You know what would be nice? if every time I took my daughter to the playground, everyone got along and nobody ended up crying. Unfortunately, toddlers are notoriously terrible at sharing. They also suck at taking turns. Many times this can lead to a toddler fight. One toddler pushes the other one, then gets pushed back. Both kids end up crying. Their respective mothers rush up to comfort their traumatized toddlers. Then the mothers either smile and roll their eyes at each other, or start arguing.
When I take Adi to one of the local playgrounds in New York’s Washington Heights, I never have a problem. One time, at the playground, a toddler boy tried to push Adi away from a piece of equipment she was spinning. Adi put her hand out and said stop. The boy didn’t stop and pushed her again. Adi hit the little boy. The little boy ran away crying. Adi kept playing. The boy’s mom looked up, saw that her kid was fine, looked at me, we both shrugged, and that was it.
A couple of days later, at a mommy-and-me class on the more affluent Upper West Side in Manhattan, Adi found herself in a similar situation. A little boy pushed Adi away from where she was playing with clay. Adi pushed back. The boy started crying. Victorious Adi went back to her clay. On the fancy Upper West though, moms don’t just look up and shrug in the face of a toddler fight. They get involved because their kids are angels that can do no wrong. They take things up with the mom of the terrible child who dared to strike their little snowflake. I have a few things working against me in situations like this. First, I’m younger than the average stay-at-home mom. Most of the moms in class are in their 40s. So I’m inevitably talked down to. Another thing working against me is image. I have piercings and tattoos and a hard-to-pronounce name and I live in a neighborhood most of these women are too afraid to step foot in. Surely with a mom like me, Adi must go around punching other toddlers all the time. There’s no way little Bradford (or Sage or some other respectable yuppie name) could ever push a little girl. That hood rat toddler with the chipped tooth and overly inked mother are clearly the instigators.
Let me tell you something about your little snowflake. He pushed my kid first and he got what was coming to him.
There’s a line — there has to be — between teaching Adi to stand up for herself and helping Adi grow up to be compassionate and share with her fellow child. If a child hits Adi, does she run and tell me or hit back? Adi knows never to hit kids smaller than her. She knows that little babies don’t know any better. She knows never to hit unless she got hit first. Sure, sometimes she’ll hit first but that always ends up in a time out for her. Is it OK to hit back? If someone hits me, my first reaction is to hit back. That might not be the right answer.
That little boy from the playground never tried to push Adi again. A day later they were both playing together like nothing happened. The little boy from class never pushed Adi again either. But that’s probably because his mother keeps him away from Adi now.
I think she’s afraid of me.
I think that kids need to learn how to work things out for themselves. That’s how it was when I was a kid. Unless there’s bullying or serious injury involved (and those things don’t happen with toddlers and preschoolers), parents need to let their kids learn the (sometimes hard) lessons of socializing. Conflicts happen.
Here are my rules for dealing with toddler fights.
1. If your toddler won’t share, explain to them that they need to share. Usually they’ll share. If the toy in question belongs to someone else, give it back.
2. If your toddler hits first, make them apologize and give them a time out.
3. If your toddler hits second and the struck child is bleeding, find his mom.
4. If your toddler hits second and the struck child is fine then leave it alone.
5. If a mom gets in your face, explain that these things happen, and that you’re sorry that little Chadwick (or Atticus) is crying. DO NOT curse at her in other languages.
Toddlers understand more than we think they do. They don’t hold grudges. They love every other child they meet. As long as we teach them to play fair, share, and stick up for themselves, they’ll work it out and be fine. Adi is a confident and pretty self-sufficient toddler, not because she’s an infallible snowflake with an inflated ego, but because she can hold her own and work things out for herself.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.