Not Everyone is Nice, Toughening Up a Child

Not everyone will be nice to them, you know. Not everyone will treat kids kindly. Toughen them up!

No thank you.

Today my five year old daughter came to me and said matter-of-factly “I do not think he is a nice man.” “Why do you think that?” I asked. “He told me and Isaac and Alexander to go away.” she answered. “Did he ask nicely?” I ask. “Nope.” she said. She is not bothered. Just matter of fact. “He said to go away. We were watching him.” “He is here to do a job.” I say. “Not everyone likes being watched while they work.” “Oh.” she says. “Not everyone knows how to ask kids things nicely. They think kids only listen if they use a firm voice. You know, the voice I use to ask our dog to get away from the garbage when he doesn’t listen to please?” “Oh!” she says. (I have taken to getting down to my dog’s eye level when he is sniffing at the garbage can, and patiently asking him to go to his bed. At the end of it when he is staring into my eyes with doggie love and enjoying the attention I say firmly “Bed. Now.” and he goes. Good boy.) “Kids are not dogs, though. Kids understand words, right?” Silly question.

She is five. She is not bothered by people being rude to her. She recognizes it as not okay. But she also recognizes it as being more about them than about her. This is a skill that I still have not fully mastered at thirty-seven.

I haven’t toughened her up. But somehow she has become tough. Tough, like resilient. Tough, like compassionate. Not tough in the way that accepts that this is how things are. Tough in a way that says the world could be much better than it is. Tough in a way that tries to be better.

Oh. Yes. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes they make bad guesses. Or don’t string together words in the right ways. Sometimes people say things that are not okay. Sometimes people do things that are not okay. People are bad guessers. And not everyone has someone to teach them the things that they are supposed to learn as children.

Toughening up a child is about teaching them to reject poor treatment, not accept poor treatment.

If someone is not treating you well, walk away. Seek help. If they won’t let you walk away, fight. Be loud. Be noisy. Raise hell.

It’s a hard thing to explain to a child. Why adults are polite to other adults but not so much to children. We’re supposed to be teaching children how to be, not treating them as lesser beings until they guess how to be polite to us.

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