The leap from Thomas the Tank Engine to Captain Jack Sparrow recently happened in my house. My older son (six) donned a pirate cap and – voila! – Thomas didn’t stand a chance.
In fact, Thomas skipped a whole generation since my older son needed a Captain Barbosa to play with and recruited the younger son (four). Carol takes such a great role of an educator when thinking about this type of play – all I can really focus on are the large sections of sheetrock missing from a sword or light-saber gone rogue.
The light-saber has become the bane of my existence as of late: one minute I will be cooking dinner or emptying the dishwasher – the next I will be nursing scrapes made by Jandro’s fingernails carving their way down Esteban’s cheek after Esteban used ninja talents to beat Jandro into submission.
Good guy/bad guy play nearly always ends up physical (In reality, how else can you stop a bad guy? I mean, really, we aren’t playing out any courtroom dramas here and if I’m playing U.N. peacekeeping missions then the dishes are piling up and the dinner is burning). I’m okay with physical play, though.
Maybe I’m a throwback to the “boys will be boys” era, but I don’t mind seeing an occasional aggressive side to them (Especially when one will play the piano and write music called “I Love My Mommy” – sure to get him some abuse from his classmates down the road).
But to speak honestly to Carol’s suggestion, I don’t see myself coaxing a rehabilitation of Captain Jack Sparrow’s persona or changing their view of Darth Vader by having them feel sympathy or kindness towards him. I think it’s okay – and realistic – for my kids to think that some people are “bad”. Frankly, it’s the truth and I think they should be prepared to identify and avoid those “bad guys”.
So, fast forward to school: I don’t share Carol’s enthusiasm for changing our attitudes towards “the bad kid” in class. While I use and embrace the “She hasn’t learned yet that ____” technique to explain a fellow classmate’s behavior, I really only use that with my daughter (Eve, age two) since bad behavior at that age tends not to be done with intentional malice.
However, at age four or five is this really what we want? I admit, I don’t have a “bad kid” -yet! (My daughter Eve’s will and determination – coupled with her crazy hair and unexplained screams – surely make her the lead candidate for that title).
But I think knowing that “Johnny” is “bad” and will probably inflict some type of misery and should therefore be avoided is also a skill that will be valuable later in life. While I like my sons to feel kindness towards fellow students and make well-thought judgements, why should I shy away from their developing instincts which tell them to avoid a student who is likely to be a detriment to his behavior or learning? Isn’t being a good – and accurate – judge of character also important?
In an ideal world, my kids would show kindness and empathy to fellow classmates, make friends with a wide range of different kids, be friendly, nonjudgmental kinds of kids with a good nature, following their own path, undisrupted by others. But is that realistic? At the risk of sounding like a – gulp! – pessimist, “Johnny” isn’t necessarily going to allow that level of association without also negatively impacting my kids.
At this young age of four, they are learning social cues and beginning to making smart decisions about who they want to associate with. Not wanting to associate with a “bad” student doesn’t make them unkind. Rather, it shows that they are developing a judge of character.
In the “Gift of Fear”, Gavin DeBecker wrote about listening to your instincts to avoid danger. He encourages listening to your gut instinct over being polite and kind. He gives a scenario over having a “Johnny” enter a stairwell behind us and points out that most of us wouldn’t want to be “impolite” and turn out of the stairwell immediately, so as to not hurt Johnny’s feelings. We choose politeness over safety and common sense.
I want my kids to be kind, but I also want them to be smart. I want them to trust their own judgment based on their own experiences and interactions. Being kind is important, but no more important than trusting your instincts.