Tougher Skin

Over the weekend, we went to a big gathering hosted by some friends. Most of us have kids, so all of the kids got to play together. Cordy has played with the hosts’ two children several times before without any problems. The five year old sometimes gets annoyed with Cordy, but in that case he usually just ignores her.

But the dynamics were different this time. The five year old had a seven year old friend, and the two of them were playing together. Cordy and the two year old were also in the playroom. Now, looking at these four kids, you’d think Cordy belonged with the older two – she is only slightly shorter than the five year old, and may outweigh him. And of course the older two were having a great time making up their own games and creating imaginary worlds to play in.

The trouble started when the five year old brought out a new magnetic fishing pole. He and the seven year old girl immediately threw the fish on the ground and started fishing. Cordy – having little self-control – loved seeing the pole and grabbed for it so she could fish, too. The older kids screeched at her and yanked the pole back.

I stepped in at this point and reminded the older kids that Cordy was younger than them, and had trouble understanding the concept of waiting for her turn. I then focused on Cordy, explaining that she had to wait until they were done before she could have her turn, and that she couldn’t take away toys from other kids. I also tried to redirect her to another toy, but she was obsessed with the fishing pole.

The older kids went back to fishing, laughing with excitement. The energy the two of them generated could have powered half of Ohio. Cordy, still standing on the sidelines, couldn’t take it anymore. She again reached out and put her hand on the fishing pole, saying “Cordy catch a fish? Cordy catch a fish?”

The older kids again removed her, although in pushing her away from them, Cordy pushed back. I reminded Cordy that she shouldn’t push. I could see the frustration on her face. “Cordy catch a fish!” she cried and reached again for the pole.

“No!” yelled one of the older kids. “Cordy will NEVER catch a fish! Never!” They then picked up a fish and ran around the large wooden puppet theatre in the room to “cook it”. But they took the pole with them, too.

Cordy looked confused and hurt. Those harsh words hurt me, too. This social situation for Cordy was quickly turning bad and I wanted to pluck her out of it. But she was determined to get that fishing pole. As I tried to talk to her, she walked around the puppet theatre to join the other two. They had set the pole down for the moment, so she took the opportunity to pick it up. They quickly noticed, and a round of “No, Cordy!” erupted as they both grabbed her and pulled the pole from her.

The cartoon steam was coming from her ears at this point. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t have a turn, she didn’t know why they were being mean to her, and she really wanted to play with this toy. I could see the inner workings of her mind on her face – she was furious, frustrated, and what little reason and logic she had were no longer accessible. I watched her progress to the edge of a full-blown, out-of-her-right-mind meltdown, teetering ever so close on the precipice.

Cordy reached out and grabbed the (very heavy, and a little unstable) puppet theatre and started shaking it violently. The older kids yelled at her to stop. I also firmly told her to stop because it was rocking enough that I worried it would fall on them. In those seconds, I knew what I had to do, but also knew the results: the first person to touch her was going to set her off into a screaming, kicking meltdown, but it was important that she didn’t knock down the wooden structure.

I told her once again to stop, and grabbed her hand. As if I had some kind of jelly touch, she immediately collapsed and began wailing. I scooped up the seemingly invertebrate preschooler and moved her to another room. Aaron heard the screaming from upstairs and joined me as we held Cordy tight to prevent her from hurting herself as she flailed and screamed wildly.

She calmed down faster than I expected. After 15 minutes, she had calmed down enough to join the adults and sit with me, sniffling and coughing. We again talked about toys that belong to other kids, and how she could only play with those toys if the owner said it was OK. But the situation had turned into more than a fight over a toy.

“Do you want to go back downstairs with the other kids?” I asked.

“Nooooo!” she cried, hiding her face in her hands. She was scared to play with them again. Her attempt to play in a social situation was a disaster, and she didn’t want another try. She was happy to remain with the adults, close by my side.

There is a somewhat happy ending, though. Later in the evening, she did venture downstairs to play again, this time abandoning all attempts to interact with the older kids. They had moved onto a different game, so she quietly took the fishing pole and caught several fish, proudly showing me each one.

And I in no way blame the other kids for what happened. They were acting like average five and seven year olds – I wouldn’t expect them to act any other way. I can see how Cordy would annoy them. Cordy’s new attempts to play with other kids often results in her approaching kids older than her, and these kids don’t know how to deal with her. (Let’s be honest – I don’t always know how to deal with her.) She looks like she’s as old as them (even though she’s three), but at the moment she can’t understand the rules of social interaction.

I think I was the one most affected, though. In true kid fashion, she seems to have forgotten most of what happened, while I play it over and over in my head. I wonder if I should have stepped in sooner, or not stepped in at all and let her navigate the murky social waters on her own. I know I can’t always be there to interfere, and I don’t want to be some helicopter mom. But every injury to her feelings seems to strike me twice as deep.

This is a whole new area of parenting that I’m not sure I’m ready for. Helping her learn to crawl and eat solid foods was much easier than helping her deal with the world of best friends, you’re-not-my-friend-anymore, teasing and cliques. I was never any good at that area myself, so I have no idea how to teach her how to deal with it. We’re both going to need tougher skin, I think.

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  1. It sounds like you handled the situation just right…after all, you didn’t want anybody to get physically hurt! Each little interaction like this is a lesson learned, isn’t it?

    Have a fantastic new year!


  2. You reacted perfectly, in my oppinion. I’m about to become a parent for the first time and I’m not looking forward to lessons like these, a few years down the road. You sound like a wonderful Mother.

  3. Amy – Yes, I’m scared of how strong Cordy can be when she’s angry. She could really hurt someone.

    Meg – The other adults weren’t in the room. Most of us were upstairs, and this happened when I went down to check on Cordy. The other kids are older, so they don’t need as much supervision.

  4. While it is nice of you to attribute the reactions of the older kids as age appropriate, I have to disagree. Children need to be taught empathy and kindness from an early age. My daughter is six, and I can guarantee that she would have gone out of the way in include Cordy and she would have forced the other child to do so as well. She is very protective over “the littles” (how she refers to anyone younger than herself.) My daughter has a 3 year old sister. When my 6 year old has friends over, it would be a prime time to shun her sister. But never once. She includes her every time and reprimands her friends if they try to exclude her. Not that my six year old is perfect; she isn’t and has her own issues but I am glad to say one of her strengths is an empathic heart. Props to you for not saying anything to the child who said NEVER because I know I would have opened a can at that point…


  5. I think you did a great job handling the situation. I disagree that the older kids were acting age-appropriately, though. They were acting like jerks for being five and seven! They could have let her have a turn!

    I fear this type of thing as my kids get older. Other people’s kids annoy me, and I know they’ll do things that will hurt me worse than my kids.

  6. I agree that the older kids behaved in a way that was normal for their ages (and probably not even motivated by true meanness) – but that doesn’t mean that they should have been allowed to behave that way. It’s hard to figure out the rules when you’re on the fly like that, but if there are two fishing rods and three children who want to play with them, some kind of turn-taking/sharing should be mandatory. Particularly when they actually stopped using the fishing rods but still attempted to maintain possession – that was where you would have been wholly justified in stepping in and insisting that Cordy get a turn. And if she picks up a toy from the ground and they roughly yank it back – that’s punishable behaviour at ANY age.

  7. You handled things way better than I would have. I would have a really hard time watching kids treat my son that way.

    In principle, I believe in letting kids figure situations like that out for themselves if there’s no physical danger involved, just as you did, interceding only to keep everyone safe.

    In practice, reading that made me FUME. I would have told those kids off. Especially if their parents weren’t around to do it – I’d hope someone would remind MY son to share and be kind if I weren’t around. I would have reminded them that THEY too needed to share and that it’s not OK to talk to people that way.

    But again, I’m not sure that would be the RIGHT response. I think learning conflict resolution is important, too.

    At any rate, thanks for the food for thought.

  8. It’s hard not to take things very personally when some other kid is mean to your kid. And like you said, it’s not their fault, either, but sometimes you can get so mad! But then it sounds like their parents should have stepped in and made sure Cordy got a turn. I’m just proud that she was trying to play with other kids! Hang in there and good luck with the tough skin thing!

  9. It sounds like you did what you had to do, and that things went fairly well. After all, she DID venture into the kid area again, and the tantrum was only 15 minutes, which is good for her, right? Awesome. Also, only 1 tantrum in a big party during a very stressful time of the year? I’d say that that is an accomplishment for ANY 3 year old. My sister and I just had a conversation today about how Christmas was awesome, cuz nobody had any fits. Pretty high standards for a good holiday, I know…


  10. Christina – sounds like you did great – I have a much older son and two much littler. I have had to get used to instructing the older “friends” on how to play with the younger kids, especially ones without younger siblings- at first I wasn’t comfortable with it, you know, telling other people’s kids what to do, but I am more used to it now and will do it hither and thither (home, their home! church, playground) and simply use the same words I would if I were talking to my own. I think, you may find, that it is okay for you to tell other kids to share- they get told what to do by teachers and parents and most kids will accept instruction from adults – Personally, I think they ought to have given her a turn and if that were to happen again, I wouldn’t think you were at all out of turn to tell them so – but you’ll find what’s most comfortable for you and Cordy. I am glad you were able to stay at the party! and that she caught some fish.

  11. Reading this made me sad and somewhat angry. We were raised to be tolerant of others and my mom stepped in and MADE us share with EVERYONE.

    I think you handled it well, but feel for Cordy and wish that kids were more tolerant of others.

  12. It sounds like you handled it great. Cordy is a bit too young yet to be trying to navigate a situation like that herself, and you were right on to step in. I probably would have gently reminded the big kids that they had to share, too; it never hurts to let older kids know what is expected of them. Poor Cordy; I’m glad she got a chance to fish after all.

  13. I had an awful time negotiating social situations when I was little and the thought of my little boy going through some of the situations I encountered makes me want to cry. It sounds like you did everything right in this situation, but that doesn’t make it easy on you or Cordy as she moves into this new phase of her life.

  14. I always have a tough time in situations like this too. The teacher in me comes out and I want to step in and correct the behavior of the older children as well as my own child. That line is so thin of when it is okay to say something to someone else’s child – some of my friends are completely okay with it and some would be horribly offended. And we all thought infancy was so hard – haha!

  15. I agree with the other commenters who said the older children should have been reprimanded. They were behaving like normal children, yes, but they were being unkind and selfish. Our job as adults is to teach them to be good people who play well with others.

    Also, you are not a helicopter mother if you aid your child in a situation when she is totally overpowered. She may be their size, but she is not their age and needed help negotiating the situation. It is your job to help her figure out how to deal with such a situation, which is what you did. The only thing I would have added would be acknowledging to her that the other children were being unfair and unkind in not allowing her to share.

    You obviously are doing a good job teaching her to handle situations if she returned later and tried again. Good girl!

  16. Dana J. Tuszke says:

    I think you handled the situation as best you could. I understand how easy it is to feel the emotions are children do. I think it’s because of the mother/child bond. We want to be able to fix everything for our helpless little ones. I wish I had the right answer, but I’m still learning how to parent a preschooler myself.

  17. I agree that you would be within your rights to remind the older kids to share. How are you supposed to teach your child what the rules are if no one else is following them?