I admit that I experience of children is pretty limited. I remember my own childhood with varying degrees of cringe and displeasure, I have been around a few people’s children growing up, but always been happy to avoid it, and I’ve raised Miss Rose from birth and been involved in Z’s life since he was 1. However, I can say that is my firm belief, limited experience though it may be, that kids can be cruel. Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that all children have a degree of “bully” in them, and it’s our job as the adults to get them to recognise it and reign it in before it becomes a dominant part of their personalities.
Miss Rose and Z bully one another. Usually they’re both equally involved in winding one another up and being little horrors, but every so often one is a clear bully of the other. And they both have their own unique ways of doing it.
Miss Rose is a sneaky bully. She’s a wind up. She’ll say things that deliberately upset Z, mock him when he can’t do things, and take things she knows he wants just to piss him off. For instance, the other night Z was playing Batman by jumping off a chair. Miss Rose wanted to play so climbed onto the chair after he’d jumped off. He was not impressed about this so protested but we said they have to take turns. All fine except he was very upset and Miss Rose crowed about it, relished it. When she jumped down and he climbed up he refused to jump again, and we pointed out to Miss Rose that he doesn’t have to so to leave him alone, but then noticed his favourite cushion was across the room and he wouldn’t be able to get it without again vacating the chair and leaving it open to Miss Rose. So she took his cushion and proceeded to parade up and down in front of him with it, cackling away like a monster whilst he howled in desolate despair like he’d just had one of his limbs ripped off by a badger (or some other woodland creature.)
Miss Rose favours sneaky psychological bullying. She’s not particularly invested, and as soon as we pointed out that what she was doing wasn’t funny and laughing at someone who is sad, even if you think the reasons they are sad are ridiculous, it’s still mean to laugh at their pain. I asked if she wanted to be a bully and she said no, bullies are mean, then returned the cushion. But the fact is, in the moment, she loved the fact he was in pain and that she was the cause of it.
Z, on the other hand, is a more physical bully. He’ll work with intimidation and aggression, and Miss Rose reacts exactly how he wants by freaking out about it. For instance, yesterday morning they were playing a game with the balls, rolling the football and beach ball across the room back and forth to each other. After a while Miss Rose decided she didn’t want to play anymore and picked the football up leaving Z with the beach ball. I said that’s fine, nobody has to play if they don’t want to. Z shouted at her to throw it to him but she said no, he stamped and shouted, still no, so he ran across the room at her, jumped on her, and held her by the neck whilst she screamed like this time it was her leg having been ripped off by a badger (or again, any woodland creature of your choice. I do not mean to vilify badgers… I think I watch too much Peter Rabbit.)
I pulled him off her and once he’d calmed down he apologised and acknowledged that hurting someone who doesn’t want to do what we want them to do isn’t okay. He doesn’t set out to hurt, but lashes out angrily because that’s his own weapon.
Miss Rose will trip him or steal his toys, Z will kick over her building blocks or smack her. Miss Rose will laugh at him for still being in nappies like a baby, Z will throw things at her face.
Are they doomed to always be little sods who make The Boy and I stress out brains out? No. Will they for a while? Probably, yes.
My baby brother is someone I admire, respect and adore. He’s lovely. He’s funny, smart, kind and a huge geek, very successful, and wonderful with the children. When we were little I hated him. I was Miss Rose and I was sneaky and I’d laugh at his pain. I threw all his teddies out of the window onto the road and told him they’d get run over just to upset him whilst he cried. Evil. Yet I know, and I knew then, that if they HAD actually been run over I’d have been devastated because I didn’t want him in any real pain. Miss Rose didn’t want Z to suffer for real when she was taunting him with the pillow, and when we told her it was real pain she stopped. I was bullying my brother like Rose bullies Z.
And I am pretty awesome as a sister, my brother and I have a great relationship now and bond over everything from sci-fi to the insanity of our family. Yet he would physically lash out like Z to bully me. I cannot tell you how often I took a toy to the head or a kick to the leg because he was angry with me. Indeed, my mum regularly recounts the tale of the plastic golf clubs he walloped me with, was told if he did it again they’d be broken and put in the bin, and promptly he smacked me with them again and they were indeed binned.
Are me and my brother bullies in adulthood? No. Did we have that potential bubbling away inside us as children? Most certainly yes.
So what do we do? Making them acknowledge the pain they’re causing seems to be the best thing. Make them understand that hurting people isn’t okay, and be grateful they have one another to work this stuff out on. Siblings are great this way. I never sneaky bullied anyone in school, and my brother never beat anyone up in school. We figured that stuff out on each other in a safe environment surrounded by the people who love us, and on our siblings who we loved and hated in equal measure. At the end of the day I knew that no matter what he and I did to each other during the day, he was my baby brother and I loved him, and he loved me. We worked out what was okay young and quickly, and grew into kind and respectful adults.
I know that Miss Rose and Z can get there as long as we address their evil doing with the right attitude. I know that in time they will have figured all this stuff out and learn to deal with one another’s annoyances in a way that doesn’t result in abuse by badgers. Getting them to that point is exhausting. It’s stressful and it’s hard and it leaves us collapsed on the sofa at the end of the day, leaning on one another, and exasperated to the point of disbelief. We have both aged a decade in the last year and a half, and with number three joining the gang in July it’s only going to get harder!
If Miss Rose and Z grow into adults who love one another as much as me and my brother do then I’ll take this phase with glee, because it’s worth it.
Okay, glee is an exaggeration… But I’ll take it… and I’ll see the upside… eventually.