As with all stories in life there are two sides. Sometimes getting a little view of the other side can hand you a nice big serving of perspective.
There’s the side I knew, my Cameron, still just a little boy, sobbing in my arms because Ethan, older than him by a year and a half, wasn’t nice to him. Ethan hits him, pushes him, says mean things. There’s my little love sweetly telling me that he’ll kick me and I’ll break into a million pieces and then he’ll laugh. Who says these things, Cameron? Ethan. There’s Lori, Ethan’s mother and Cameron’s daycare provider, telling me that it’s Cameron’s fault because he cries when the other kids push him, so they do it more, and she can’t punish them for saying mean things. Today she informed me that he cries because she takes the books away when he rips them (something he has never ever done at home) or toys because he breaks off the wheels (also something he does not do at home), and this happens all the time and that’s why the other kids pick on him.
Okay, that new information about the toys and the books opens up a whole new area to explore, but I learned other things today too. Today Joanne went to the daycare to pick up her daughter a little early, and watched.
She saw Cameron playing happily with his two friends, Grace and Roselyn. She saw Ethan completely excluded. She saw Ethan having a hard time dealing with his mother doing things with the other kids.
I can absolutely see how none of this is really Ethan’s fault. It must be very hard for him to have to share his mother all day long with so many other kids – yes I grumble that at least he can be with his mother while the other kids can’t be with theirs, but he’s four. He doesn’t understand that. He has an older sister who loudly demands everyone’s attention and is more than a touch of a drama queen. Naturally, she picks on her little brother. To top it off, the three kids closest to him in age are far enough away in age from him (and close enough to each other) that they’ve bonded into a neat little playgroup. He’s not an evil or nasty kid – in fact both Joanne and I have seen him be a very sweet and gentle boy – but he’s dealing with a difficult social setting and is reacting the best way he knows how. He lashes out now and then, and Cameron being the boy is the natural choice. It’s not fair for me to present Ethan as a villain in this story.
Some of the responsibility for dealing with this situation has to be on Lori’s shoulders. She has to teach Ethan to deal with hurt feelings without lashing out at Cameron. While Joanne didn’t see that happen, and I know very well that kids do hit and push a bit, I am certain that this happens with unacceptable frequency. As the daycare provider she should also be actively trying to find ways to teach the kids to play inclusively. It’s possible that she is – but all that I hear from her is how it’s Cameron’s own fault, and oh-no her son doesn’t pick on him. I do understand that if she sees her son excluded, it must really suck to have the parent of one of the other kids saying, “Your son bullies mine,” even if there is some truth to the statement. I wish she would be more open about discussing the problems. But we’re talking about a person who is even more passive-aggressive and conflict avoiding than I am.
Some of the responsibility here is also mine. Although at three I cannot expect Cameron to really understand how Ethan feels, I can try to teach him to include Ethan, all the kids, a little more. I’d already started trying to do this, suspecting that exclusion might be part of the problem. I’m also trying to teach him how to deal with being called mean things, and having toys taken from him.
As Joanne pointed out to me, I can also relax a little about my fears of setting my son up to be a bully’s target for years to come. Cameron is not being made into an ‘other’ by the kids. He’s not being excluded. In fact, he is the one with a close friend to play with every day, and a second one who is there once a week. If he were sitting by himself with nobody to play with then I would be much more concerned. I am still cautious, though. Cameron does cry when a toy is snatched instead of snatching it back or hollering in anger, and it will set him up to be picked on if he continues. I’m not saying I’ll start calling him a sissy when he cries, or be mean and rough, but we’re now chatting about how to express himself in other ways.
So now to come up with creative ways to teach Cameron to include the other kids at the daycare in his tight little group, to get him to look beyond the boundaries of whatever game they’re engaged in. I’m thinking role playing might help. I’m also considering baking a treat for Cameron to bring in to share with all of the kids, and requesting that Cameron help hand them out. What treat? A cookie for each child in the shape of their initial. While there are several Cs, there would be no doubt about who the E belonged to!