All of Robby's teachers have described him as both compassionate and intuitive about his peers. He often volunteers to pair himself with a student who is feeling isolated from the group and encourages everybody to play together. Unfortunately, he is not able to transfer his advocacy skills to stand up for himself. My little crusader is often the recipient of manipulation, and sometimes bullying, by others.
This past weekend Robby was playing in the yard with his friend Rowan. The pair often spends their weekends traversing through the woods, hunting turtles and playing with sling shots. The friends were delighted when the house across the street sold to a family with two children of similar ages. To their credit they have tried to include the new neighbors into their games and activities. Apparently the new kids do not play by the same rules and often resort to name calling, taunting and just plain mean behaviors.
On Sunday as I was carrying the laundry up the stairs, I found Robby sitting on the couch while the new neighbors were playing in his bedroom. I asked him why he wasn't in his room playing, and he just shrugged his shoulders. I insisted that he go back and be a hospitable host. As soon as I opened he door and Robby stepped inside, the little boy looked up from the toy tsunami that he had created and screamed, "Get out of here. We don't want to play with you."
Instead of arguing and pointing out that this was his house and that those were his toys, Robby simply slouched and stood behind me. Needless to say, I did not cower in my reaction. I looked at the boy and firmly directed him to go home. Without saying a word or even offering an obligatory thank you for allowing them to play with the toys, the boy grabbed his sister's hand and left our house.
Robby was sad for the remainder of the evening and was on the verge of tears as he recounted the situation to his Daddy. After assuring him that he did nothing wrong, we came up with a plan. I reminded Robby that he is expected to be polite and nice, but that he does not have to play with somebody who is being mean. If he doesn't want to play, he can say no or he can come to me to device an excuse for him. I don't mind being the bad guy; after all I figure it is part of my job as his Mom.
Suspecting that something similar happened to Rowan, I called her Mom later that evening. It turns out that my hunch was correct and that the new neighbors were making fun of her outside. Instead of confronting, she just went home. Robby, who was also outside when this occurred, was busy in the tree house when his friend was being teased. If he had been within earshot I have no doubt that he would have stood up for her!
It's sad that Robby and his friend had to learn an unfortunate lesson, but I think that they are both better prepared should it happen again. Robby knows that he is not obligated to play simply because they ask. He is not allowed to play at their house and, for the time being, their interactions need to be confined to our yard. Robby and Rowan will stick together, and if one is being teased or manipulated, the play date ends. Both seemed relieved when I told them that they can always come in the front door when they see the new neighbors outside and that they can walk out the back door to play in the woods undetected.