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Children's Health

Pushover son

03/27/2009

Question:

I am a mother of a 2 year old. Whenever I take my son out to play, kids his age or older to him tries to push him or snatch things that he is playing with. My son doesn`t know how to react and comes at me crying. He never takes the thing back from them. Because of this my son seems to be insecure when there are are kids playing with him. Last week I took my son to a Library and he was playing Jigsaw puzzle when a girl (about 6 years in age) came running to him and took the puzzle from him. Her mother saw this but didn`t say anything. I gave my son another thing to play with and she took that too. She kept on taking things that my son had. It seemed like she wanted everything that my son had in his hands. She was very rude too. My son was trying to play with her and touched her hands and that girl yelled at him saying that my son is poking her. She was so mean and was not allowing my son to play at all. In the end I took my son and walked away. I felt very helpless. I felt very guilty too for not standing up for my son. I have been a pushover myself throughout my life and I dont want my son to be like me. But it looks like my son is going to be a pushover like me. I am worried about my son. Can you tell me how I need to react in such situations and what I need to teach my son. In the event that happend at the Library should I have said something at that girl or her mother who was standing there telling nothing? I really want my son to turn out to be the best person who can stand up for himself when such situations arise. Please advice!

Answer:

It is really difficult to see your child bullied or victimized in some manner! As Penelope Leach says so well in her book Your Baby and Child: Birth to Five, it is the duty of all adults present "to keep each and every child reasonably safe from his own and other children's aggression" (page 475). It is also critical for all adults to know that young children may never play unsupervised because their children, no matter how smart, are not able to consistently follow the rules for good behavior and avoid angry aggression independently.

Comfort the young child who has been the victim of another's aggression, remind the child that an important rule for getting along was broken, and how to handle it in the future, not by hitting, not by crying and running away, but by standing his or her ground and resisting the pulling away of toys or getting back up and telling the aggressor, "No!" in a strong voice.

Adults model appropriate behavior when they calmly tell a fellow parent of a clear breach of good behavior their child has committed and respectfully ask that they help their child not repeat the behavior. As the parent on the spot, you should also intervene by telling the aggressor that he or she is to stop pulling the toy away or pushing or hitting another child. Explain how the other child feels badly and direct the aggressive child to another activity. If the child begins to cry, help the child to find the parent and explain the situation. If the child has a tantrum, make sure the child will not hurt him or her-self and let the parent know there is a problem.

Things not to do are to force the child who has been victimized to give in and "be nice." It reinforces aggressive behavior in the offending child by rewarding them, and teaches your child to accept being victimized. Do not be intrusive in your supervision of young children together. Keep an eye on them and intervene as needed to direct the group to a new activity to enjoy together or provide the structure for fair play, such as taking turns or lining up for turns. Help aggressive children learn the rules and apologize and shake hands.

Do not scream , cry, cringe, or run away yourself from difficult child and parent social situations. This is hard to do for many of us who would much prefer to avoid unpleasant situations and take the easy way out. Instead we need to stand our ground and calmly say how we feel or apologize to the parent whose child has been victimized. There is nothing quite like a calm, firm approach in such situations to defuse anger and upset. That is not to say that all parents or small children will rise to their best behavior in the face of your good behavior, but you have clearly modeled assertive behavior for your child.

Read your toddler books about small or different children who are bullied by other children but who learned how to be assertive. Read stories about good manners with others too. Praise your child when he uses good manners and is nice to another child or shares and when he stands his ground and resists being a victim. Children learn a lot from stories and it is an effective, less direct way to address distressing experiences for young children.

Like saying "please" and "thank you", children need to learn how to share, be fair in their treatment of other children regardless of age or size or color, and how to be assertive. You can practice skills in being assertive with your child to help them have the skills to respond to aggressive behavior by other using the skills from the story books.

I hope this is helpful to you.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University