I've had bad experiences with strangers in the past. Most recently, I politely asked a dad at the school if he could pull over into the nearby lay-by to let his kids out of the car rather than stopping, daily, in the middle of a narrow road.
He looked at me like I was crazy and when I pointed out that he was causing traffic delays every morning he proceeded to rant and roar at me in front of my son.
Last year, I told a man that there was a bin right behind him, and asked if he could please pick up the rubbish he'd just thrown on the ground in front of my kids. He went crazy, calling me obscene names and telling me to mind me own f-ing business or he'd kick my f-ing head in.
SO, WHEN I DISCOVERED SOME OLDER KIDS HAD BEEN MEAN TO MY FOUR-YEAR-OLD ON SATURDAY, I WAS WARY OF FINDING THEIR PARENTS TO LET THEM KNOW WHAT HAD HAPPENED. WHAT IF THE PARENTS TOLD ME TO F-OFF? WHAT IF THEY TOLD ME TO MIND MY OWN BUSINESS? WHAT IF THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE ME? I WAS AT A PLAY CENTRE FOR MY NIECE'S BIRTHDAY PARTY AND THE LAST THING I WANTED ON MY HANDS WAS A SCENE.
INITIALLY, MY ELDEST BOY CAME OVER TO TELL ME THAT SOME KIDS HAD PULLED DOWN HIS LITTLE BROTHER'S TROUSERS. NOW, I GET THAT KIDS MIGHT THINK THIS IS A FUNNY THING TO DO TO A FRIEND OR SIBLING, ESPECIALLY WHEN EVERYONE IS GIDDY AND SUGAR-FUELLED. BUT WHEN THE KIDS ARE STRANGERS IN A PUBLIC PLACE, IT'S DIFFERENT.
I DECIDED TO SPEAK DIRECTLY TO THE KIDS.
My eldest son pointed out the three perpetrators and the first boy admitted that he had been there, but that it was his cousin who had pulled down the trousers. When his cousin came over, I asked him why he pulled down a little boy's pants and he shocked me by saying, "Well, I wasn't the one who held his arms behind his back".
Seriously! What had sounded like a mischievous prank had suddenly been explained as a nasty piece of bullying. These three kids were six years old and my little boy is four. My heart sank.
How scary for a little person to have two bigger kids hold his arms while one pulled off his trousers while laughing at him.
The interesting thing is that both my six-year-old son and his nine-year-old cousin were present when the incident happened, yet neither felt capable enough to intervene and just stood there aghast.
I sat down on the floor with the two boys and asked them how they'd feel if three eight-year-old boys grabbed them and pulled off their trousers. They agreed it wouldn't be nice. I spoke very calmly and gently, explaining that they had frightened a little boy. I told them that everyone should be allowed to have fun and that they should make sure they never frighten or upset another kid again.
Were these kids bullies? Maybe, or perhaps they were just mischievous kids who pushed things too far. At the time, my chat seemed like the right thing to do, but the more I think about my little boy, who appeared with his jeans on back-to-front, the more I wonder if I should have insisted on talking to the boys' parents. Will these kids pick on a small kid again? Did I miss a chance to nip bullying in the bud or was my approach the right thing to do?