Warning: what follows is a rant with two parts. And a story. There's always gotta be a story...
Today a group of us half-day preschool parents decided to take the kids to Chik-Fil-A for a little playtime and lunch. Feed 'em processed chicken and chocolate milk and let them run around together in the play area. This is normally a great time had by all, as the kids have a blast and the parents kvetch. Fun fun. So after we have been there with the kids playing in the play area for probably going on an hour, I see my 4 year old push another little kid who is a friend of his. Not cool. I pop in there to tell him to keep your hands to yourself, apologize, and if I see that again we're leaving.
That's when some other mom in the play area, who I do not know, starts telling me that my boy has been pushing other kids this whole time. In fact, she says that my kid and his friends have been pushing and shoving to the extent that they were making other kids cry and those kids left with their parents because it was so bad. I apologize and explain that I didn't see a thing until now. I tell my boy that we are out of there right now, he can't play if he can't play nice, and we leave. On my way out I pass on to the other parents in our little group what our kids have apparently been up to that we failed to notice. They've started a gang while we were distracted.
I have two problems in this story. First, those moms got me heated. Why? Because they chose to do nothing at all while my kid is apparently terrorizing the play area, but then throw him under the bus when I show up. I don't expect people to parent my child for me, but those play areas are not an easy place to watch your kid's every move. I was outside, with 10-month-old sissy, there were about 12 kids in the play area and five adults, too. It was tough to see what was going on. I was looking, but apparently I wasn't able to see everything that was happening. It happens sometimes. As a parent, you might miss something nasty your kid does. So if someone else sees something, they should do you the courtesy of giving you a heads up. If you're in the play area and you see a 4-year-old knock over a toddler maliciously, or even just being way too rough on accident, don't just sit there. Ask that kid who his parent is and then go talk to them. Stop the violence before someone gets seriously hurt and then bring in the parents for the matter of discipline. Not because you need to do someone else's job for them, but because moms actually don't have eyes in the back of their heads. All our kids are in the play area, that means we all have a stake in the behavior of the group. You want your kid to have a safe place to play? Me too. Let's make that happen by not letting behavior get out of hand because "if it's not my kid, it's not my problem."
That's part one. People who watch kids beating each other up and do nothing.
Part two, the one in every crowd. So there's a kid in this playground group who I will call the Hun. My boy is not perfect, but he's generally a very well behaved kid. Just yesterday I took him to a play date with another friend and his two brothers. Four boys, ages 2 - 5, all playing together for 2 1/2 hours. Not a SINGLE altercation. Total peace and harmony, and small disagreements resolved with talking. It was amazing. I was so proud. Flash back to a week ago, when he had another playdate with a girl from school. Again, total peace. A couple of disagreements over toys, both resolved with words and no fighting or pushing or yelling or anything. My kid is, apparently, capable of peace.
But the Hun seems to be a constant altercation. Today, within the first 15 minutes of the little herd of kids going into the play area we had three come out to complain about the Hun pushing them. That's three of four. The only one who didn't come out with a complaint was the Hun himself. We told our kids to tell him to stop, that you don't like that. We told them to play nicely. The Hun's dad just sat there and said nothing.
See, he thinks we should just let the kids play and fight it out if needed. I think this is crap. We should not be telling our kids to fight until you figure it out, because that leaves them with no clear boundary. It also sets them up for trouble. If we let them push but then get mad when they punch, how are we setting clear limits? If a whack on the shoulder is okay then why is kicking not? If pulling on someone's clothes is fine, why can't I pull their hair?
What seems to happen every time this kid is a part of the play group is what happened today. The kids start off fine, then the Hun starts pushing and the whole thing escalates. It only takes one little bully to turn the whole group into a ball of aggression. And his dad seems content to just let it happen, under the misguided idea that this is liberated parenting that empowers the kids. The Lord of the Flies is not empowerment. It's anarchy, where you let a 5 year old decide what's appropriate. And that's just a recipe for disaster.
It's not empowering our kids when we just let them go do whatever they want with no consequences or repercussions for their bad decisions. It's crappy, lazy parenting.