Fighting with non-family members | Teaching Self-Government

Fighting with non-family members

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"I have been reading your website and listening to your CD’s and practicing what I’ve learned from you.  It has helped tremendously with the level of peace in our home.  A situation occurred last night with my 12 y/o which has me a bit stymied.  He was at a church camp-out and playing flag football with some other boys.  One boy in particular has given him trouble on and off through the two years we have lived here.  This boy will slap my son and then say it was a joke, yell at him or threaten him and then say he’ll tattle if he makes any move to defend himself or his property.  My son has just kind of put up with him and I’ve tried to help him see this other boy is troubled and doesn’t know how to make and keep friends.  Last night, as they played the football, this boy refused to acknowledge that my son had touched him and wouldn’t drop his flag.  This is one of the things that my son allows himself to be bothered by, when others do not follow the rules of the game.  So my son hung on and the other boy started to hit and bite and my son punched him a couple times.  My husband called and I came and got him and took him home from the camp-out.  I feel like that was his earned negative consequence.  As I talked to him later about it, all these stories of incidents in the past came out about this boy.  But then I realized that the other boys in the neighborhood don’t seem to have as much trouble with him…they somehow shrug off his threats, or ignore him.  I guess they just don’t take him seriously and give him power over themselves.  What would you do?  Any suggestions on how I can help my son to overcome this kind of problem with a neighborhood child?"

This is a tricky question.  You may or may not like what I have to say about this situation.  I know that many people feel differently about fighting. 

Let me start by saying that I am a peaceful person.  I don't believe in allowing myself to become aggressive.  This is loosing control.  However, I don't believe in allowing other people to dominate me and force me to cope with them by being passive.  I teach my children to be assertive. 

An assertive person chooses not to be bullied.  (This situation sounds like bullying to me.)  An assertive person also notices when someone needs to handle a situation that is wrong.  (It is wrong to touch another person in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, or to verbally assalt another person.)

It is probably a good thing that I had to wait a long time to answer this question, because I have recently advised my 12 year old son on an almost identical situation. 

12 year olds are all learning their boundaries, so this is something that you will want to teach your son.  Teach him what appropriate boundaries are and how to keep his. 

My son is large for his age, so other boys often feel intimidated by him and try to prove their strength by harassing him or touching him.  A boy on his soccer team started doing these things, and my son asked the coaches for help.  The coaches did nothing.  My son then asked me for help.  I told the coaches.  Nothing changed.  My son asked me what I should do.  (This could shock a few of you!!! It's not to late to stop reading.)  *It is important to note here that this other boy was constantly kicking and hitting my son and the other players, and my son HAD to play and practice with this kid.  He couldn't just leave the field.* 

My advice:  I told my son that he should ignore any words or harassment.  Then I said that if the boy kicked, or hit him he was to warn the boy that if he hit him again he would punch him HARD.  I also told him to tell the coaches that he had warned the other boy.  Then I told him that when the boy chose to hit him, he needed to punch him as hard as he could.  I told him to give him one huge punch and try to knock the boy down with it.  "Make it count", I said.  "You don't ever want him to think it is a good idea to hit you again!" 

The next practice came around.  I watched the field intently to see if my son would need to use my advice.  After being on the field for a few minutes the boy started calling my son names.  My son ignored him.  I was happy to see his self discipline.  Then the bully went a step further and hit my son on the back while he was making his rude comments.  My son turned to him and made a fist.  He said, "If you hit me again, I will hit you HARD!  You have been warned."  My son did the appropriate pre-teach.  Then my son ran to the side lines and said to the coach, "Just so you know, I am tired of getting hit by Mike and I have told him that if he hits me again, I will hit him HARD."  Then he ran back on to the battlefield/soccer field. 

The boy ran by my son and gave him a big kick in the thigh.  My son, made a fist, turned around and punched him in the gut.  The boy fell to the ground.  My son said, "I told you not to hit me again, I wish you would have listened." 

Since my son had told the coaches what he was prepared to do, they were really watching practice for once.  They saw the hit and they saw the consequence.  Nothing was said to my son.  I was using every bit of restraint that I had to stop myself from cheering from the sidelines.  My boy proved that he was a warrior.  He couldn't let the evil win any longer.  Even though it meant a hit, I was proud. 

Because my son was man enough to stand up for what was right, the whole team benefited.  The boy wasn't only hurting my son, he was hurting other players as well.  He was a first class bully.  After my son layed him flat, Mike was a different boy.  He knew that there was someone on the team that could "take him" and he wasn't going to give my son any other opportunities to teach him any lessons.  Mike stopped hitting, all the soccer players.  He even stopped calling names and talking bad for the most part too. 

Like C.S. Lewis, I am not a pacifist.  If someone really is doing wrong, I want my children to be ready to handle the situation and protect those who are on the good side.  I am raising a warrior.  It would be silly if I raised him to fight for what was right and then taught him to lay down when a bully was trying to get under his skin or get his way by force.  No, leaders/warriors must be assertive.  Assertive people talk things out first, and go to the appropriate athorities.  If that doesn't work, they warn the enemy of the consequence of any future attacks, and then stay true to their word.  An assertive person also keeps all lines of communication open, so that everyone is aware of the situation. (my son telling the coaches)

If you have read The Virginian, you know that even if it is unpopular, or you might loose a friend, you can't turn your back on what is right.  A real man defends right, even if he looses some things in the process.  This is the kind of man I want my son to be. 

Another thought:  Teach your son to choose to control the situation by controlling how he responds to the situation.  He can learn how to notice dishonesty and pity the other boy instead of get mad.  He can focus on his other friends and having fun with them more than worrying about his enemy.  They might just have bad chemistry. 

I used to lie until a friend of mine told me that she knew I was lying about something.  She said, "You are lying.  You always lie, everyone knows that."  I was taken back, I didn't know that everyone knew.  I changed immediately.  I didn't like how I looked to my peers.  I have been an incredibly honest person ever since.  My friend has no idea how much she helped my life. 

I tell this story to give a reason to why I am going to offer this next suggestion.  If the boy cheats, or whatever he usually does, your son could simply, discribe the situation to the boy just like you do when you do a corrective teach.  He could say, "Just now you cheated.  Everyone knows you cheat." or something simliar.  You will need to determine if this advice would help or hurt the current situation.  I only know it helped mine.  I wish I could be there to really see the situations as they unfold.  It would be so much easier to make suggestions. 

Lastly, if my son was the problem, then the natural consequence is to loose the privilege to participate with the group.  Make sure you practice appropriate boundaries, and disagreeing appropriately.  This sounds like a disagreeing appropriately problem. 

I have to say though, upon reading your story, I found myself identifying with your son.  If I were playing touch football and I tagged someone and they didnt' go down, I would also keep touching, to make sure the person knew he was touched.  Based upon your description, it seems like the other boy probably should have been the one to go home, or at least both of them .  He is a baby if he can't go down in a football game without biting and hitting.  I guess I wasn't there to see the situation, but it's too bad that an adult didn't pull the boys aside and teach them how to handle the situation and point out where each of them went wrong.  That would have been the very best thing.  I would have had them replay the situation all over again, with a solemn promise not to argue during the replay.  It's hard when you are not there to be able to do that though.  You can do it on your end though. 

Get him ready for the next time.  Practice disagreeing a lot.  Practice handling situations.  Put his brain in a place where he is in control of his emotions.  Tell him that if he allows the other boy to make him mad, then he his letting the other boy control him.  Tell him to take control and never let him influence his emotions.  I would also bring to his attention that the other boys don't ever have a problem, because they have figured out how to deal with this boy.  Then, if the boy still keeps coming after your son, you may have to teach him how to plan a hit.  Some boys have to be hit to learn.  As bad as that sounds, I have seen it as true. 

When my son was 3 years old, he was a brute.  He was always hurting other children.  I was so embarrassed by his behaviors.  I didn't know what to do.  Then a new little boy moved into the neighborhood.  This little boy and his mom came over one day and my son starting hitting this little boy.  For once I didn't start teaching him, because a beautiful thing happened.  This strong little neighbor boy gave my son some heavy punches.  The mother of this boy was appalled of course at her son's behaviors, but I told her not to stop him for a minute.  I told her my son needed to get beat up a bit to learn not to hit people.  He needed to know that someone would do something about it. 

My son never hit anyone again!  He was such a sweet little boy after that.  I know my neighbor was really upset at her son, but I looked at her little boy as a great teacher in the life of my son.  This is not the way I usually teach, but that day I was impressed to let the natural consequences play out, and that was what needed to happen.  My son needed to be hit. 

Another note.  Boys used to always use their fists to handle their problems.  This is something natural in them.  It has only been since the hippy movement that a fist fight among boys is not considered normal.  They learn lots about themselves and what they stand for when they are faced with a fight situation. 

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