This is an interesting one.
When Wally is in a situation with another child where he feels he’s being treated unfairly, he does NOT come to me. He stands up for himself. Now, sometimes he does not make the best choices about how to most effectively do that, but I will also grant him that sometimes it seems that the only way to get through to his playmates who are not listening to him is to shove them. I don’t encourage that choice, but I do understand it. He has a limited toolbox at four, and when one tool doesn’t work, he moves on to the next one. He’s working on keeping the shoving and hitting tools at the bottom of the box.
Recently, W was playing with a slightly older child (1-2 years older) who was about his level (or younger) as far as maturity goes. I found it really an interesting thing to watch. Wally expects certain behavior from older children – good and bad – based largely on his experiences with his cousins. This child was unlike his cousins and it was interesting to stand aside and watch W figure this out. The child treated W unfairly, grabbing toys from him, yelling, etc. The loud-ness particularly had me concerned, because loud situations have always been Wally’s downfall. That’s why he doesn’t do well in crowds. The noise. Not just noise – it’s people noise. People talking loudly. (Not that he’s not loud, but that’s apparently acceptable.)
He tried asking the boy to be quieter, didn’t work. He tried asking the boy to give him his toys back, didn’t work. So he started defending his territory by refusing to let go of the disputed items. He tried leaving the scene (with his toys). Then he turned to hanging on to the item with one hand while fending off the other child with his other hand. And I get it. But shoving and hitting is also not acceptable. But it was really hard for me to step in and try to explain this. Because, at my root, I want Wally to stand up for himself. And he had tried nearly everything. And I had stepped in with a snack and drink for each child as a way of giving them some time away from each other. W was doing a really good job using his mouth and not his hands. It’s just that the other kid didn’t care. And a kid can only take so much.
(Note, we had tried getting the other mom involved, but apparently she didn’t have any concerns with what was going on. And it was a complicated situation where we could not just remove ourselves entirely.)
It was really frustrating for me to have to have W think he was in trouble for things that were really understandable…just not acceptable. I wish he would come to me when he needs help with another child, but he has NEVER been like that, even as a toddler. He wants to do it on his own. And I want to let him. It’s hard to balance that against the need to help him. As I’m typing this, I am thinking that we need to work on the skill of walking away. Walking away is not accepting defeat, it’s refusing to fight. I think he could use that skill.
We did have a talk afterwards about the whole thing, and how it feels to be frustrated and angry. About behavior with other kids, that sometimes other kids don’t behave well, and that sometimes we just need to come and sit with mommy for a bit.
(Also, I will note that Wally hit the other boy in almost exactly the same way that we’ve seen parents hit their children in public. They would call it spanking and get bent out of shape if anyone accused them of hitting. But if they watched W do it, they’d label it hitting and him naughty.)
On another note, at Babywearing this week, another child was hitting W in the face with a stuffed toy. Not meanly, she seemed to be attempting to play a game with him. Anyway, as I glanced over, he was backing away saying “stop that, please.” She said no and kept doing it, and he tried three or four times. All with his voice, none with his hands. At that point, I walked over and suggested that if he had asked nicely for her to stop and she didn’t stop, he could consider moving to another part of the room. He didn’t want to, so I left them to their own devices, but just watched. It never came to blows, and honestly W didn’t even get that “I’m about to go Jackie Chan on you” look in his eye that he gets when feeling extremely frustrated. I was sooooo happy.
But about a half hour after we were home, he wanted to play with a toy in an inappropriate way (smacking me with it) and I took it and put it up out of his reach (our agreed-upon way of dealing with toys that are used inappropriately), and he let out what I surmise to be the pent-up frustration from the various experiences at Babywearing. He hit me a few times, stomped into the other room, glared at me, threw a few things, then ran back for a hug. Growing up is so hard.