My son was interested in playing so he ran to a few children playing on the swings and immediately tried to make friends. This is my son’s personality and not at all uncommon, trying to befriend the child closest in age. These children, however, were a few years older and were clearly disinterested in playing with a 6-year-old.
They started teasing him, challenging him to run a lap around the track, just in an effort to make him run and get rid of him. Trying to make friends, he accepted the challenge and started running as fast as his little legs would take him.
The boys laughed and teased and said that he ran it slow and that they could do 20 laps, trying to bait him into doing more. He got on his bike and rode several more laps.
They responded with more laughing and more teasing, suggesting that they could run faster than he could ride his bike. One of the children actually had the guts to walk up to me and say, “Hey, I ran faster than your son.” Quite honestly, I was simply shocked at the gall of these children and I wanted to lash out at them. But more than anger, I felt heartbroken. Heartbroken for my son as I hate to see him teased and his feelings hurt, but also heartbroken for our world where children feel comfortable with this level of disrespect toward others.
He came to me on a nearby bench and simply asked, “Why are they mean?”
“I don’t know,” I said sadly.
“Why would their mommy let them be mean?”
“I don’t know,” is all I could muster.
The good news was that this was a wonderful opportunity for our family. We had witnessed the event and were able to immediately talk about the situation, offering guidance on how to handle those difficult situations and providing loving support.
Ultimately, we told him he didn’t have to seek the approval of other children. He didn’t have to “show them” his abilities or prove anything to anyone. We told him you return meanness with kindness and when that becomes difficult, you walk away and you ignore it to protect your heart.
Clearly his feelings were still hurt and he chose to ignore them, and decided he should let them know. As he was climbing the monkey bars, he yelled over to the children, “OK! I am annoying you now!”
They looked baffled. I was baffled so I asked, “What?”
“I am going to annoy them now.”
“Annoy them?” I asked, confused and uncertain he understood our talk.
“Yes, I am going to protect my heart and annoy them.”
It suddenly hit me, “Oh! You mean ignore them.”
“Yes Daddy, annoy them.”
I laughed and responded. “We better get that word straight buddy, as I don’t think your goal is to annoy them ... although the more you say that, the more accurate it may become.”
I am sad that my innocent little boy is growing up in a world where pain and meanness are a part of our everyday lives, but I can’t protect him from it. Besides, he now has the tools to manage those situations; he can just start annoying mean people ... which is fine by me!
(Editor’s Note: Matt has a family of six — a beautiful wife, a son, two daughters, Tucker and five chickens. Matt’s column appears every other Wednesday in the Cleveland Daily Banner.)