Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
I have tried to raise my kids with good manners, compassion, respect for other people’s property, the ability to share and a sense of kindness for everyone around them.
I thought I was doing the right thing.
I wasn’t wrong.
If we lived in a perfect world, that is.
Problem: This isn’t a perfect world.
It is a world where other kids are not necessarily taught to say please and thank you, not to swear, to share, to be kind, to not hit. It’s a world where other kids will snatch, steal and be downright cruel.
By teaching my kids to always be nice, have I indirectly rendered them incapable of coping in a less than perfect world? I didn’t think so for a long time. I wasn’t that cynical. I was a firm believer in raising my kids to always be kind, polite and certainly, to never hit.
Until Little Man got punched in the guts. In pre-school.
Let me explain.
When my little four year old boy came home from school with dried-up snail trails adorning his chubby cheeks and told me he’d been punched in the guts, my heart broke. He was distraught and simply couldn’t comprehend that a kid had hit him – after all WE DON’T HIT.
We spoke about all the different ways he could deal with it, if it ever happened again. We talked about how he is the boss of his body and that nobody has the right to hurt him, ever. He told me that his teacher had told the class that if someone hurts you, you should say, “NO! I don’t like that!” and then go tell her. I thought that this was an empowering and logical piece of advice – fairly easy for a four year old to implement. So, we role-played various situations where he could use this tool and he grew a little more confident. We hugged, he cheered up and off he went to school again the following day.
When it happened again.
And again, the following day. And again for the rest of the week.
No amount of intervention from the school was stopping the aggressor (yes, I just called a four year old boy an aggressor – don’t question Mama Bear) until Little Man was utterly terrified to go to school and had come to see himself as a weak, disempowered victim.
I had countless meetings with his teacher, who assured me she was on top of it. I was assured by his teacher that the bully had been dealt with appropriately and had been told that he was not allowed near Little Man. I also witnessed Little Man sitting on the mat, visibly shaking as he nervously looked behind him, entirely aware of the bully sitting just out of reach. Yes, that (insert inappropriate descriptive word for rotten kid here) kid wasn’t touching him, but he made sure he was close enough to intimidate Little Man.
That afternoon, Little Man came home and reported that he’d been sucker-punched in the playground, again.
The school’s advice to simply say “NO! I don’t like that!” and then go tell the teacher, was rendered utterly useless because, by this stage, Little Man was so terrified of the kid who was cornering him and punching him that there was no way on earth he was able to say anything to him. Of course, the bully was smart enough to make sure that he was an angel when teachers were looking and conniving enough to find the blind-spot where and when nobody was looking to victimise Little Man.
I was at my wit’s end. My little boy was being terrorised and I didn’t know how to help him. That four year old bully had become huge and scary in my mind too, as I stepped into Little Man’s shoes.
I realised that no matter how involved the teacher was, this bully was not going to stop. He was always going to find a way to get to Little Man. I was going to have to find a new way to deal with this.
That afternoon, I took my kids to their regular Zen Do Kai class. Week by week, I sit in awe as I witness my kids not only learning about the immense power of their bodies but also about discipline, respect and restraint. As I watched that week’s lesson, I had an epiphany.
In that particular lesson, the kids were learning how to defend themselves from an attack. They were taught to first block the attack, then take back control and finally, to finish off by either punching, kicking or submission (where their opponent would ‘tap out’ – essentially calling ‘Uncle’).
What a philosophy to live by! This little kids’ Zen Do Kai lesson fundamentally changed the way I parent. Here’s how I’ve applied it to my parenting as well as my own life.
Rules for Ninja Parenting.
STEP ONE: Don’t let anyone hurt you.
If someone tries to hurt you, the first step is always to block.
Physically, this means get out of the way, deflect the punch, cover your face – whatever it takes to not get hurt.
If someone is trying to hurt you with words, don’t let them get to you – understand that words define the speaker more than ourselves and choose which words we allow to touch us and which words we decide to deflect.
STEP TWO: Take control
Physically, this means neutralise the aggressor. Push him away, gain higher ground, become the one in control. Sometimes this means we need to take on the ‘aggressor’ role ourselves and look more intimidating than we feel. Uncomfortable? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely. Make it clear that you are in complete control.
In a war of words, this may simply mean standing strong, showing off that teflon skin (if you’re uber-sensitive like me, fake it until you make it). Look that person square in the eye, stand up straight, let her know her words are impotent. Nothing neutralises a verbal bully more that the realisation that her words are powerless.
STEP THREE: Finish on top.
This step is what I like to refer to as “plus one”. What do I mean by this? Simply, whatever the ‘bully’ gives to you (be it a punch to the guts or a tongue-lashing) simply return it. With interest. This is where the Michelle of ten years ago and I differ. This is where the school system and I disagree. It’s where the politically correct world and I stand at odds. It’s where real life steps in.
My kids know that throwing the first punch is absolutely not okay. They know that I’ll be the first one on their case, should they ever take the bully stance. They also know that I will back them one hundred percent if they hit back. They have my full permission to return what’s given to them PLUS one.
I love this philosophy. It works for adults, just as effectively.
Someone tries to punch you? Block, punch back and add in a little kick to let him know you’re not to be messed with again.
Someone calls you a bitch? Laugh and ask them if that’s all they’ve got, then hold up a mirror and reflect back what they gave you and then make it abundantly clear that your verbal skills are far superior.
The same philosophy works for those positive experiences in life.
When someone lifts you up, shake their hand and say thank you and be sure to return the favour and then some. When someone is kind to you, be kinder to them and make a point of repeating their kindness to not only them but also to someone else.
This way of thinking may not be particularly politically correct and I’m certain that my kids’ school wouldn’t approve of me teaching my kids to block, return and then ‘plus one’ (both verbally and physically) because ‘we don’t hit’ and ‘we are nice’. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. This is a tough world and sadly, not everyone is nice.
My kids know full well that hitting and name-calling is never okay and I’m pretty confident (I hope I’m never proved wrong) that none of them would ever knowingly hurt another child. However, they also know that they CAN AND SHOULD fight back, and that Mama Bear will be there, right behind them, cheering them on.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree or do you think I’m off base on this one?
Molley, at A Mother Life, dealt with bullying by facing up to the bully herself. Does she get your enthusiastic thumbs up or a resounding “Boo!”
I’d love your thoughts (even if you think I’m a poo-head).
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