So, I have a parenting issue going on right now. It is complex. It is complicated. It is multifaceted. It is perplexing. Such is the social life of an almost four-year-old.
Bean has two “best friends.” One is a legit bestie. He talks about her at home, we hang out with her family, Bean might be in love with her. Her name is Elle and she is lovely. The two of them fight like an old married couple, but it is all very normal, healthy behavior for their age.
And then there is this other kid.
I am fairly certain that Bean is only this dude’s friend because he is being forced to be his friend. True, Bean likes to hang out with him. But from the interactions I have seen, it is more of a “I’m-smiling-because-you-scare-me” kind of friendship. The kid himself is always in Bean’s face, always talking/yelling/screeching in Bean’s face, always putting his hands on Bean’s face. He is just one of those face-talkers. Well, face-yellers. And it drives Bean crazy. I know this because when I am around the two of them, Bean will give me these pleading looks like, “Make him stop, please!”
Now, those are personality traits in a child, and I know more than to judge or throw my mom weight around because of something like that. In the grand scheme of things, those are annoyances and not behavior issues.
But then he crossed the line.
A few weeks ago, we were at a birthday party for one of the kids’ classmates. The other kid was there and so was his mom, and Bean was hanging out with him pretty much all day. This was the first time I had really gotten to see them interact, and it was the first time I noticed this annoying in-Bean’s-face behavior. It was driving me nuts, and I could tell it was bothering Bean, too. But I had never seen them interact for a long period of time before, so I sort of stood back in case this was normal behavior. I was just keeping my eye on things.
I happened to be talking to the kid’s mom for a minute, and when I turned back around, this kid had his hands around Bean’s neck and was shaking Bean. Bean, of course, was crying.
…And that’s when I almost beat that kid up.
I try to be a very polite person who respects other parents and gives the a chance to intervene when their child is misbehaving. But you put your hands around my kid’s neck and we’re going to have some words.
I pushed about 15 kids out of my way in about 15 seconds, and very quickly pulled the kid’s hands off of Bean. Then, as I pulled Bean into my arms to comfort him (he was pretty freaked), I said very nicely, but firmly to the other child, “Michael doesn’t like it when you put your hands around his neck.”
That Monday after the birthday party, I mentioned what happened to Bean’s teachers. I had this terrible fear that they would be on some corner of a playground somewhere and that kid would accidentally strangle Bean. I told the teacher that I would appreciate it if they would watch for any kind of aggressive or overly zealous behavior from that kid directed towards Michael. Even if the kid wasn’t intending to be aggressive in a mean way, I still didn’t want Bean to feel overpowered or uncomfortable – no matter what someone’s intention are.
Weeks have gone by since that birthday party, and Bean has continued to talk about his “best fwend.” He never says anything bad about this child, and seems to really enjoy hanging out with him. But last night we went to science night at the kids’ daycare, and this other kid was there with his mom. I couldn’t help but notice that the kid was still all over Bean. He had his hands all over his face, was kissing his face, and was pushing all these toys and things into his face whenever Bean would try to move on to something else or talk to someone else.
Bean gave me that look again that said, “Help me!” and then I think I made a mistake. I smiled at Bean and said, “It’s okay, Buddy.” And I didn’t do anything about it.
All night I have been thinking about what I said. The truth is that it is NOT alright for a child to be all over Bean. It is NOT alright for Bean to have to put up with behavior that bothers him. It is NOT alright to pretend that something is okay when it clearly is something Bean is uncomfortable with. I don’t want to be the parent who is overly protective or overly involved in my kids friendships. But more importantly than that, I don’t want to be the parent who teaches my children to endure what they are uncomfortable with for the sake of being polite. Because, God forbid, this was a situation where something was inappropriate and uncomfortable, I don’t want Bean to grow up thinking he has to be “okay” with anything that makes him uncomfortable.
This afternoon, I talked to Bean’s teachers again and said that Michael was feeling a bit overwhelmed by this enthusiastic child and he was uncomfortable with someone’s hands in his face or someone kissing his face or shoving toys in his face. I asked that the teachers remind the kids to keep their hands to themselves, and to keep an eye on Bean and this kid to make sure that even though Bean might SAY he was okay, that they help him keep a comfortable distance from any child if he wanted some space.
Then, I came home and talked to Bean. I told him that last night when I said that it was okay for that kid to put his hands all over Bean’s face, I was wrong. And that it wasn’t okay. I explained that when someone is doing something that we don’t like, it is okay to say, “Stop doing that! I don’t like it!” And then we practiced that a few times, which Bean thought was hysterical. Then we talked about how he should tell his teacher if someone kept bothering him after he asked them to stop, and we practiced talking to the teacher. He came in from our chat and walked right up to Chris and announced, “Dad, I don’t have to let people bother me. I can tell them to stop doing that because I don’t like it!”
I’m a pretty laid back person, I think. It takes a lot to rattle me, and I try not to rattle other people. But as a parent, I am learning. I’m learning to speak up for my child and to say, “Hey, this bothers me. Stop doing that. I don’t like it.” I need to learn to say that so I can empower my child to say it, too. My mom told me one time that being polite doesn’t mean you have to be passive. You don’t have to sit there while something goes on that you don’t agree with or that really bothers you. As a parent, I can speak up. And in speaking up, my children learn to speak up for themselves. Isn’t that what we want? We want our children to grow up knowing they have a voice. A voice to speak out, a voice to share, a voice to encourage, but also a voice to set boundaries and to hold their own when they need.
Then again, if I just beat up every kid that bothers him, Bean won’t really need a voice at all.
But I guess that isn’t the point…