I’ll start by setting the scene:
It’s 10am on a dreary, supposedly Summer, weekday morning, and soft play is largely deserted. A few toddlers are scattered around the under 5’s area. Their parents are generally glad to have something to do that is guaranteed to entertain and tire out their little one, the vibe is as relaxed as soft play gets.
BAM! A loud slapping sound, followed by a sharp intake of breath.
Everyone goes silent as the Mum’s of two brawling toddlers start to tackle the situation. Child A has slapped Child B pretty hard across the face. No-one is crying but both Mothers look like they might implode with rage, Child A has a lot to answer for. After a hurried apology from Child A’s Mum both children are dragged away to their respective tables. Child A’s Mum starts to smack his bottom whilst shouting about how he ‘is going to be taken home immediately as he can not behave‘. Child B’s Mum (a.k.a. ‘the slap-ee’) is sitting right behind me and can be heard telling her child to ‘never let anyone treat you like that, you have to hit them back‘, (I wasn’t eavesdropping, promise).
I can’t help but inwardly shudder at both responses.
We’ve all been there. No-one’s child is a polite little darling all the time. Whether it be a push, a barge, a shout of ‘no that’s mine!’, all parents have at some point or another felt the need to apologist for their child’s less than angelic behaviour. A quick apology will usually suffice to the parent in question, or if you’re the parent of the ‘victim’ a nod and quick brush off is enough. But how do you address your child’s behaviour or experience with them?
I took to Twitter to see if I was being the worst kind of parent ever, the judgemental arsehole. I asked: Would you tell your child that if someone hits them it’s okay to hit them back?
Most people seemed, like me, to feel a bit torn. Whilst no-one wants to raise a violent child that jumps to attack others whenever the opportunity presents itself, there is also a valid argument that children need to know they can protect themselves if need be. Many responses I got stated that while they would outwardly tell their child to ignore a bully, they would inwardly be okay with it if they did physically protect themselves.
Some child psychologists believe that if a child does not respond to a physical attack with similar behaviour it is more likely that they will become a target again, particularly from attacks by the same child. I know speaking of ‘attacks’ and ‘violence’ might seem a bit dramatic over a small scale soft play altercation but honestly, if there is any one thing that has been proven by child psychologists it is that children are at their most easily influenced in their pre-school years.
To be honest, while I’m trying not to judge either of the Mother’s in this instance (I mean God knows what their reasoning is and who am I to question it!) but I know that there is no chance I would loudly suggest to George in a public soft play area that he should go and hit another child. Similarly, I would not resort to the violence I am supposed to be punishing my child for using by resorting to it as a form of discipline. It is so easy to pinpoint the cycle the two toddlers involved in this incident are part of. Child A displays violence, his Mother responds with violence. Child B is a victim of violence, his Mother suggests he uses violence as a response. What else can a toddler take from that except that hitting and hurting other children is not only acceptable but actively endorsed by the person they take the majority of their social cues from?
Let me tell you about the outcome of their individual chats with their children.
Neither child was removed from the soft play and resumed their mornings play about five minutes later. Child B sought out Child A and repeatedly kicked him as told to do so by his Mother, Child A hit him again. And the cycle continues.
I think if I learnt anything from witnessing this disaster (not that I was being nosey) is that when it comes to toddlers your answer when it comes to responding to bullies has to be NO. Adults should be the protectors, mediators and disciplinarians. I understand people will hold many different views about this but that is where my decision has fallen.
Whether or not I would slyly push a toddler over if they hurt George is another matter all together…
(I’m joking of course, but we all know the Mama rage is real!)