Wednesday night I sat on a park bench and watched Hannah take a tearful swipe at a little boy who was not, at that moment, doing anything visibly wrong. I called her over to me, and she trudged over, climbed into my lap and started crying. She said the other kids were being mean to her all night, especially one new friend, who kept telling her that it wasn't her turn at whatever they were doing. Hannah was upset, because she was keeping track of the order, and she KNEW she when it was supposed to be her turn. That's just not fair. Then she fell down, and actually got hurt, but the little boy didn't ask if she was okay. That's just not nice. He may have also made a joke, which was why she took a very wide swipe at him, which had no chance of connecting, but graphically expressed her deep frustration. That's just heartbreaking.
My daughter, as an only child, doesn't really have to compete for anything at home. She can have undivided attention, uninterrupted time at playing with her toys, unlimited turns swinging on the rope in the backyard, all without having to negotiate with other kids. When there are other kids around, she is usually gracious, and wants to share. She doesn't understand why other kids don't use the same manners that she does, why they would be mean, hit, or laugh at her.
When things like this happen, I just want to take her home, bundle into our little mom-dad-Hannah cocoon and never let anyone else in. I want to hold her and rock her and tell her how much I love her, and that she never has to see those rotten kids again if she doesn't want to.
But I don't want to make her emotionally crippled. I don't really want her living with me when she's 40. I know the rest of the world is a lot harsher, ruder, and louder than her dad and I are. And I want her to be able to live on earth like a normal person.
So what I do is reason with her about how important it is to be first, as opposed to second in line, if everyone still gets a turn. I tell her that boys fall down all the time, and they might not stop to ask one another if they're okay, and maybe that's why this boy didn't ask her. I tell her that everyone has bad days, and maybe the other kids don't realize they're being mean. I remind her to tell other people to "Buzz off!" in her "mean voice" when they bother her repeatedly. I remind her that she doesn't have to give other people the toys she's using when they ask, but it's okay to do so if she wants. And I let her know that everyone won't be her friend, but she can still be kind to everyone.
I don't really know how to raise a child to be both assertive and kind. I'm not always sure how to do those two things at the same time as an adult. Sometimes I want to backhand other people's children for being a jerk to mine; but I don't want to intervene too quickly, for fear that I'll teach my child that I don't think she can handle her own problems. It's painful to watch her struggle and sometimes fail, although I know that's the correct way to build self-esteem, because it's the quickest way to break my heart. Some days I'd like to stay on the bench and let someone else handle the heavy hitting.