The best parenting advice comes from people who do not have kids. I experienced this first hand when my daughter first got exposed to bullying at school and came home very upset multiple times.
Before I was a parent, I always told myself that I will hold my kids to high standards:
I don’t want them to be bullies or be mean to other kids; to always be respectful of their teachers and collaborate in class. Easier said than done, indeed. As my daughter made her first steps into school, I started realizing that reality is the best teacher. Maria –my daughter– is generally very kind and peaceful. She will not bully, she will not respond to bullying and she does not even understand why a child will use physical violence. This has put me in a tough dilemma.
My first line of defense was asking her to tell the teacher, whom she told every time this happened, and the teacher spoke to the kid who initiated the pushing or pulling. But, did it stop? No. So the teacher had to separate them and seat them on different tables in class. Did it stop? No. The kid was capable of being a bully during break-time or shared activities. OK, obviously, I need to teach her that it is not ok for others to lay their hands on her and hurt her. And in her little beautiful head, she was thinking: “If it is not ok, then why are others doing it?” You see, there is no straightforward answer to this. I cannot entirely blame it on the parents, thinking they did a bad job of raising their kids. Some kids are harder to manage; some kids don’t listen. But what do I do with my little one, who is not so hard to manage and actually listens?
It seems I took longer than I should in thinking. Maria decided to take “self-defense” classes on Xbox. I was shocked to see how her brain started thinking of ways she could protect herself. I wrote notes to her teacher in the communication book, but let’s be realistic: it is impossible to prevent such incidents completely. So, with all positive parenting books thrown aside, I decided to teach my daughter how to be positive about herself.
“Sweetheart, if someone pushes you: push back.”
“But they are my friends. I don’t want to hurt them.”
“If they start it and hurt you, then they are not your friends. Friends do not hurt each other.”
“But what if I push them and it hurts?”
“Did it hurt you when they pushed you?”
“Yes, so much. I hurt my knee.”
“Sometimes, habibti, the only way to remind someone how painful their actions are, is to act the same way with them.”
“What does that mean?”
“If someone pushes you; push back. If you don’t push back they will always bully you because they will think you are weak –and you are a very strong girl.”
I don’t regret having that conversation. We cannot entirely put our kids in an ivory tower, expecting them to survive today’s world. I want Maria to understand that she is precious and that she has the ability to protect herself. As long as she does not initiate the act, it should be OK to defend herself; because that’s what they should do as adults, isn’t it?