Yesterday I mentioned I wasn’t happy with how I responded to a child who was bothering my daughter during storytime. Here is what I did: I quickly walked over to them, pulled his hand off my daughter, and said, “She asked you to stop poking her. Stop poking.” He got the message.
Afterwards, I finally figured out who his mother was, and judging by the way she avoided making eye contact, I suspect she noticed my actions. I wished I could have gotten her attention and told her I wasn’t angry with her or her son. I hope she wasn’t angry with me, especially because I don’t want to be a bad testimony when these moms know Lee, and they know he is a Christian who claims to want to rear his own children by following the Bible.
On the way home, I started thinking about my motives, and I started wondering what other approaches I could have taken. It was this line of thinking that stopped me. I could have asked Bethel to come sit with me if she wanted to, since I was within the line of sight of the storybook, although I was at the back and the book would have been harder to see. My first reaction to this idea was indignation. Certainly she has the right to listen to the story without being bothered, and she shouldn’t have to be forced to the back of the room because somebody was being obnoxious. Do you see what started bothering me about these thoughts? I was focussed primarily on her rights, her comfort, her right to sit close.
As I thought on my actions, I realized that I’ve acted this way more than once. I am quick to step in when I see another child being unkind. If a child tries to cut in line in front of my child, I’ll prevent him from doing so. If my child has a playground toy taken away, I make sure he gets it back. I’ve actually always thought of my quick intervention as a virtue, a point of pride. What I am starting to understand is that I have been teaching them how to respond in these situations. I had better make sure my response is biblical.
Several passages of Scripture came to mind.
- First, I remember that Paul appealed to his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37, 25:11). I think there is an appropriate and biblical time to exercise one’s rights.
- Second, I do believe that parents have to responsibility to protect their children, particularly in danger. I think it is helpful to make a distinction between a relatively minor inconvenience and more serious offenses.
- Finally, In Matthew 5:38 and following, we find Jesus’ words about our attitude towards personal offenses. I do not completely understand the depth of what Jesus is teaching here; however, at the very least, I can, for the sake of peace and testimony, withstand inconvenient violations of my personal rights. I can think of a few such situations we might face as adults: getting cut off while driving; having a parking place “stolen” by another driver; a guest overstaying his welcome, or coming at an inconvenient time; someone with 25 items in front of us at the grocery store when the sign clearly states: Fifteen items or fewer; children who wake up at 6:30am, taking away my right to a good night’s sleep.
I am also considering the implications of these passages when I help my children understand how to respond in these situations, and how I will respond as well. In the library storytime situation, I wonder whether the better response would have been to have Bethel come sit on my lap for the end of the story, and later explain why.
Lyn Marshall says
Interesting. 🙂 We’ve been dealing with our own bullying episode this week (although adult, not child offender, and words, not pokes.) A couple of quick thoughts:
I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written about insisting on “our rights.” I have had to preach that message to myself at times! 🙂 However, I see a huge difference between insisting on my child’s right to, e.g., a particular toy–even if she had it first–and my right (or my child’s right) to restrict unwanted physical contact.
I don’t think that kids should have to tolerate unwanted physical contact, particularly after the offender has ignored a request to stop. Thus, I see no problem with a parent stepping in to protect their child, remove the offender’s hands, and reinforce the child’s request that the action stop. (Obviously, I would not use any more authority or force with the offender than was necessary to protect my own in such a situation.)
You mentioned hoping that the offender’s mom wasn’t angry with you for your actions, especially since you want to be a good testimony both as a believer and as Lee’s wife. If all you did was remove her son’s hands from your daughter and tell him that he must stop poking her, would she be right or rational to be angry about that? (I’m focusing, obviously, on your actions, which were observable, rather than your thought process, which was not.) Even if she chose to react wrongly or irrationally (and she was probably just embarrassed that it had to be the pediatrician’s daughter of all people that her son chose to poke!), I don’t see how her wrong response hinders your testimony.
A scenario like you have described could have multiple “happy endings,” I think. I don’t think that your actions, as you describe them, were wrong, but neither do I think it would have been wrong to simply have Bethel come sit in your lap, explaining your reasoning later.
Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement, Lyn. I do think you’re probably right that the mom was more likely embarrassed than angry. I know that’s how I’ve felt when my own children misbehave in front of others.
You’re probably right that unwanted physical contact of any sort is probably a different problem than any other annoyance. You make me wonder whether acting quickly and decisively might not actually be a good way of communicating the seriousness of this kind of offense.
I do think that the action might have been okay, as you say, although looking at the overall picture, I still am concerned that I’m acting to protect my rights. Bottom line: I don’t really know what I should have thought or done!
Lyn Marshall says
Michelle, in all of my vast experience (ha!), I’ve found that hindsight is generally 20-20. 😀
Seriously, I would guess that most if not all of us moms would have to resist the instant urge to clobber a kid (or adult) who was mistreating our son or daughter. I think that is a God-given nurturing instinct. (Brent and I call it the “mama bear” instinct. 🙂 ) However, as you have noted, we also have to make sure that we are choosing the right actions for the right reasons and that we not overreact. As I see it, many things could shape our decision in a bullying situation, including the gravity of the situation, the context and surroundings, the age of the child, etc. (It’s one thing for us to talk through analysis and options with our 13 year old and involve him in the decision, and quite another for you with Bethel.)
If these were easy situations, we wouldn’t need Biblical discernment, would we? 🙂 I will be praying for you.
Shelley Gallamore says
This is a great, real life situation. I think I would have recommended when you found out who the mom was being the instigator in speaking to her. She probably was embarrassed – and maybe even a little offended (although unjustly) and the situation might have been disarmed by you saying “oh Hi, is that sweet little boy yours?? I hope you don’t mind that I asked him to not poke my daughter a little while ago…we have that at our house too. At this age they are just so touchy!” All said in a happy, I want to be your friend voice with a big smile. That speaks grace to her – it ackowledges that while you know her child poked when he shouldn’t have – your child could very well poke next week.
The issue of rights is huge and I think that we should teach our children that they should stand up for their rights sometimes – but, they should do it in as loving a manner as possible.
You’ve given some good principial factors to consider the next time this issue comes up. I’m thankful for your thoughts and prayers.
I do think you’re right about this mom. I’ll be going to storytime again. Pray that I’ll be able to show God’s love to this mom and others while I’m there.