While sitting in our kitchen, my oldest daughter, a kindergartner, announced a boy in her class is pushing and hitting her on the bus. My fierce mama antenna raised faster than I could whip my head around and exclaim, “What?!”
As if I am practicing for when she is a teenager, I wanted to be careful with my line of questioning and not spook my 5-year-old into silence.
Mama: “What do you mean Austin* is hitting you?”
5-year-old: “He’s pushing me and smacking my head like this on the bus.”
She then demonstrated self-inflicting swats to the side of her face and head along with imaginary shoves to her shoulder. I began searching the areas she was accosting for marks or bruises. Then I thought, “What the hell am I doing? Searching for marks of abuse on my 5-year old from another kindergartner?! This is beyond messed up!”
I initially thought to sound the alarm and bring attention to the unwanted touching to the teacher, talk to the boy’s parents, or give the bus driver a head’s up to keep an eye on them. Then I thought better.
Before I go down the path of being the overbearing parent, I should teach my daughter to speak up for herself. This is a moment where I empower her with tools to handle similar situations in the future and ultimately give her the skills she needs for life as a woman.
Mama: “If you do not like what he’s doing, you need to tell him to stop. You can say ‘I don’t like what you are doing. You need to stop it.’ If he doesn’t stop, who is in charge on the bus?”
5-year-old: “The bus driver.”
Mama: “Right, then you tell the bus driver and they will help you.”
5-year old nods with an understanding expression on her face, then pauses and says: “Mama, even though he hits me, I love him.”
WHAT?!? With this confession, all sorts of anti-feminist sentiment flowed through me. He is hitting her, but she loves him? And then I thought, “Are little boys still doing this?!” and I flashed back to my elementary school days when boys pushed me, poked me in the back while standing in line, or pulled my hair. Whether I had a little kid crush on the assailant or not did not make it OK. Thirty years later, it is still not acceptable, especially since it is now my precious little baby being harassed. I explained, “Even if you love him, he needs to treat you with kindness and be nice.” With this, I felt like I was protecting her from future potential domestic abuse. Gosh, how many life lessons can one conversation hold?
So, we sent her off to school the next day, more eager to hear what happened on the bus than in the classroom.
Mama: “How was the bus today?”
5-year-old: “It was fine.”
Come on kid, give me more to work with!
Mama: “How was Austin?”
5-year-old: “He didn’t hit me, but he called me a baby carriage.”
Mama (admittedly confused because this kid was not making sense. He said she’s a baby carriage? Still, I pressed on): “So, what did you do?”
5-year-old with conviction and strength: “I told him I AM NOT A BABY and I AM NOT in a baby carriage!”
Mama: “Did he bother you after that?”
5-year-old with pride in her voice and a mirthful smile on her face: “No.”
What I learned from this was:
- Thank goodness my daughter can stand up for herself
- Young boys need to be taught how to show affection appropriately
I am the mother of daughters; my approach is empowering my daughters to be the change. Yet, I cannot help but think why are little boys still resorting to name calling, teasing and physically hurting others when they like someone?
I will do my part as the mother to girls, but this is a two-pronged approach. We need to change the way boys seek attention from the object of their affection. If not, is letting inappropriate childhood advances go unchecked the first step towards future harassment and assault? Am I being grandiose and reaching? Well, I do not care because this is for my daughters!
Actually, this applies to boys and girls (because I am directing my girls to “find their kindness” daily). We need to show our children how to say things like, “I think you are nice, could we play together?” Let’s show our children how to draw a picture for someone they like, make a card for them, pick some dandelions, or do something nice or kind to get someone’s attention. Subsequently, let’s teach pushing and teasing is wrong and include a consequence for the inappropriate behavior.
The adage you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar is true. If you want attention, learn to be nice and see how it will make everyone’s lives better.
In the meantime, I am teaching my girls to stand up for themselves, be kind to others and not let others physically or verbally push them around, in a baby carriage or otherwise.