Playground Politics: Conflict Evasion for Kids

Foster kids often have deep-rooted feelings of “I’m on my own, gotta take care of myself” that do not resolve themselves easily. Some kids manifest these feelings with aggression and bullying; others withdraw and become extremely passive, fearful to stand up for themselves. My children are on the two ends of this spectrum — even five years later.

Sarah tends to respond to new situations with suspicion, and hates it when she feels people are looking at her. She gets downright ornery — and sometimes aggressive, kicking or striking out. With Sarah, I’ve tried to coach her to make friends by smiling and saying hello, instead of scowling and verbally resisting the interaction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. “Sweet Sarah” is a cute and engaging child, and when she gets really ornery I remind myself (and anyone else who needs the reminder) that her reaction is instinctive, not rational. Most of the time, a gentle reminder works.

Christopher, on the other hand, tends to shy away from conflict to the point that — without a little coaching — he could become a target for bullies (including, unfortunately, his sister).  And so when I found him on the playground the other day, crying that a bigger kid (whom he could not or would not name) punched him in the nose, we talked about the best way to prevent something like this from happening again. In a nutshell, it’s a kid-sized version of self-defense. 

3 Steps to Evade Conflict

(1) Assume “courage stance,” feet firmly planted and direct eye contact, holding up a “stop sign” hand. Say (loudly and clearly), “Leave me alone. You’re bugging me.”

(2) State nature of problem — loudly, so other kids and (hopefully) the teacher hears it: “Picking on little kids is not OK, and you are going to be in big trouble if you don’t stop.”

(3) If the kid (or a group of kids) corners you, it’s okay to defend yourself. Tell them you don’t want to fight and walk away, if you can. If you can’t, yell “Get away from me!” and let him have it. Best places to punch: balled-up palm to nose, or if he pins your arms, a swift kick between the legs, or stomp his ankle. Then get away and tell the teacher as fast as you can.

Some parents swear by a class in martial arts to build self-confidence, and that may be an option for you — especially if your child come with a history of abuse or neglect, such that his “boundaries” are not intact. In the meantime, giving your child a few skills may make the difference between him becoming a target … or a leader.

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