My Kids Have Been Both Victims And Perpetrators, And I Have A Request

by Robin Enan
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Nothing good comes from a document labeled “Incident Report.” Also, it was bright yellow – never a positive sign. And indeed, there was my four-year-old’s name above a written account from her camp counselor of a child who fit her exact physical description (shoot) and who wouldn’t listen to warnings about rock-throwing and ended up hitting a friend in the head at lunch.

On the one hand, I was relieved because a) the other child was apparently fine, and b) I know her parents and could reach out to apologize. On the other hand, I had to reach out and apologize…for my kid hitting theirs in the head…with a rock.

Almost all of us will experience both sides of the coin when it comes to displays of physical aggression or verbal unkindness on the playground; most kids at some point play the roles of both perpetrator and victim. Thanks to biology, we will feel our blood start to boil at the mere mention that our child was on the receiving end of something unpleasant. And thanks to unrealistic 21st-century parenting standards, we will likely feel ashamed and guilty when that same child is the perpetrator; it feels like an indictment of our parenting, even if we were nowhere near the scene of the crime.

So can we agree this is a perfect opportunity for parents to follow The Golden Rule, and react unto others as we hope they’ll react when it’s our kid who messed up? That is: remaining as calm as possible, keeping a sense of proportion and showing a clearly uncomfortable fellow parent some empathy?

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Most of the moms and dads I’ve dealt with in scenarios like this have been kind and good-humored about the whole thing, even if there was some initial frostiness. That was certainly the case following the rock incident, and I am so grateful for that. Unfortunately, I have seen the opposite as well.

Several years ago, my then six-year-old son and two friends were at camp together and a boy they had met there began telling his parents that my son and his crew were being mean to him. Before the camp was given time to examine the situation internally – and certainly before anyone alerted any of us parents – the boy’s father stormed in during drop-off and demanded an explanation. He ended up pulling his son from the camp after a loud fit of yelling in front of a gymnasium full of children.

Objectively, I might have seen this man’s emotion-driven display as a poor example to set for his son about problem-solving, but at the time I felt so anxious about the whole thing and my son’s involvement that I Googled the dad’s photo simply so I could walk the other way if I ever saw him at the grocery store.

After three kids and countless playground and play date hours, I’m well aware that even the most angelic young children go rogue from time to time. There will be days when we’re drying our own children’s tears, and there will be other, cringe-worthy days when we realize someone else’s child’s wailing was caused by our offspring. (The best days are the ones where we fit neither category.)

Let’s keep the “do unto others” adage in mind when we’re tempted to chew out another parent for standard little-kid social antics. I’ve been a mom for less than a decade, but that is more than enough time to know that when it comes to parenting, and how we treat one another, karma is very, very real.