Last night, while my husband worked late, I decided to take my kids on a date to the play area at Chick-fil-a. My three boys ran around that little enclosed space with reckless abandon– Their sweaty heads, dirty-gray socks, hot pink cheeks, and ketchup-stained smiles cruised around with no concept of “personal space” or “restraint.” My three-year old waved at me from the plastic car hanging from the ceiling so hard that the car actually shook; My two-year old gave me a proud high-five every time he bravely jumped off the padded bench I was sitting on; My five-year old went face-first down the tube slide with his electrically charged hair sticking straight up, shouting, “Here comes the monster!”
They. had. a. blast.
For a while anyway….
Then another couple kids came in, and another couple kids, and another couple. And so the screaming started. First my 2-year-old, protesting being trampled by an otherwise sweet, but apparently impatient girl. Then, my three-year old, “Stop pullin’ my shirt!” directed at the four-year old boy who clearly wanted to play with him in a different area. Then, my five-year old, “Hey! Don’t push!” as he made his way crawling through one of the tubes. Truth be told, Iexpected nothing less considering there were 8 kids in a 10 foot by 10 foot enclosed space. I braced myself, expecting my kids to have plenty of opportunities to work on their own restraint and respect for others in such a mad-house…
…But I quickly became irritated as I remained the only parent actually sitting in the play area (all the other parents were sitting at tables outside, enjoying their meals in peace. One mom was reading a book. A book.),when the chaos progressed to hitting, tackling, pinching, shoving, and even biting. When I heard my two-year-old’s shrill scream that he only reserves for intense pain, I knew it was time to round up the troops and hit the road. (The youngest of three boys, and used to being constantly tackled and wrestled, my 2-year old never cries for pain; he doesn’t even give more than a tiny whimper when he gets his shots, and sat calmly while getting his blood drawn the other week. If he screams in pain, it means something major happened.)
I’m not sure how that four-year old kid managed to get his teeth into the scalp of my fuzzy-headed toddler (seems like a strange angle), but there under my son’s pudgy hand was a bright -pink and red impression of tiny teeth. And it didn’t take a lot of detective work to figure out what happened considering the four-year-old’s proximity to my son, the expression on his face, and my child pointing at him, screaming through red-faced tears, “He bite! He bite! Owww!”
And it was perfect timing, because in walked the boy’s mother. While I gathered my kid’s shoes and jacked, I calmly informed her: “Hi; My son has bite marks on his head; I saw your son wrestling him, and my son said that he bit him.” What an awkward statement, but she had to be informed. I would want to know if my son was being majorly aggressive toward another kid. And in a case where my kid was being majorly aggressive, me and my kid would be having a serious little pow-wow that would be punctuated by him not being able to play anymore for a while. RIGHT?!
But this particular mom just dismissively asked her son, “Did you say you’re sorry?” (he hadn’t, but nodded his head anyway) and turned to me to say, “Just so you know, he doesn’t usually bite.” That was before she simply ushered her child off to play some more.
Okay, hold up. Am I missing something? I mean even if the child did apologize, I don’t think anyone saying “I’m sorry” really serves the purpose of an apology….
And this is not because I have some sadistic revenge-wish on the poor four-year old who got carried away at the play area knowing his mother wasn’t looking…I am actually irritated by this dismissive “I’m sorry” reaction because it is not in the best interest of that four year old boy. I feel strongly that “sorry doesn’t cut it” because when we simply tell our kids to say “I’m sorry,” we are failing to teach them anything meaningful at all. The child who was ushered off to play again as if nothing happened was deprived of an important pro-social lesson that he is going to need for his sake.
At four years old, a child doesn’t have the slightest awareness of the concepts of remorse, regret, intention to do better, self-accountability, compassion, or empathy. These are concepts that need to be taught, not assumed they exist because we as parents teach our kids to say two arbitrary words. I’m pretty sure the exact definition of “I’m sorry” to any young child is: “Those two random words that my mom frantically makes me say whenever she gets really angry and embarrassed about something I did.”
Soooo… The next time one of my kids gets grumpy, impatient, territorial, or power-hungry and manages to hurt another kid intentionally, I am tossing “Say you’re sorry” aside and replacing it with something else:
“How do you think Benny feels about that? (The answer is not just “sad” or “bad,” but “disrespected,” “afraid” and “angry.”) (Teaching empathy)
“How sad that you made Benny feel that way. Tell him that you never want to do it again.” (Teaching regret and remorse.)
“What are you going to do differently next time so you don’t end up making Benny feel sad and afraid? Tell Benny what you plan to do differently so he knows you are trying to be nicer.” (Ask nicely, tell mommy, use a different toy, practice patience, etc.) (Teaching alternative pro-social behavior and accountability for actions.)
“Hitting/Pinching/Pushing is not okay because it makes people feel bad. The consequence for hitting is sitting out of this game/not having this toy for five minutes.” (Re-affirming self-accountability with external reinforcement)
I guess I felt compelled to write this entry because I was so floored that the mom of the kid that bit my son to the point of drawing blood, simply dismissed the behavior and sent him off to play some more. If a child just gets to keep having fun, he hasn’t taken a moment to connect with how he made another person feel, there is neither external nor internal motivation to not bite again in the future….
Not so say I am not guilty of the quick, “say you’re sorry” from time to time….Of course, I can be a lazy parent or a deer-in-headlights-in-public parent now and then. I just would like to think I’d get it together and be able to draw the line at drawing blood.
Just something to think about,
This Overthinking Mommy