My son says a girl kissed him on the playground today. He is in 3rd grade. He was embarrassed and a little angry but doesn’t know what to do about it. Do you have any suggestions?
Alysia, in Monterey, CA
This is sexual bullying. Two hot button issues to be sure. I’m not asking you to turn your son into a “News at 11” story. I just want to be clear that, no matter a child’s gender or age, no one should be touched against their will.
Of course this might have been a sweet, innocent kiss of a girl overcome by her crush on a boy (or a dare from a friend). The problem is, if the genders were reversed we would not make that assumption, right? So we can’t make that assumption now.
Please make sure that this is not a pattern. If this is a one-time event you can engage with him about it and follow his lead about handling the situation. However, if he has been a victim a few times or more, or if this girl has bullied others this way, you need to involve the school.
Now, what do you want your son to learn from this experience?
You can teach him respect. By listening and validating his feelings you are showing him respect. By strengthening what he already knows – that no one should touch him without his permission – you help him learn more about respectful behavior. Ask. Ask why exactly he is angry and what was embarrassing. Respect his feelings, don’t overpower his emotions with your own.
You can teach him responsibility. Ask him what he would like to do about this. Help him do it. Ask him what he would like you to do about this. Do it. These actions (or conversations) will teach him that he has the responsibility and the ability to care for himself and that you take responsibility for caring for him also. All this will teach him how important he is.
You can teach him resilience. By asking what solutions he has, and valuing his views, you show faith in him. That will give him more faith in himself. By having empathy but not having a stronger reaction than he does, you will show him that he can overcome this.
All this seems kind of formal for what, a generation ago, parents would have called cute or at least normal. I might have had that initial reaction also. But your son did not. By following his lead, he learns something we really want boys and girls to learn – physical connection should be a mutual agreement.
Great job, Alysia, taking your son and his feelings seriously.