My kids love going to the grocery store with me. They get to provide input on snacks and spend their quarters on prizes from the vending machines. Their favorite part about the trip is the end after we have checked out. They get on the end of the buggy and hold on tight while I run through the parking lot at top speed.
Tonight it was just my nine-year-old son and me at the grocery. He picked out some cookies for a sleepover we are having this weekend and was feeling pretty good. As we were leaving the store, he asked me to stop the cart so he could climb on the end for one of my roller coaster rides through the parking lot. He climbed on, but then his face changed and he jumped off. He stood there watching a boy who was a couple years older than him walking into the store with his mother. After the boy was inside the store, then my son climbed on the buggy for his ride.
Later at home, I asked my son why he hesitated initially about the buggy ride. He said the reason was because he saw the boy from summer camp that had bullied him. The summer camp bully had called my son names and smashed a banana on his back. I was flooded with rage, sadness, and uncertainty with how to best respond. What upset me the most was that my son allowed someone inconsequential to steal his joy.
I decided to focus on how my son treats others rather than how he was treated by that kid. I told my big boy that I was proud of how kind he is to his classmates and friends. He is a thoughtful son, brother, cousin, nephew, and grandson. I also told him that I remember how he stoically ignored the bully at camp, which must have driven the bully crazy.
We need to teach our kids to safeguard their joy. We need to help them understand that joy comes from within and no one can steal it unless we allow it.