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Teaching Your Child to Have a Backbone at Three?

Is there a right way to teach a child to stick up for or defend himself? Especially when they are young?

I had visiting day at my daughter’s camp today, and she is in a great bunk of fourteen girls EXCEPT (and there is always the bad apple that spoils the bunch) the one girl. This one girl I will call Tina (although I really feel like calling her “shithead” because, well, that fits her best). She tries to intimidate most of the other girls in the bunk with the exception of two others, who happen to be her cousins. Of course, she thought she was going to be the “cat’s meow” and. well. she is not even close to a kittens poopie.

Today at free play on the playground, she told my daughter to “get out” of the boat, as she told several other little girls as well. Then she did this to my daughter again before I was leaving. My daughter is pretty easy-going and has not encountered this before. She did not listen to Tina the first time and did what she wanted anyhow. The second time she did listen to her. Of course as a mother, my instinct was to protect my child, and I wanted to grab Tina and say, “Hey, listen, shithead, you leave my kid alone. She has a right to play anywhere she wants and you should not talk to her like that.”

But of course I did not; I had a great mommy moment. A light bulb went off in my head and something or someone must have taken my body over for a moment. At least I was able to be calm and sane, so whatever or whoever happened and stepped in to intervene, thanks. I took my daughter aside and I told her Tina is mean and you tell her not to do that, or “that is a no-no.” With wide eyes my daughter listened shaking her head, but I knew it wasn’t clicking or she would not say anything.

So again, when she was home from camp I brought it up; actually if I am being completely honest I was like white on rice, or a dog on a bone, and I did not give up until I knew she understood that is was not her and that it was this little girl (if that is what she really is, oops ... I guess the force that was with me earlier for the moment of sanity has left) Tina’s problem. In our last conversation tonight before she was going to sleep my daughter said, “Tina is mean and she should stay home from camp.” In whatever words my daughter uses I hope she finds the strength and courage to tell this child that tomorrow.

I guess the real lesson in this is teaching my three-and-a-half-year-old to have a backbone. To stand for something so she doesn’t fall for anything. Really, I did not think at such a young age I would encounter this. What happened to kids being innocent and just being able to enjoy being kids? Did I handle this correctly, will this solve the problem, should I call the camp, should I call the other parents and have them call the camp, should I call the mother? These are all the questions that are racing through my mind like Jeff Gordon at the Indy 500.

My final note, I did some research to see if my great mommy moment was on track and it seems like I am thinking pretty level-headed. It’s true to always go with your instinct. Mothers know, and there is nothing like mother’s instinct. Below I have summed up what I have read from the professionals:

Hitting or pushing back is not okay with preschool age children, but moving away from a mean or careless child or saying, “Stop!” is appropriate. Helping your child to find phrases that get their message across without escalating a situation will teach them that most times they can defend themselves by 1) their words or 2) by steering clear of trouble.

Help your youngster find appropriate phrases for stating their position.

Also, let your child know it’s always okay to talk to you about a situation that’s troubling them. Seeking help from a big person is better than engaging with a selfish or bullying child.

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