Is This How To Protect My Child?

Can you protect a toddler from strangers' inappropriate behaviour?

There's a tipsy old man on the bus. He wants to befriend Matilda. He's lunging over her buggy, poking her in the face and demanding that she smile. When she ignores him, he tells her over and over again, "I don't want to talk to you, anyway! You're a right grump! You're not very nice at all!"

Do I... smile politely and try not to engage him? Even though I'm uncomfortable with him poking my child? Even though I want her to learn that she can decide who gets to touch her? Even though I want her to know that she is not a grump? Even though she's clearly not enjoying the situation?

Do I... defend her, telling him that she's right not to want strangers in her personal space? Even though his reaction is unpredictable? Even though he might hurt my child? Even though he might become abusive towards me? Even though he's too drunk to listen to my words?

I want to say I'd always choose the second option but sometimes I'm not that brave.

* * *

There's a middle-aged lady in the doctor's waiting room. She wants Matilda to go over and give her a cuddle. She keeps trying to wave her over. She becomes more and more upset, the more that Matilda ignores her.

Do I... smile apologetically at the lady? Even though her behaviour is inappropriate? Even though she's unsettling my child? Even though I would be horrified if my daughter went over and cuddled a stranger just because they asked? Even though we're in a doctor's surgery and goodness knows what germs they could then pass to each other?

Do I... explain why she shouldn't be trying to lure a child over for hugs? Even though it might upset her? Even though she might be offended at the implication she could be a dangerous stranger? Even though she could be a dangerous stranger?

I want to say I'd always choose the second option but sometimes I'm not that brave.

* * *

There's a kid at a toddler group. S/he grabs the toy Matilda's playing with and hurls it across the room or s/he pushes Matilda off the slide or s/he smacks Matilda in the face. Matilda doesn't know how to react so she stands there, looking sad and unsure. Nobody else intervenes.

Do I... let these kids push my child around? Even though she's hurt or upset by their behaviour? Even though I think a simple calm statement could make them stop?

Do I... defend my child? Do I tell the other kids, "Matilda's playing with that at the moment - can you find a different toy to throw around?" or, "One moment until Matilda's finished her turn... Now it's your go," or, "Matilda doesn't look happy being hit; it's not okay to hit other kids"?

I know the answer to this one. I always step in. I want Matilda to know that I will always protect her, if she needs it. I want Matilda to learn that it's okay to stand up for herself and to know how to go about that. I want her to know about turn taking. I see no problem with explaining these things in front of other people's kids and it's rare that the parents object.

* * *

I am confident about sticking up for Matilda when it comes to other children. Other children, even when they intend to upset her, aren't being deliberately cruel - they're figuring out where the boundaries are and I am happy to give them an answer. Also, truthfully, the worst a little kid could do to me is kick me in the shins and give me a bruise; I can easily move both Matilda and myself away from a mega tantrum.

With adults, though, sometimes I'm too scared to protect her in the way I think I should.

She's old enough now to understand a lot of what's going on, though. She's old enough to understand that I'm not stopping a strange man from touching her face or from insulting her. She's old enough to understand that I'm letting a strange lady behave in a way which makes her uncomfortable.

That's not okay.

It's not okay that she's learning her mother won't always stop other people from invading her space. It's not okay that she's learning to smile nicely and let a stranger do what they want to her body, that other people's feelings are more important than her own sense of safety.

She doesn't know that I'm weighing up the possible outcomes and avoiding the immediately explosive one.

But which is worse: the immediate threat or the long term damaging lesson?

What would you do, if it was you?

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Please play nice.