Why I Didn’t Step In When Kids Told My Daughter to Go Away

Children pick and choose play partners. Their willingness to meet and play with other kids is not necessarily hampered by whether they know these kids.  Play groups form naturally whereever play occurs. From school yards to playgrounds, children’s play is critical for practicing how to get along with others, how to make friends, and really just how to keep on keepin’ on.

 

A Girl Rejected. This weekend while at a birthday party, my three year old daughter, eager to play with kids as usual, climbed up a small backyard slide with a deck and stood politely among three older children (between the ages of 5 and 9). I was sitting alone at a table nearby for the purpose of keeping an eye on her. Though I was about 15 feet away, I could tell by her solemn face and stiff body that they were not having a friendly interaction. As the older kids shooed her away, Greysen stood wide-eyed and unsure, but steady.

 

I had to decide right there, should I come closer or stay out of it? Having intervened with this group of children at a previous birthday party in July, I was familiar with their routine of “get away kid, you’re bothering me.” The other thing I kept in mind was that while they were older than my daughter, they were children too.

 

The last time they asked her to leave, my daughter stood alongside her cousin, and together they played through the group of older children, not taking much notice of their dismissive ways. By my moving in closer, the children quieted, and my daughter and her cousin naturally moved away.

 

This time was different. My daughter stood alone and was acutely aware of their feelings.

 

As the children continued to speak, my daughter turned to me. I nodded and said, you can tell them, “No, I’m playing here.” Perhaps there were savvier words that I could have suggested, but that’s what I went with.  Fueled by my encouragement, she turned to them and said so confidently. The kids regrouped and talked some more. She stood waiting to get access to the slide, but now she was gripping the side of the structure. She looked at me while they spoke. Her face didn’t seem alarmed or hurt, but rather unsure. I stayed where I was, focused and available should she seem to need me. She looked back to the children and continued to wait. Within moments they spoke to her again and she responded to them again, this time with more determination -”NO.”

 

She wasn’t looking to me to be rescued, but rather for reassurance. So, despite the ache I was feeling for my daughter who was being told to leave, I stayed put waiting for her to indicate she needed more from me than she was getting.

 

The children spoke some more amongst themselves before one moved positions, climbing down. This spurred movement amongst all the children, and my daughter took this opportunity to slide down the slide.

 

She jaunted over to see me. I sat and waited, swallowing my urge to ask whether she was ok, and what did they say, etc.

 

As she twisted her leg to free her foot from her boot, she had three things to tell me:

1. Those kids were telling me to go away.
2. I’m going to play in the jumphouse now.
3. Can I have a red sugar candy?

 

Kids_Rejecting_Kids

 

I leaned down for a hug and held her for just the briefest moment, in which I felt a sting of the idea that there will be a time where I will not be there when she faces rejection. She may not have me, but she will have had this experience.

 

Had I walked over to intervene, I could have spared Greysen two more instances of confrontation. I could have even possibility facilitated some play. There was a remote chance that I could have even helped her gain entry into their play.

 

Had I intervened, I could have taken over all those children’s play. I could have taken Greysen’s opportunity to stand up for herself, to bolster her tenacity, to negotiate, and to really listen to when she needs help and when she doesn’t.

 

The idea to not ask my child the 50 questions I had read was inspired by this post by Robin Whitcore and a response of approval (when I shared this post) by Lisa Sunbury.

 

The need to process and analyze may not be their need, but ours. At that moment, I chose to trust my daughter and our relationship. I gave her permission to take the lead of her emotional development since it was a manageable instance, and to not ask her to placate me with details.

 

What purpose would those questions have served other than to reassure me? When she has questions, she asks them. When she is upset, she cries. If she needed to talk, she would have.

 

That was that for her. Thus, that was that for me.

 

 

14 Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    “…there will be a time where I will not be there when she faces rejection. She may not have me, but she will have had this experience.”

    A nice reminder to value uncomfortable moments.

  2. Claire says:

    What if that rejection turned physical? I’ve seen this happened to my son several times. He was not only told to be gone but also pushed away by children older than he is. He just turned 2, his speech is delayed so he has no way to communicate in a way that the group can understand. Obviously, he was hurt and crying.

    • Marisa says:

      I’m truly sorry that has happened to your son. That must have been heartbreaking to experience. The circumstances would be quite different had I thought there was potential for the physical or had my daughter had a more limited ability to speak. Knowing that it has happened in the past, I would be more likely to help my child gain entry to play in unfamiliar play partner situations.

      Become a play partner. Sometimes playing with my child interests other children and I could invite them to join us. I’ve seen this happen a lot with parents at the park who play with their child. Suddenly, that parent is playing with several children and is in good spot to guide positive conversations.

      Help him develop some non-verbal ways to engage other children. I modeled waving hello to other kids when my daughter was young because she would give unwanted and long hugs to other children. Learning to wave helped her to connect which was usually enough for other children to understand that her intentions were friendly and not meant to be well irritating.

      Interpret your child’s intentions. When he approaches other children, I may be available to help others understand my child’s intentions. In my experience, other kids especially older kids often see younger children as babies. Sometimes explaining that they want to play and a suggestion for how that can happen, such as, “Can you throw her the ball once so she can throw it back to you” is enough to connect them.

      The instant any interaction became physical, I would stop it. I would stop any aggressive acts, preventing them is always my first step.

      I’m unsure if this is happening at the park or social gatherings like birthdays. If this were happening to my girls at the park, I may try to plan some playdates where my child could meet and try to play with one other same age play partner and have some friendlier interactions.

      The support and encouragement that you are already giving your son is really the foundation he needs and will help him continue to have a positive interest in other children.

    • Claire says:

      Thanks, Marisa, for your input. I like your suggestion of being your child’s play partner. My son knows lots of non-verbal gestures for communication, he can waves, he can even say Hi/Bye. He just doesn’t want to use it in social context for some reason and I don’t want to push him to use it if he is not feeling safe/comfortable enough.
      Most of the time, it started like this: he is playing near the slide/object of interest. A bunch of older kids come, and they take his spot. My son won’t move, so they tell him to go away or push him away. Sometimes they just tell him to go away without pushing, or my son just leaves. I could have intervene at any steps but I normally just watch and see what happen. There is no way I can predict in the moment whether the children will push him or not because sometimes they don’t.

    • Marisa says:

      I try to keep in mind that children do not always experience things the same way we would. It is disheartening that your son moves from such situations if he is upset by it but I do wonder if it hurts his feelings or concerns him to the degree it does you. It very well may – and I truly hope that is not the case – but how do you know? My daughter was not happy in this moment. NOT HAPPY. Hurt? I’m not sure. I do know that she did cope with it. It sounds like your circumstances differ in that this happens regularly. If your son feels best moving or walking away I would think that perhaps this is his way of coping. A very legitimate and effective way to cope. I think many parents want our children to learn to stand up for themselves but maybe this is not the time or place for him to develop tenacity. There are lots of ways to develop persistence and determination that may be more preferable for him.

  3. Emma says:

    That must have been a tough moment for the both of you. I’m always tempted to go over and “fix” things like that, but they need to learn to deal with rejection and all we can do is be there to support them. Your daughter is lucky to have such a wise mom!

    • Marisa says:

      Thank you Emma! I appreciate the support. My daughter has a strong personality and can be an intimidating person herself but is also quite sensitive so it was a hard call, but I expect the first of many. I agree, we can support our children without necessarily stepping in which I think will continue to take some practice on my part.

  4. Would you mind if I shared this with my readers? They would love this!

    • Marisa says:

      Please do! Thank you again for your post. Sometimes we read things and they stay with us. This post sat in my mind for a few months before I had a chance to practice the model you set for me.

  5. Shonna Jones says:

    So awesome. Enough daid

  6. del says:

    Thank you for posting such an insightful post. Myself a mother of 4 yr old daughter, my daughter has gone through rejections a lot of time in the parks and everytime it kills me. Its so difficult as a parent to just sit there and let the child take the next step…. sometimes i feel that don’t the parents of these kids teach them how to behave or treat other kids… many times my daughter has come back without standing up for herself or she has tried to avoid such kids… like before they would tell her to go away or something she would just move to a different play… and if i ask her what happened? -she would just say she got bored and now wants to do something different….sometimes i worry….

    • Marisa says:

      There was a time when all I wanted was for my daughter was to take a few steps back and walk away in such situations because it often resulted in an act of aggression . . . by her. A very dear friend reminded me that walking away and standing one’s ground are on the same spectrum of responding to something aversive. These are, at their core, fight or flight responses.

      It took lots of thought and really trying to understand her to accept that her response is reactionary and something I have come to appreciate but it took me a while. My point is that my daughter is responding to these situations as best she can and I do my best to guide her when I need to and I do. I could not have always stayed back in these kind of circumstances. I would hesitate to judge how she is feeling based solely on her verbal response. This is really hard for me because my daughter is so verbal but she also can’t always articulate why she does the things she does – again I think that is the reacting part of it.

      I’d be curious to see what your daughter does after she walks away. Maybe she is walking away from those other kids but in that is she developing resiliency and flexibility? Both tremendous character attributes.

      Sometimes, I worry too, but despite all the challenges we face, my daughter has a positive sense of self and of peer relationships. Part of that is her and part of it is conveying to her the balance in her life overall. Good relationships – even just one – can have a powerful impact on children.

  7. I have seen this with one of my sons. It hurts to see him being rejected, but conflict is a normal part of life. I’d rather him try to deal with these instances on his own, even though I want to step in and save him. I won’t be there forever.

    If it gets physical though, that is a different story.

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