How do you handle a situation in which a friend's child consistently bullies other children during play dates? Do you try to speak to the friend? Do you avoid play dates until the issue is resolved? Unfortunately we have been experiencing this issue for the past 6-months and I think I've reached my breaking point.
I use the word "bullies" because I don't know how else to refer to the actions of a child who frequently pulls other children's hair and pushes other children, unprovoked. And when I say unprovoked, I mean unprovoked. The child will aimlessly approach other children and pull their hair, often with a death grip on the child's hair. I could see if there was a toy at stake or the child was defending themselves, but this has never been the case. Up until today, I've consoled Bella MANY times but have never actually said anything to the child or the mother.
At today's play date, we simply walked through the door and in a manner of seconds (no joke) the child had a death grip on Bella's hair. I heard the other moms saying "Oh no, she has Bella's hair!" and I immediately flew into "mama bear" mode. I dropped my diaper bag and ran over to where Bella was screaming and crying in pain. When I intervened, the hair puller's mother was sitting at their level, "trying" to explain to her child that we don't pull our friend's hair, meanwhile Bella's hair was still being pulled... hard. I said in a very stern voice, "No! Let go of Bella's hair now!" I didn't yell or raise my voice but I used a very stern voice, which was very appropriate for the situation. I then began removing the child's hand from Bella's head. I scooped up Bella and loved all over her. I was FURIOUS so I said I needed to step outside for a moment. Part of the reason I was so upset was because of the consistent lack of discipline the hair puller receives when a child falls victim.
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes because I was angry, sad and very disappointed. I allowed a few tears to slip out (once we were outside) and apologized to Bella. I apologized because I knew she was in pain and that she was confused. She was in pain because she had her hair pulled and she was confused because it was unprovoked. I know I didn't do anything wrong, but I felt like I could have caused a scene a long time ago and today's incident could have been avoided. I should have said or done something more a long, long time ago.
I won't get into the semantics of how another parent should discipline their child, but I will only go as far as saying that consequences should follow a child's less than appropriate behavior. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this circumstance. The child is often comforted by the mother after she victimizes another child. By comforted, I mean the child is often hugged and spoken to like nothing wrong has occurred. Meanwhile, my child is in tears at the expense of this "parenting style." This is where I have to draw the line and say something. Now I'm not saying the child needs to be beaten senseless, but some form of discipline (i.e. a time out, using a stern voice or forbidding the child to play with friends) needs to be implemented because the method that is being used sure as hell isn't working. This issue has been going on since late summer... and it's almost February.
I'd hate to deprive Bella of time with her friends because of the actions of one child, but I'm not certain how else to protect my child any more. It's unfortunate and I don't like it at all. I have been verbally attacked for my parenting methods and I would never want to make another parent feel the way that made me feel. Passing judgment on another parent is something we do a lot, but it doesn't make it right. This comes after a week of various Facebook posts about how certain methods of discipline don't work... talk about passing judgment!
We've never had any serious behavioral issues with Bella (knock on wood). She has not gone through a biting, hitting or bullying phase (knock on wood) and I pray that she never does. I can't say for certain what I would do if she did, but there would certainly be consequences for her actions. Tantrums and day to day behavior issues are normal for a child who is 21-months-old and I can handle these things. Redirection and time outs seem to work best for Bella and I will stick with these methods as long as they continue working.
It's been a very long and somewhat emotional day. Thankfully I have good friends to help me get through these difficult moments in parenthood. If it weren't for these friends, I'd probably become a hermit and avoid people all together. Ah, the super fun world of parenthood... buckle your seat belt, hold on and enjoy the ride!
Ian, Kim, Bella & Baby #2