Most people refer to “playground politics” as the petty one-upmanship parents do to each other while navigating through the intimidating world of raising children. Others think it applies to the children themselves as they navigate through the fascinating and often difficult world of growing up. My toddler has already experienced quite a few pushes, bites, and name-callings in her short lifetime. She’s TWO! It happens. I take it in stride. She needs to find her way, learn how to defend herself, socialize with other children, and get through it, as much as it pains me to say. Because I won’t always be there to defend her.
But what really is the right thing to do? Protect your child or let them learn how to protect themselves? It’s so hard. My gut tells me the latter is correct. Let her figure it out. This world is a big, scary place and the quicker she can defend herself, the better. My job is to give her the tools to survive, the ammo to persevere, and the open arms to comfort her when my advice fails her miserably.
But my heart screams the former!! My nervous, inner-child spazmatically cries out to hover over her in protection like the helicopter mom (or plastic-bubble?? mom) I try so hard not to be. I was an anxious little thing growing up. I still am, just many (many) feet taller. I remember oh too well the playground politics of my day, you know, when kids were assholes. So I know what lies ahead and don’t want her to feel ANY emotional or physical pain. But that’s not actually fair to her, is it? That’s not life.
It took me a long time to figure out the world. I’m lying. I’m still trying to figure it out (hence me being such a hot mess). Some people are born knowing. They are natural leaders. Their confidence is admirable. And they fart glitter clouds of cardamom and Mozart. Go for it you self-assured cuties! Sigh. But not me. I would say it took me until I was about 30 to really know myself, to feel comfortable in my own skin, to embrace my height, feel confident in meetings, to know what I was talking about at work, and to not (always) care what other people thought of me.
So when I get a call from her school saying my daughter has been bit yet again while I’m away at a conference and then I get a text from Grandma Birdie depicting the saddest face in the world, it bitch-slaps me simultaneously with blinding, white-hot anger and full, rational compassion for that child who did this to mine. It’s a very confusing sensation.
This has happened several times over the course of this year, each with a different kid. And she confirms it when she tells she tells us nonchalantly the name of the boy who bit her, so freely as she’s playing with her toys, as if she knows it’s not that big of a deal, that it’s a part of growing up, that this is just simply how life is. Tit for tat. Because no, these were not unprovoked events. My daughter steals the kitchenware right out of those little cooking hands and takes off with cars the second that back is turned to get some gas. These other children don’t know how to express their anger at the moment and biting is one way to get their feelings across real quick. I get it.
At age 4-5, biting is likely a behavioral issue that needs addressing. But at 2-3, it’s a developmental response. It’s an expression of a language that’s tough to learn. And so we take it because we ultimately know this is just a part of life. We try to learn from it on our end and try to reinforce that asking first before taking and waiting to share, etc. are what we do. I try to remain calm and rational. Her school is an excellent one. Her class doesn’t have the only biters in the world. THEY’RE TWO! It’s okay.
She will learn. They all will. She may even one day successfully negotiate that car right out from under that kid, making him think it was his idea the whole time, and with a grin as wide as the sea, she’ll navigate through the rough waters of playground politics and begin to make a life of her own. And be comfortable in her own skin (way before 30).