Wednesday, October 03, 2007

mean kids

I have always encouraged David to be friendly and outgoing. Either because of this or because he inhereted his mother's natural social exuberance, he is able to hold is own well in social situations. He is conversational and friendly with just about anyone regardless of age. I remember when he first got his tricycle last year an we were walking/riding down the sidewalk when a neighborhood boy who is a couple of years older planted himself in the middle of the sidewalk, stopping David. Enthusiastically the boy said, "I have a Spiderman scooter in my basement."

There was a pause just long enough for me to wonder to myself how David would respond to this aggressive friendliness, then he replied with equal enthusiasm, "wow!"

On the playground, I encourage him to play with other kids and if he does strike up a playground friendship, I have taught him how to introduce himself and ask the name of his playmate.

Here is my question: doesn't anyone else do this?

Many times lately I have watched out the door at a scene where David approaches a group of neighborhood kids, all of whom are either a bit older or a bit younger than David, only to be ignored at best if not treated rudely. This evening he was playing outside as I finished feeding Simon. I went to check on him. He was outside among several people. One group was Christopher, who is a year younger, with his mom. They were leaving and David was tagging along trying to strike up a conversation--probably about Buzz Lightyear. Christopher's mother was ignoring David and Christopher was simply an oblivious two-year-old. I kept thinking to myself, why doesn't she stop and help Christopher say hi to David and explain that they are leaving and that he hopes they can play later? Shortly David turned to some older boys were wrestling. He was doing that hesitant step-hop thing that someone on the outside of a social circle does as they try to interject themselves into that circle. Fortunately, one of the boys was the only socially competent child in our neighborhood--the same one with the Spiderman scooter, if memory serves. He interacted with David, sorta. He held his friend in a a full nelson and let David hit him in the stomach. It's something.

The real problem here is that, when I see David rebuffed by these kids (and their parents), I am actually seeing myself. For reasons that I have never satisfactorily determined, I was socially incompetent as child. Typically, I was picked on teased, and excluded. These are of course memories of an eight-to-twelve-year-old, not a three year old. And they are memories that I long ago deactivated in favor of the present reality in which I am quite the man about town. But when I see David treated this way, those feeling rush back. I am heartbroken and even feel a little of the shame that plagued me as a child that somehow it was my fault that other kids were mean--that maybe they were right and I was unworthy of their attention. It floods back in an instant and for an instant and my heart breaks.

I have no idea how David feels about this. Not having my life experience, I assume that he does not share my feelings. There is evidence to suggest that he is sometimes hurt. One time Christopher was rude to him out of simple two-year-old orneriness and the look on David's face was crestfallen. Other times, he seem oblivious, like when Cody, a five-year-old with anger issues, was berating him so strongly that I almost intervened just as his dad stepped in. David seemed oblivious to this. He just wanted to see Cody's new bike. But he is not going to be oblivious forever. I keep watching because I know that sometime soon, it is going to sink in. He is going to get really hurt by the way these kids treat him and then he is going to dish it right back out. He is going to be mean to Christopher or to some other new kid who moves in. Now don't get me wrong, I don't believe that this behavior has to be learned, it is the default mode--especially for children. I just wish I could see more parents trying to teach their kids a different mode.

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