and looked at the yellow car in the boys hand.

The boy ran off, circled around, watched Turtle for a few minutes, ran back to him, got inches away from his face and yelled at him again.

I kept my distance (if you can call four feet distance).  We'd had an experience with this child before.  He yelled at Turtle a couple times before his mother stepped in with a soothing, "You shouldn't do that, sweetheart."  So the child left and then ended up hitting another kid on the other side of the playground.

So I had my eye on him... and mom was nowhere to be found.

The boy then walked around Turtle in a circle a few times.  He noticed that Turtle, babbling an pointing, was interested in his small yellow car.  He held it out just long enough for Turtle to reach out and touch it.

And then he he reached out with both hands, grabbed Turtle by the shoulders and shoved him to the ground.  The yellow, metal car, still in his hand, was raised over Turtle to hit him.

And then Daddy lost his proverbial shit.

Now at this point I should explain something.  I am an actor by trade and training.  Let's just say I have the ability to project if I need to.

I let out a very, very loud, "HEY!"

This kid froze.  I felt all the parents heads whip around to the corner of the park.

"Apologize and help him up."

The kid then did something I did not expect.  He glared at me.  He raised the car again, daring me to stop him.

I stood with both hands in my pockets, calmly staring down an almost three year old sociopath.

"Apologize and help him up...  NOW!"

The kid's eyes shot daggers.  He was not backing down.  At all.

By this time, Grandma showed up.

"What did he do?"

"He's been yelling at my kid and he just grabbed him, threw him down and was going to hit him with that metal car."

She turned to the boy and asked him something in Russian.  The kid's tone changed and he responded, in Russian.

I don't know what was said, but it was that whiny tone that anyone takes when they've been caught doing something wrong and try to blame the 19 month old splayed on the ground in front of him.

I got down and helped my son to his feet.  He seemed unfazed and toddled over to another sticker.

The woman then did something I will never understand.

"Go on and play.  I'll get you a treat."


She turned to me and asked again what happened.

"Your kid grabbed mine and threw him to the ground and was about to strike him with that hunk of metal in his hand.  That's what happened."

"My grandson said your son tried to steal it."

"No.  My 19 month old child, who is half your kids size, did no such thing.  You need to keep an eye on your child.  This is not the first time he's done this to kids at this playground."

She seemed shocked.  Not her dear prince.  Not her boy.

Yes... Her boy.

She left and got the treat for her boy, who went off and tormented some other child.

As Turtle played, another parent brought her child, a 16 month old we'll call Sash.  He's a ball of Ukrainian fury.  A funny kid with bright eyes and a quick smile.  He's also a potential bully.  He hits and smacks other kids.

However, Mom doesn't let him get away with it.  Mom brings three kids' strollers with her (these are the playground equivalent of a carton of cigarettes).  Mom tracks him and when he acts up, she doesn't just chastise him, she works to teach him.  He and Turtle have been at odds, doing the caveman struggle over a stroller to push and it's our job observe carefully and to make sure they work their way through the conflict.  So far they have been able to.  But it often involves Sash's mother pulling out another stroller so they both have one.  Sash still hits (he later hit another child with a fist and he then rammed a kid with a stroller for trying to touch it) but his mother is there to educate him when he engages in this behavior.

It's important because this behavior is contagious.  I noticed Turtle trying to hit a girl today for taking his chalk.  He soon found out that behavior is unacceptable and I explained why.  We talked about sharing and why hitting someone is wrong.

Okay, I did most of the talking and he just listened with a pout. 

But within minutes, he was back on the playground coloring dragonflies with kids he'd just met, sharing his chalk like a pro.

And we've fought back not only the bullies, but the disease they try to spread.

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