I receive about two emails a day on news, books, and article pitches about bullying. After years of nods about it, people are really taking notice. And sure, a lot of the “notice” means psycho babble and kid-friendly catch phrase (“Use your words!”), but I like it. I’m astounded at the emotional maturity of my kids who have been exposed to the playground training and how they deal with conflict.
My son yesterday had a hard day. His best friend told him to sit out a few games of dodgeball because my son had accidentally hit his arm. This wasn’t a teacher giving a time out, but another 7 year old excluding my son from playing, and it turned out to be a pattern for the rest of the day. By the end, my son declared that the friendship was “over.” He is very hurt by the experience, but I’m very heartened that he has the vocabulary to put what happened and his feelings into words. And, at the same time, the other child’s dad is very aware that exclusion isn’t appropriate and is right there with me trying to figure out how to get them together again as soon as possible to get them back together.
Today, on the way into school, my son mentioned to me, “It’s not good to hit someone when they hit you.” He explained further, “If you do that, then they will just hit you back and then it will continue.” My mind was reeling. First thought: Good for you to understand how cycles of violence work. I have a Mideast peace negotiator in development. Second thought: Oh no. What if he starts getting hit and can’t protect himself. Will a bully take advantage of his pacifism and pummel him? Third thought: Boy am I lucky that we go to a school with a lot of adult supervision and an active peer conflict resolution.
What is that last, “peer conflict resolution?” Our school has a program, which I bet isn’t rare now, that trains fourth graders on how to monitor the playground and get involved in disputes, bullying and exclusion before they become traumatizing issues. My daughter worked hard on her application to do this a few years ago and was very proud to serve her school in this role. I was amazed that she would even want to spend her time this way, but she was not alone in applying. A lot of kids saw the value of protecting “fun” on the playground that involves everyone.
Kids are amazing at every age, but not the same way at every age. Just as you are mourning the loss of some part of their childhoods, they surprise you with new tricks and discoveries. We are very lucky to be around children during these years since they remind us of all that is possible in the world, including peace on the playground.