I had no idea how stomach churning it would be to get a letter from the teacher saying my kid was being rough with another kid. Repeatedly. Playing the chase-and-grab game with someone who really didn’t like it.

Last week he told me about the game and said he tried it on this other child and decided to stop when she didn’t like it.

I just heard today it happened at least four other times. In the past two days.

Each day, when I pick him up, I let him get settled then ask, “what part of your day was fun,” and “what part of your day was sad,” and “what part of your day was exciting,” and “what part of your say was frustrating,” and “what part of your day was boring?” Today he told me there was something really fun that he couldn’t tell me. I asked if he couldn’t tell me because it was so good or because it was bad.


But it was fun?


Oh, dear child, are you a sociopath? Are you normal? Are you going to be a bully? Are you reacting to our bad parenting? Are you just a bad person out of the box? Are you going to learn when I tell you things that should be obvious but seem missing from the Child 1.0 programming? If you haven’t yet, when will you?

Where did we go wrong? And which, of those, was the worst? And is it reversible?

Little boy, no matter how a person says it, stop it means STOP IT! It doesn’t matter if you like someone; you have to respect them and listen to their words. Always. Not just because you expect that of other people. Because it’s the decent thing to do.

He wrote a sorry note. He drew a sorry picture. He promised.

And I’m sick to my stomach. I emailed the child’s parent and the teacher, explaining how I’m dealing with the issue and how I wish I could apologize for my child.

We can’t apologize for our children, world. It’s beginning to seem that all the modeling and talk are totally wasted…is this true for all kids or just mine?

11 thoughts on “Nauseating

  1. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT beat yourself up about this. I think we all have phone calls/emails/moments in the carpool line like this. Mine was a phone call from the teacher about my son teaching other children in the classroom things they shouldn’t say or do. I’m too embarrassed to list them here. Let’s just say I was mortified and fearful of ever showing my face at the school again. But we all got over it. Eventually. (That and we left the school a year later but I’m sure leaving had nothing to do with it.)

    Good luck. And hugs, hugs and more hugs. xo

  2. I agree with Jane about not beating yourself up, but I also think that if you are seriously concerned, you should go see a professional or – more to the point – have the kid see a professional. Your gut, your heart and your mind are telling you something. I don’t think you would have written this post if you weren’t looking for honest advice.

    Be proactive in getting an opinion from someone who can compare said kid’s behavior to what is presumably a large sample size. You don’t have to agree with any assessments; you can get 2nd, 3rd, nth opinions or whatever. But if there is a real problem, you probably don’t want to gain full knowledge of it when they call you into school to have the “we have been watching your kid and we believe she is the most horrific mutant we have ever seen” talk. Go see somebody.

    Best case – pro says “your kid is normal” and everyone involved gets over it a la Jane. Worst case – your kid is a sociopath and you 1) have caught-on early and 2) start reading different parenting books. Either way, my guess is you will be given new strategies for dealing with your kid who, like every kid ever, is somewhere on the empath-sociopath spectrum – and is usually at different points on that spectrum every 8-12 seconds.

    Here is truth: experiments in doing what one is not supposed to do will always be undertaken by kids (and uncles). When those experiments involve, as you describe, repeated harm, hurting or ignoring other people’s requests to stop, I think it is your duty as the responsible party to see if there is a reason. I am saying this not just for you, either. This is for all the parents who read your blog (and the parents I meet in the park who *should* read your blog). Dealing with your feelings of guilt or embarrassment or denial or whatever about any parenting issue should always take a way, way, way back seat to figuring out if there is something wrong.

    If you hear a clicking sound in your car every time you turn right and you ignore it and it gets worse and you ignore it – and you ignore it even though your gut and your mind tell you not to ignore it – and then, one day, you take a corner too tightly and your wheel comes off and your car hops the curb onto the sidewalk and you crush a pedestrian, the question isn’t “am I a bad car owner?” – it is simply “why didn’t I have someone look into that effing noise?”

  3. Obviously, I have no personal experience with older kids (yet) but my immediate reaction was that your son is, what? Five? Six? Yeah. I’m not too surprised he’s testing limits over and over still.

    A dad who was the stay-at-home parent to his two kids once said to me, “I always figured kids are born little animals, and it’s our job to teach them to be humans.” Seems pretty accurate to me.

  4. @Jane Though this wasn’t your intention, I’m going to take your advice to change schools. Probably every six months.

    @MPB yes. There are mitigating factors, including the fact that everyone else he’s tries this game with says “stop,” so he does; and a new friend who has goaded him into lots of behavior (he says the activities are the other kid’s ideas and her mom says she hears the opposite…naturally). Pediatrician appt coming up next month, so beginning the discussion there, and moving it to a psychologist’s practice from there, seem reasonable. Ounce of prevention and whatnot.

    Though, for what it’s worth, my gut says he’s a good kid who is particularly keen to follow strong personalities. So not so much bully as the terrifying right-hand-man to the bully.

    @Kristin That sounds about right to me, too, except that doesn’t seem at all *right*, you know? The idea that stuff they won’t do in front of parents is exactly what they do on an under-supervised playground (then hide so they won’t get in trouble) just sucks. Clearly the “if you’re worried about getting in trouble, then what you’re doing is wrong” discussion has ensued. Clearly the “would you do that to a friend” discussion ensued. (His answer: yes. I’ve already done it to friends, but they said “stop” so I did.)

  5. Yes, by all means bring it up with your pediatrican. If he/she is at all decent, he/she will say that finding a game too fun to stop even when someone else says “stop” is perfectly normal 5-year-old behavior. Even normal 6 and 7 year old behavior…..

    You use the pronoun “she” in your story. Little boys have be taught how to listen to little girls. This is not as obvious as it seems. True story: I was on a playground with my then 4-year old son, 3 other boys, ages 4, 4, and 5 and a girl, also 4. All the mothers are talking when suddenly the girl runs up crying. Why is she crying? “All the boys are chasing me with sticks.” All the mothers call their respective young hoodlums over: why are you chasing her with sticks? Can’t you see she doesn’t like it? What were you thinking?

    Innocent, geniune puzzlement from the gang: “But it’s a fun game.” “We didn’t know she didn’t like it.” “It’s fun to run around with sticks.”

    This was several years ago now; everyone in this story is growing up just fine. Your son will too. The feelings of nausea in your stomach are normal too. They also go away, even without changing schools.

    I would also ask the kindergarten teacher what she thinks. Chances are, she has seen a lot of children your son’s age.

    • @Karen Thank you. Not just for the reassurances, but for finding a very prescient way of keying into my worst fear: this was a boy (and a girl) tormenting another girl who didn’t say stop but made it clear without words that she didn’t like it. And my son said, “Well, she didn’t say, ‘stop’ so we didn’t.’ His lines drawn in the sand means he has a trigger set at one word but doesn’t hear other variations. My first thought went to high school and college and NEEDING to know he can hear a young woman express herself even if the specific word is not “Stop, I mean it; I’m not kidding: Stop right now or I’ll call the cops.” My sons both need to know the nuances of how children sometimes protest. I’m fighting the knowledge that being 5 and self centered means not that you’re a horrible person but that you’re age-appropriate selfish. As I said in an email this morning: I know very easily if an adult is an a–hole or not. With kids, either my gauge is off or 90% of them are a–holes.” I have had to tell more than one little girl, “If you don’t like that, don’t run. Stop, face them [it’s always “them” isn’t it?] and say STOP really loudly.” Every little girl, given this information, has begrudgingly tried it. And it always works. So just as I’ve taught girls to stand still and voice their “no,” I need to teach my boys that running away or whining or whimpering or crying or furrowed brows or any other sign of “no” is just as valid as “NO!” Thank you for the comment. And welcome!

      @Kristin We had a terrible day yesterday (several days after the chase and catch fiasco of nausea) and I decided what I need to do is have someone else raise them. After we change schools. ;-)

      Post on baby carriers coming today. Just for you. There’s too much for a comment, and I selfishly want the search engine traffic that comes from the answer. ;-)

  6. I can certainly understand the impulse to examine your own parenting to see if it’s your fault. Because if it’s something you’re doing (or not doing), then you can fix it, right? But if it’s your kid? Well, then, ultimately, HE has to fix it, which is a little more out of our control as parents, despite all the guidance we can give.


    To change the subject completely, I’d like to ask your advice on baby carriers. I’m due to have a second kid in July. I never really used a carrier with my first, finding it easier to just carry him in my arms when I had to move around. But now that I have this extremely active older child, I know I’m going to end up just toting the baby around while I chase his or her brother. I know you use a carrier a lot. Which one did you use when your sons were very small? Oh, and also, this is somewhat relevant and not just an indelicate question: Did you ever find any problems fitting, uh, yourself (that is, your chest) in the carrier along with your kids? My not-insubstantial top part gets quite large indeed when I’m nursing, and I found it difficult to find a carrier that would accommodate both me and the baby. Any firsthand recommendations would be welcome.

  7. My humble opinion? Kids that age are all about exploring boundaries and they’re still governed by THE ID. No matter how many discussions you have about social limitations at five years old, it takes awhile to sink in! He’ll get there. He’s not a sociopath. And you’re a great mom.


    • Big ol’ hugs back at you, Inkie. Complete with links on my blogroll at the new site. Sorry it took so long. No slight intended.

      Are your guys like this? Princess Glitter Unicorn isn’t, right? Is the big guy? No, right? Sigh. Can’t compare, but *sigh* nevertheless.

      @Kristin, sling post tomorrow. Have just an hour or so for a client gig today.

  8. Oh, yes. Both of them at one point had/did something over the line. (With Eldest, I got to be face to face with the principal, even.) But it was a learning experience for all of us and since then, it’s been fine.

    • The preschool teachers told me several times they’d rather bring a wild child back in than draw a reserved child out. They noted that he had a hard time speaking up for himself. But when the K teacher called him out on ignoring her warning to stop, he said, “I’m not going to stop because I like it.” Um, that doesn’t seem like unable to express himself. [mortified and bemused all in the same parental-angst casserole]

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