This morning the kids were fighting. Odeliya started it, Netanel hit back.
Me: Guys, stop fighting and get dressed!
Netanel: But she hurt me!
Me: You don’t hurt people because they hurt you, you find a way to make them stop hurting you!
Epiphany! Isn’t that the misconception of the century?!
How do I make this stick? We are training our future here, right? I mean Israeli kids know that they’re going to serve in the army when they turn 18. My son, despite spending the first 4 years of his life with almost zero exposure to violence (via movies, toys, etc) has always wanted to be a soldier. I remember him taking bites out of his slice of cheese to make a gun – at age 3! At the time, he didn’t even know what comes out of a gun, or what happens to the person on the other side of it, and not only that, he only knew what it was at all from seeing other kids pretending to have guns.
Now when he plays at being a soldier or a super hero, fighting “bad guys” we always ask him who they are, why they’re bad, and why he needs to fight them. Part of the reason is because we want to know what he’s hearing from the people around him, and part of it is because we want to instill him with an understanding of the thin – sometimes vanishing – line between good and bad, especially when it comes to war. When we ask him those questions, we keep it light and we never give him answers, just get him to think about the question.
Trying to annihilate the “fighter” in him, in my opinion, would be folly. I believe it would backfire, because it is something that is obviously in his essence. So we look for ways to foster it and contain it so that he will have the tools to make good choices.
And who really knows? Maybe the Creator saw fit to put this flame inside our son for a reason. His personality is so complex and amazing – even at 5! You’ll just as likely find him playing fighting games as you will find him playing Daddy to his dolls. This is the same child who, at age 3.5 gave up his hard-won balloon to a friend who’s balloon had flown away. He gave it to him because he understood, empathetically how his friend felt to not be able to show his classmates the balloon from his brothers’ brit. And I’m not just saying that.
Digressing for a moment, I will relate that story:
When Netanel was in nursery in NJ, we went to the brit of friends who’s son was in kindergarten, we’ll call him David. David left his brother’s brit with another friend of ours, we’ll call her Shana (;-) who took David and her own son to school. A few minutes later, we left too. We were 5 minutes to school when Shana called to ask if we’d left yet because David’s balloon had blown away as they were walking into school and he was devastated. I said we’d left, but I’ll see what I could do.
I looked at my little Netanel in the rearview mirror, clutching the string of his balloon, and thought, “what have I got to lose? He doesn’t have to give it up, but if he does we can make this kid really happy.” I decided to tread lightly, I had no reason to force him to give up his balloon.
“Tani, David’s balloon flew away and he’s so sad, would you like to give him your balloon?”
Obvious answer, “No, it’s mine”
“You know, Netanel, David was so excited to bring his balloon to his class and tell all his friends about his brother’s brit! Isn’t that so exciting?!”
“He got out of Shana’s car and he was so excited and we was going to bring his balloon in to show his Morah and all his friends! And then you know what happened?”
“His balloon flew away! How do you think he’s feeling now?”
“Sad.” I could hear the frown in his voice.
“Do you know what would make him so happy?”
“If someone could give David a new balloon, that would make him so happy! And he would be able to show everyone how proud he is to be a new big brother!” (Netanel’s experience with that was also pretty recent)
“Mommy, David could have my balloon!” tears welled up in my eyes when I heard him say that.
“Really, Netanel, are you sure? Because that would be such a wonderful chesed (= kind act) and it would make him so happy!”
“Yes, Mommy. I can give David my balloon and he will be so happy.”
Well, you know it paid off! He was the hero of the day! The look on David’s face was absolutely priceless when Netanel walked into the room and handed him the balloon.The kindergarten teacher gave him a cookie, and his nursery teachers also made a big deal about it – and to boot, he actually got the balloon back at the end of the day!!! Talk about having your cake and eating it too!
But the point of the story is to illustrate Netanel’s capacity for compassion and empathy.
Maybe he is intended to fight – but if that’s the case, then we’re going to do whatever we can to foster that compassion. So I got my chance to reinforce it.
On the way to gan this morning, Netanel picked up a stick – his sword – to fight the “bad guys”.
Me: Netanel, who are the “bad guys’?
N: I don’t know. Just bad guys. we need to fight them.
N: because they’re bothering us.
Me: Like Odeliya bothered you this morning.
Me: Do remember what I told you this morning, when you kicked her back?
Me: Netanel, you want to be a leader in the army, right?
N: No! I want to be a fighter.
Me: The commanders are the best fighters, that’s how they get to be leaders. When someone is hurting you, if you just try to hurt them back you’re going to be fighting forever. What you need to do is find a way to make them stop hurting you. In the army, sometimes the only way to do that means that people get hurt, but not always.
And in your life, Netanel, it’s never ok. With Odeliya, with kids in gan – because they’re not bad guys! Right? (he nods. he’s dragging his stick on the floor at the point.) Is you’re sister a “bad guy”?
Me: what about the kids in your gan?
Me: so when they hurt you, or bother you, the answer is not to hurt them back, what’s the answer?
N: To get them to stop hurting me.
Me: right. Netanel, if you can show us that you understand that, if you can find a way to resolve these fights without hurting anyone, then you can be the best fighter in the army.
I don’t know how much he grasped, but it’s a start.