There was a time, and it may still be upon us, when parents tried to breed out, condition, or reason away aggressiveness in children.  I remember refusing to buy my son a gun, erroneously thinking I was a pacifist, and by gum, he’d be one, too. Kind of a strange position for someone who married an Irish ex-Marine notorious for swinging fists in his youth.

So I should have been delighted when my 19-month-old grandson Asher turned out to be so non-aggressive he bordered on cowardly.  At library story hours, he backed away from babies, especially if they made noises.  Playgrounds presented numerous threats, with other kids elbowing to get to the slide ladder first or claiming the shovel and pail in the sandbox.  He perpetually refused to stand up for himself.  However, I was worried. 

I was surprised at my dismay, but as a person who shies away from any type of conflict, I know the disadvantages of timidity.  Assertiveness may not be essential for a toddler but is a major disadvantage in adult life.  “Nice guys finish last,” right?

Fortunately, I had no idea how to train him in the manly arts.  And nature seems to be taking care of the problem.  Last week at the library, now at nearly 24 months old Asher stepped up and refused to let a little girl snatch the stuffed animal he had his hands on.  “No, no, no,” he pronounced clearly.  And she backed away.  

Not egregious* behavior in his case, because it means my grandson isn’t fated to be bullied.  Through natural development, he’s learning to stand up for himself.  Oh, he still shrieks and runs at the sight of certain wind-up toys, and weird-looking masks he avoids like the plague.  Our floor fan is viewed with suspicion.  But he’s demonstrated a healthy dose of determination, combined with a sense of purpose, when most important. 

And by the way, my son did get his childhood wish for guns.  He just had to buy them with his own allowance. * egregious: extremely bad, outrageous, shocking


  1. What evocative writing this is about timidity and assertion. It dovetails with my recent thinking about the power people can exert solely through their tone of voice. I feel called to attention when I hear determination and force from anyone, no matter their age, gender, or size, when they speak with conviction. It actually surprises me that people will back off, obey, or otherwise change their behavior so readily based on the utterly non-physical threat of voice.

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