It was a lovely afternoon. I had finished my work early and decided to take my boys to a nearby playground for some fun before dinner. The playground wasn’t particularly crowded but there were other kids.
While I was chasing my 20-month toddler around, I heard a loud wail coming from under the playground structure – these tiny beings like to worm their way inside this little “cave” to “chill”.
It was my elder child, the three-year-old. Two older girls (presumably five or six) had asked him to “get out” because there was no space for all of them in there. My kid was indignant of course but felt powerless against two jiejies. He ran out crying, and I gave him a tight hug, saying, “It’s alright. Tell them next time that we can all share the space.”
Thankfully the two little ladies vacated the space quickly, and my son entered again. But before I knew it, the same incident repeated itself.
I took a quick look around. The girls don’t seem accompanied by their parents, or any adult for that matter. I stooped down and asked them, “Can we share the space please?”
They were having none of it, and just kept repeating “No, there’s no space, no space.” Obviously very headstrong girls.
Meanwhile my son was still bawling because he felt bullied.
I didn’t want to engage in a senseless and useless argument with children; they didn’t look like they gave a damn what I said anyway. So I did the most pragmatic thing, distracting the boy by promising a treat at the supermarket. (All this time, I still had to keep an eye on my younger son who was tripping over his chubby legs every few minutes.)
While the drama was contained, I didn’t feel really comfortable with what I did because I didn’t show my son how to stand his ground and assert his right. I just took the easier way out. However, I couldn’t think of how else I could have managed this: call the girls out even more? Look for their parents or helpers at the side? Embarrass them? Feels a little OTT.
And then I flip-flop again because play is ALL that the kids know. It may be a tiny matter to us, but a huge thing from their perspective. So how do I balance adult pragmatism with teaching the kids the right values, especially when it involves children of strangers?
Unfortunately, I still haven’t quite found a suitable answer. I suppose there’ll be more opportunities for me to practise. Let’s see.