As a young child growing up in the city, I made friends with a few boys and girls in my neighborhood. From them, I learned hop-scotch, jump rope and how to play tag. I taught them how to catch “lightning” bugs and look for worms. We played in the alley behind our houses and never ventured off too far.
The general rule of thumb given to us by our mothers, was to play close enough so that you can hear a call to come home. We all knew to come home when the streetlights came on. Most of the time, we had little problem following these rules except for an occasional forgetful moment when we missed the call because we were shouting or didn’t seem to notice that it was getting dark.
We made up our own “get-along” rules and mostly everyone agreed to follow them. Occasionally, someone would get angry and an incident would occur. One such incident happened when Stevie told me that girls can’t play baseball when I wanted to join an “all-boys” game that had started a few minutes before I arrived in the alley.
He decided to push me down to make his point. I was not usually aggressive, but somehow this perceived injustice led me to find a small brick on the ground, which I promptly hurled across third base where it made contact with the right side of Stevie’s forehead. That obviously proved that I could throw and therefore play baseball with the boys, but I also realized that he was bleeding.
In an attempt to hide my shame for what I had done, I ran away from the alley to the front of my house where my mother and Stevie’s mother just happened to be sitting and chatting on the front porch steps. I said my quick hello and flew past them up the stairs to my room to escape my demise. As soon as I ascended the last few steps, I heard Stevie coming from the back of his house crying loudly that I had thrown a brick at him.
Needless to say, I learned the importance of a sincere apology, how to process my punishment of being grounded in the house for a few days, and how to negotiate conflict in a much more appropriate manner in the future.
From that point on, Stevie invited me to be on his team whenever the boys were playing baseball in the alley. I literally bumped into Stevie many years later at an elementary school reunion and after discovering who he was, I apologized once again for what I had done. He had no recollection of the event, but found the story quite amusing and admitted that even if he had remembered he would not likely repeat it for fear of repercussion from his friends and family that a little girl had “walloped” him.
When feasible, allowing a child to navigate conflict without immediately rushing to intervene, enables them to develop important decision making skills that can’t be learned any other way. I am not saying that I condone bullying, but when it happens, in some cases, it has the potential to teach important life lessons.
The natural process of how we learn is amazing. How we think through difficult situations and problems, tackle a challenge or assess a threat, is quite unique and often depends upon what we have seen, heard, or experienced very early in life. To be clear, I never saw anyone in my family throwing bricks at each other! I brought my own standard, (er…um…brick) to this particular situation. Thankfully, my standards have evolved and improved over time.