Q: Should children be taught to defend themselves when physically attacked, or should they "turn the other cheek"? We've taught our kids that physical violence is never acceptable. Unfortunately, the school playground is a rough and painful place for our son, and he's already dreading the upcoming school year.
Jim: I absolutely agree that fighting should be discouraged. Unfortunately, children can be unbelievably cruel to one another, and the reality is bullying is a growing problem that requires a serious response.
Given your conflicting feelings, perhaps it's best to first look at the idea of "turning the other cheek." As we see it, this teaching has a very narrow application. It's mainly concerned with the issue of personal revenge or retaliation, not self-defense. Its message is intended to encourage us to let go of the desire to "get back" at those who have wronged us and to be willing to suffer personal injustices in the interest of a higher purpose. But loving one's neighbor sometimes requires a willingness to use force to defend others who are being abused and mistreated. Complete non-resistance, then, is not what is being called for in response to physical violence.
With those things in mind, I don't believe your son should be expected to be anyone's personal punching bag. Instead, he should be equipped with a plan of action and trained to respond, not simply react. It sounds like you've taught your children to cooperate with others as much as possible -- and that's great. But in cases where their physical safety is at risk, they should be prepared to defend themselves appropriately.
Our licensed counselors would be pleased to provide you with some practical strategies for confronting and dealing with this problem before the new school year begins. Don't hesitate to call them at 855-771-4537 for a free consultation.
Q: How do we decide what to call one another in our blended family? Recently, my stepdaughter started calling me "Mom." When my husband's ex-wife heard about this, she freaked and demanded that her daughter call me by my first name only. We're not sure how to navigate all of this.
Danny Huerta, Executive Director, Parenting: The labels children use to refer to adult stepfamily members often indicate the level of emotional attachment they feel. What's important to remember is that labels aren't critical to family success, and it's best to give children the freedom to choose the labels they're most comfortable with.
Labels can change over time and with circumstances. For example, a child who just returned from a weekend visit with his dad may avoid calling his stepfather "Dad" for a few days because he's missing his biological father. But once the sadness wanes, the usual label typically returns.
It's also not uncommon for children to feel comfortable using loving terms like "Daddy" and "Mommy" when they are small, only to start calling a stepparent by his or her first name when they reach adolescence. The change in label reflects the challenges a child faces in trying to balance loyalties as they grow up.
Ideally, children should be given permission to use whatever term they want for a stepparent. If your stepdaughter's mom feels threatened, however, and is unwilling to grant her permission to call you "Mom," I'd encourage you not to get stuck on this conflict. Instead, your husband should make sure that his daughter doesn't feel guilty about it. He should gently acknowledge that he understands the awkward spot this puts her in, and assure her that what matters most is not what she calls you and your husband. What matters most is that she knows she is loved, understood and supported by you.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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