“Friends don’t grab and hurt each other,” I had to tell someone else’s kid.
We were at a local play place, and it was me, my five-year-old boy and his three-year-old sister.
As soon as we arrived, another young boy started to follow around my crew, but he wasn’t just following them, he was chasing them, shouting at them and putting his hands on them as he would breeze by.
They didn’t like it, and to be honest, neither did I.
Had the boy’s mother been actively paying attention to him and his antics, she may have caught a glimpse of me trying to catch a glimpse of her so that I could make a gentle “do you think you could speak with your kid about what he is doing?” kind of look in her direction.
Was her son horribly mean?
No, not really.
Was he doing things that made my children (and me) slightly uncomfortable?
Still, well knowing that this young man was most likely attempting to make friends with my kiddos and merely going about it in the wrong way, I tried to make brief, non-intimidating conversation with him and remarked to him that my daughter and son would be happy to play with him, but that they don’t very much enjoy being chased, yelled at, or touched by people that they don’t know.
I suggested going down “the big slide” altogether or creating an obstacle course they could all try to successfully complete.
But, no, the young fella was not interested in my suggestions.
And, that was fine, so we went on to try to enjoy yourselves.
But, then, two things happened — two things that were not really a big deal, but still kind of a big deal to this mama bear and her cubs, if you know what I mean.
Kids will be kids, right?
And they will make mistakes, right?
But, what about when your child’s mistakes injure my child, physically or emotionally?
And, should a physical incident require adult intervention, whereas maybe an emotional one, perhaps not so much?
What if your kid was physical with my child, and though he left him generally unscathed, he also stepped over my children’s boundary lines and into their personal space?
These are tough questions, guys.
But, these are the kinds of quandaries we parents are faced with anytime we brave a public play place, public playgrounds, museums, community pools, libraries, send our kids to school or merely go out anywhere in public.
The “things” I referenced that happened was this young man laying on top of my son after my son landed at the bottom of the slide.
My son didn’t want this boy on top of him, and, frustratingly, it took more than a couple of his and my requests to “get off him [me] please” for the boy to separate himself from my son.
Then, a bit later, my daughter was having her snack, and the same boy came up to her and grabbed her arm and squeezed it.
And, when I made eye contact with him, delivering a pretty clear “cmon, buddy” style, “mom eye,” he still didn’t let go of her.
At this point, with still no sign of his parent or anyone paying attention to him at all, I slowly removed his fingers from my daughter’s arm, which left a print from his hard squeezing on her that lasted for about thirty seconds.
I looked around for his parent as I would prefer to talk to his mother about how we could remedy what is happening, but it was unclear which other adult in the vicinity was his adult.
I asked him to please let go of my daughter and informed him that it is not nice to put our hands on other people and hurt them, to which he responded, “Can they be my friends? My other friends left.”
I informed him that they could absolutely play together, but that “friends don’t grab and hurt each other.”
He ran off, and I watched my children go back to playing. At some point, in the next few moments, he and whoever was his adult were gone, though I never saw them leave.
The whole incident irked and saddened me and made me wonder if I handled things correctly.
And not because the child was making it hard for my kids to be his playmate, but because I heard him voice that all he was seeking was companionship, but then acting in such a way that was surely not going to encourage a new friendship.
Both during and after our play place trip, I spoke with my two kids about being inclusive, friendly and how to engage in positive social interactions.
We also spoke about how making new friends can be hard and scary and how sometimes people and kids can go about making those connections in an awkward or sometimes even semi-wrong way.
But, I also want, must, and do respect my children’s parent-promoted and self-established body and personal boundaries and just because another child, without malice, is stepping over their threshold, doesn’t mean they have to “let it go” or let it happen.
Parenting my children is hard enough, that I don’t want to have to parent anyone else’s in conjunction.
This young man clearly desired attention from his similar-aged peers but would definitely benefit from being softly guided on how to garner it properly.
There’s a line for us parents that we can’t and shouldn’t cross when it comes to correcting us people’s kids, but there’s also a line, when it comes to my children, that if crossed, I must step in and try to teach your child how my child wants and deserves to be interacted with.
My kids would have loved to have played with this little guy, if he would have just been a little less handsy, a bit nicer, and had he listened to them (or me).
And, I, too, would have enjoyed watching all three of them giddily run around the play place tiring themselves out.
But friends don’t grab and hurt each other and, so, sadly new friends were not made on this day.
“Friends don’t grab and hurt each other,” I had to tell someone else’s kid, but I shouldn’t have had to — they should have already been taught that, by their parent.
That being said, I very well understand that in some cases, there’s more to the story, the child, and maybe even the parent that is contributing to the interaction (or lack of) that is taking place. I don’t know what might be happening beyond what meets the eye. There could be special needs, trauma, or any number of other situations. And so while it is, of course, important for all kids to have some level of adult supervision so they don’t get hurt or hurt others, it’s also necessary for the rest of us to lead with empathy, not rush to judgment, and help if we can.
Had I been able to make contact and conversation with that little boy’s mother, it would have been an invaluable opportunity to have a raw and real conversation on the struggle that is motherhood, raising littles and raising them well.
And, maybe, just perhaps, not only would my kids have a made a friend that day, so might have I.