Teach Your Children To Stand Up For Themselves
Benjamin sat quietly playing with the plastic farm set when a little hand suddenly grabbed the chubby cow from his fingers. He didn't move at first, but then, heartbroken, his face screwed up and tears began to roll over his round cheeks and past his trembling chin.
I tried to comfort him with the horse or the chickens, but he wanted that cow. Finally I was able to distract him by tickling his nose and neck with the little pink pig. He began to giggle, and I thought we'd momentarily avoided disaster.
No sooner had his fingers reached out to take the pig, though, than the same hand nabbed the pig from my palm. Benjamin immediately dissolved into a fresh set of tears as the two-year-old next to him ran to the corner of the playroom, his new treasure clutched in his fist, the cow lying discarded on the rug behind him.
Now, I'm all in favor of sharing. I often have to convince Benjamin he's serving the greater good by doing necessary yet unpleasant things like waiting in line and letting others have a turn. Teaching these virtues is part of my duty as a parent. I'd be remiss in letting my child grow up thinking the world was his to treat as he wishes, that respect for others is unnecessary.
But there's a fine line between generosity of spirit and being a doormat. Just as I'd be shirking my parental duties by letting Benjamin become insensitive to the needs of others, I'd be negligent in not teaching him to stand up for himself in the face of adversity.
Yeah, dealing with a kid who wants to take away every toy you have in your hand isn't that big a deal. I'm sure this boy wasn't intentionally teasing Benjamin or trying to make him cry. And I probably could have distracted Benjamin with another game, or moved him to a different area of the playroom to avoid conflict. In fact, in the recent past I probably would have done just that. But as Benjamin makes his way through toddler-hood on his way to preschool -- which begins in just a few short weeks-my parenting agenda has undergone some renovations.
He doesn't know it yet, but Mommy won't always be there to help out. I won't be on hand to help him fight his battles, protect him from the harms of the world, make sure he's okay. He'll need to learn for himself how to effectively navigate the seas of interpersonal relationships, how to stick up for what he thinks and believes and wants and knows to be true, without being trod upon by others. It's my job to start laying that foundation now, so when he is on his own-in one month or one year or five years or ten -- he'll have the inner confidence, the wherewithal, to stand his ground, even when faced with opposition-intentional or not.
So this particular day I said quietly in his soft, little ear, "Benjamin, you don't have to let him take that away from you. If you're still playing with it, you tell him to leave it alone." I didn't advocate hitting, grabbing, or knocking the other child over. I didn't interfere directly by taking the toy back. Instead, I dried my son's tears and told him to speak up, to claim what was his in a loud, clear voice that could be easily heard and understood.
He took a few shuddering breaths and then gave it a try. "Don't do that!" he said bravely. Though the child who had taken the cow and pig paid no attention, his mother heard. She took the pig out of her son's hand and returned it to Benjamin, and he smiled with the expression of the righteously victorious.
"Stick up for self," he said to me in the car later, as we replayed the incident and I tried to explain the difference between sharing and giving in. "No crying," he reminded me. And I have to admit, I was proud of him. Maybe today it was just a toy pig, but someday it'll be something more precious -- and difficult to replace.