They other day, after waiting close to an hour in the parent pickup line, my daughter hurriedly rushed into the car. Before I could even ask her how school was, she told me a bizarre tale of being assaulted and threatened by a girl in class. She went on to handle it perfectly, leaving class and going straight to the principals office where she told and retold her story the same way to each administrator.
As she was telling me the tale, I got pretty upset. I gritted my teeth and raised my voice in the car. I turned right back around and we drove straight to the school. Why had I not been informed immediately? What was done about it?! I looked back and saw my daughters face welling up with tears. In my misguided attempt to show her that I care and that I would protect her indefinitely, that I was on her side and I was angry enough for the both of us, I ended up showing her I wasn’t in control.
I took a deep breath and asked her what was upsetting her. She said she knew I wasn’t mad with her but she couldn’t help but cry to see me so upset. She finally was face to face with the reality of how unjust she was treated and the flow of emotions overtook her for a moment. I pulled over in the parking lot and assured her she was safe, that I would handle it from here.
I then realized that she didn’t need me to gnash my teeth and growl like a father bear, she needed my comfort, to show her she was safe from the aggression she experienced. She wanted to know she was out of harms way, not enveloped in a world of anger and fear.
It changed my whole perspective. When our children are hurt or bullied, most times, especially for us fathers, we want to react just like a father bear would. We react by showing that we are the alpha male and that no one will get away with hurting our family. Well, I assure you, there is a time and place for that, but I learned it is not ALWAYS the time and place. My daughter has no doubt in her mind that I would protect her infinitely, but what she needed at that time was comfort and confirmation that she handled things the right way.
A lot of times the “dad” in us tells our kids to stand up to bullies and to just fight back, an eye for an eye. A bullies reach however, is far beyond their physical strength. A bully is a mentally and emotionally manipulative person that gains some sort of power over your child. If it were as simple as fighting back, bullies wouldn’t exist. Our children need to know that they can handle things in a way that makes them feel comfortable, not us projecting the idea that they should just fight back.
What’s important is laying out the options and allowing them to confront it in a way that makes them feel safe. I’m not interested in raising a child that is a victim, but she handled things appropriately, and with great confidence without ever having to raise a fist. My job wasn’t to show her how to react with anger, but show her comfort, show her restraint, show her love in the aftermath. I wasn’t there at the time to show that I can protect her, but I needed to show her something different when she told me the story, love. She continues to teach me how to be a better person every single day, and remind me that when a child feels chaotic, it’s not our job to join them in the chaos, but lead them to the calm.