What’s owed

Dear Anand,
 
Yesterday at camp, you got in trouble because you kept hitting your sister. Now, Kavya wasn’t particularly upset about the hits in particular; your hits are generally fairly light, born of frustration, and you’re smaller than she is by a fair bit. She was upset when you sprayed water in her face, and when you moved her backpack (twice!) — she complained at pick-up that you were mean to her all day, and I think that really hurt her feelings.
 
This isn’t the typical dynamic between you two; you’re usually very close and affectionate, so I asked you what was going on. You said that Kavi had been ignoring you all day. As we talked about it, a clearer picture emerged — you’d been working really hard on your animation projects all day, and when you did something you were proud of, you wanted to show your sister (who is, incidentally, your best friend). And for whatever reason, Kavi just wasn’t in the mood to be as cheerful and celebratory as she usually is with you. Maybe you said or did something that annoyed her in the morning; maybe you didn’t do anything at all. Maybe she was focused on her own projects, and you were interrupting her concentration. It doesn’t really matter why she was ignoring you.
 
I told you, perhaps a bit intensely, “She doesn’t owe you her attention. Nobody owes you their attention.” Well, your parents do, but I wasn’t really thinking about us. I was thinking that you’re a thin little six-year-old now, but someday, you’ll be a college student, and probably bigger and stronger than the girls whose attention you want, and whatever dynamic this is, where your instinct is to respond to her disinterest with violence, we need to nip it in the bud, right now. This is not okay, and I want you to know that in your bones, to believe it on such a deep level that by the time you’re a teen, it wouldn’t even occur to you to react violently.
 
It’s no fun to be ignored, especially when you desperately want someone’s attention and affection. We talked about how frustrating that must have been, and then talked about strategies for managing frustration. Maybe there was another friend or a counsellor you could show the animation to at camp? Or you could just keep working on it, or take a break and do something else (it’s automatically saved, so you can always show Kavi later, when she’s in a better mood). When you really have the urge to hit, is there something else physical you can do to express your frustration? Maybe go run around the playground for a lap, or play with your fidget toy.
 
I’m not really worried about the hitting, per se; you already hit much less now than you did a year ago, and I think you’re naturally growing out of that particular response. It’s the attitude that worries me. So even though it feels a little overly-adult to use that language to a six-year-old: “She doesn’t owe you her attention,” maybe that’s the right language. Maybe that’s the lesson that will need to be repeated at six and seven and eight and nine, so that hopefully soon it’s second nature.
 
Also, Anand, building things that are super-cool, and keeping your cool, will be much more likely to find you affectionate, enthusiastic friends, than hitting people will. Let’s all have fun together, okay?
 
love,
Mommy
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