Whack Him Back & Walk Away
It’s 6:35am, I am in the kitchen making coffee, and NPR has just confirmed that the government remains shut down (as I think to myself, yes, and Speaker John Boehner is still ineffective; #LetsTalk about that), the US is still holding a freshly captured alleged terrorist on a boat, and that it’s going to be a lot cooler today than yesterday. The radio is also, apparently, screaming at me.
Oh, that’s not the radio. That’s my children. “Mommmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” Well, they’re not calling me.
“Mommmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! He’s hurting me!”
She’s 6, he’s 4. And Mommy is apparently indisposed since after two minutes of screaming….the 6 year old is still screaming.
It’s now 6:38am, and my blood pressure is elevated.
I locate the children. I say: “Stop screaming. Mommy is not available right now. Why are you screaming?”
“He’s hurting me,” she says. The two of them are in their pajamas, in our bed, under the covers. It’s a big bed. There’s plenty of room for the two of them. There is no need for this.
“So get up and walk away,” I say.
My intelligent, beautiful, sophisticated 6 year old daughter has a problem. Contrary to the indicators above, the problem is not her 4 year old brother. They love each other, and most of the time they play nicely together.
My daughter’s problem is that she has no sense of self-preservation, no instinct for self-defense. And this worries me. Screaming? Screaming is good in some situations, can attract attention and alert people that something is wrong. But these days, at home, it’s hard to discern the degree of seriousness that goes with the scream.
I have been trying to teach my daughter self-preservation and self-defense. “If your brother is bothering you, hurting you, tell him firmly to stop. If he doesn’t stop, remove yourself from that spot–the bed, the couch, the floor, wherever. And if he still doesn’t stop hurting you, whack him hard on the shoulder and then walk away. Eventually, he will learn that if he hurts you it will result in him getting hurt, and he will stop.”
Whack him back, and walk away.
Certainly–certainly!–when the 4 year old hurts the 6 year old, it isn’t the 6 year old to blame! We take all the right steps with the 4 year old. He loses toys (especially if they’re the whacking object) or his dessert or a bedtime story. He gets quiet time by himself or with one of us. But I say, without making excuses: he’s a 4 year old boy. This is, alas, what many boys do, especially younger siblings.
And granted, I grew up with a younger brother (whom I love very much) who also spent time in childhood bothering me in much the same fashion. As boys, we would wrestle and fight, whack each other and whack each other and whack each other and … eventually move on. I wasn’t an older sister, and I know–know–that girls can be differently wired on these matters. I understand that.
But still, I say: whack him back and walk away.
When it comes right down to it, life is not always so simple. Things you want need to be fought for, obstacles need to be overcome. Mostly–hopefully–these are not physical obstacles, these should not be obstreperous (or, worse, sociopathic) people standing literally in your way. But conceptually, the instincts are the same. Self-preservation and self-defense are key life skills, whether with bullies of either gender in school or on the playground, or with a date with wandering hands [gulp; hopefully many years away], or against colleagues who try to thwart you or people who try to rip you off. It is not always about physical retaliation; in fact, mostly it is not about physical retaliation, but some other form of self-preservation, from arguing your point all the way down to counting your change in a store. Life requires a little bit more than just waiting for someone else to help you out.
Screaming? Screaming can be good. But sometimes, you just need to whack ’em back and walk away.