I’ve noticed a pattern with T, my 8 year old. Lately whenever he goes outside to ride his bike, he would only be out for a few moment before he was back in again. A quick peek out the window would tell me why. Another boy was riding his bike. Always, the same child. I would ask a million questions, but it would always boil down to this: T’s friend would ask, so, T would hand it over.
I tried explaining to him that it was okay to say, “No”. I tried to explain that he shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to ride his bike, but my advice was never heeded. This was our pattern for weeks: He would go outside, ride for a few minutes, then immediately come back in. I would interrogate him on what took place, again…round and round. Finally, one day, my son had enough and showed me with an outburst. “Why are you angry with me? I am trying to be nice. What’s wrong with me letting him ride”. T was receiving pressure from both sides. From his friend wanting him to ride his bike, and from me who wanted T to put his foot down and stand up for himself.
I was getting no where quickly in this situation. How do we teach our children to be generous and gracious and yet teach them to be assertive and not push-overs? Is there more to this equation than just me wanting my son not to be bullied out of his bike? Is he being bullied? What is to blame on cultural and language miscommunications or what is just kids being kids? And how do I guide my child through this process? These are questions I am now struggling to find answers.
I think my biggest concern is that my son’s voice isn’t being heard. Whatever he was trying to communicate both to me and to his friend was not coming through. After a heart to heart, T was able to express that he actually wanted to ride his bike, but felt that his friend was mad when he said no. My son also felt like the kids were always asking him for stuff and didn’t want to be his friend just to be his friend, but that the friendships focused around his bike, his kite making supplies, his cool yard (that actually has grass), etc. This was hurtful to him and frustrating for him. These are the same exact feelings that I as an adult have experienced and that I wrote about in a previous post.
So where did we go from there? That is a lot of thoughts and emotions for an 8 year old boy. Maybe if we lived in the States I would urge my son to talk to his friend himself. But living cross-culturally, T really needed help with his language and expressing himself in an adequate manner. Believe me…I get this. Heart matters are difficult for me to express even in my first language, much less in my 2nd. So, my husband got involved. In a quick ten sentence conversation between two little boys and they were off tromping around in the rice paddies. I know this small communication victory is just one hurdle in a very long race of living and relating to our neighbors here in our host country, but it is a start.
I think as parents of TCK’s we need to, actually have to be more involved than “normal” in our kids’ friendships. To help navigate. To watch out that they aren’t being bullied or that they aren’t the child that is being the bully. What I initially thought was just my son being a push-over was really him dealing with the same cultural issues I deal with. This helped me to see my son not just as my small little boy, but as a person. One that like me experiences the ups and downs of this crazy expat life.
This incident has started a conversation in our household about our children and how they are affected by cultural differences and relationships that we weren’t having. What about you? How are you dealing with your children and their local friendships?