I can’t Always Protect my Children From Hurt and Why I Don’t Always Want to

I think it is a natural instinct for parents to want to protect their children from pain. Not just physical pain, but emotional pain. For me, I find my Mama Bear instinct particularly strong when I see my child being treated unjustly by her peers. I think my reactions stem back to my own childhood when I was a victim of bullying in my early years of schooling. I get such a visceral reaction that my immediate desire is to jump in and prevent the same thing from happening to my children.

I had an epiphany the other day, however, when my vivacious three year old was presented with one of life’s harsh realities – not everyone is going to want to play with you. Her reaction to this has made me completely adjust my thoughts and trust that she doesn’t need me to fight her battles for her.

It was a Saturday morning and I had taken my two daughters, Lucy (3) and Penny (2) to a nearby indoor play cafe. It was quite a nice day outside so it was fairly quiet when we arrived. The two girls skipped off happily, carting little dolls they had found from structure to structure, taking them down long slides and bouncing with them in the jumping castle.

Before long, some little girls arrived wearing fairy costumes. They must have been around seven or eight and were coming to a friend’s fairy princess party. My Lucy was in awe. She sat by me, gazing over the back of the chair longingly as several more fairy princesses arrived bearing beautiful gifts for their friend. There was a table set up just by us complete with glitter, balloons and other fairy trinkets. Needless to say it was almost too much for my little girl to bear.

She queried why she couldn’t join them as they disappeared upstairs, into the party room, led by the Fairy Queen but reluctantly went back to her own play after I explained that they were here to celebrate their friend’s birthday and needed their own area upstairs to do this.

Several minutes passed and it seemed that Lucy had all but forgotten the girls and was happily running about playing and exploring independently. Suddenly, the centre became a little more lively as eight or so fairy princesses came cascading back down the stairs with their wings, wands and tutus and headed excitedly towards the ball pit. They piled in and began squealing with delight as they threw balls at each other and tried to bury themselves in deep as the balls swallowed them up.

Well, that was it, Lucy could not hold back any longer. She dived into the pit after the girls, not saying a word but showing in her body language and gestures that she was excited to be joining in. She reached to pick up a ball but had it blocked by a fairy who reached for the same ball and tossed it to her friend.

Not fussed in the slightest, Lucy collected another ball and mimicked the actions of the girl by throwing it to the same friend. Her little eyes were lit up in anticipation of what would happen next. When no ball was returned, she dived excitedly towards the outside netting of the pit, keen to show off her other skills to the princesses.

I Can't Always Protect my Children and Why I don't Always Want to ~ Peaceful Parents, Confident KidsIt was in this moment that this mama’s heart broke ever so slightly. I watched in agony as the girls used this opportunity, whilst Lucy’s back was turned, to start a mass exodus from the pit. It was clear that they did not appreciate an intruder’s presence in their party pit and one by one moved quickly, giggling, out through the netting and onto another structure.

As Lucy regained her footing and struggled to turn herself upright in the quicksand of balls, she noticed the girls departing. She didn’t try to follow. She watched forlornly as the fairly princesses left her there, alone. The pit, once a buzz of excitement and joy was now just a lonely child in a sea of colour. I made a move to go to her. To acknowledge how disappointed she must feel now the princesses had gone. But something told me to wait, to watch, to observe her reaction  before jumping in.

I’m glad I did, for within a minute, her eyes broke their gaze from the girls and she turned to where I was sitting, just outside the pit. She dived over to me, landing in a heap on the balls before scrambling up the net and excitedly blurting out. “Did you see the big girls playing with me, Mum. We were throwing balls and having lots of fun!” There was no sign of disappointment. She was not sad they had left. She was grateful for the small snippet of play she had been involved in. She knew it was not her party and understood the girls’ need for space to play. She had stolen a precious piece of it and was super excited about that.

My fears, my own insecurities, have no place in her innocent mind. I am so pleased I did not corrupt it by letting her know of the injustice I had felt on her behalf. I know there will come a day where she will face rejection and feel its effects but my rushing in to rescue her is not going to help her develop the resilience nor self-confidence she needs to take with her through life. Lucy taught me a valuable lesson that day and I am ever so grateful.

You might also like to read:

Empowering Toddlers: Encouraging Parents to Abandon the “Bully/Victim” Mentality ~ Tiffany Gough (Tongonto.com)

Labels Are Not For Children ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)


About Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Hi, my name is Kate. I have been a Physical Education/ Maths teacher for 12 years and am currently taking some time out to be a Mum. I have two beautiful girls aged 2 and 1 (13 month age gap). I have learned that there is so much more to parenting than 'going with your instincts' and treasure all the rewards my children present to me everyday. I have a passion for sports and have recently discovered an addiction to sewing. Thank you for taking some time out to read my ramblings :)
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16 Responses to I can’t Always Protect my Children From Hurt and Why I Don’t Always Want to

  1. Suzie says:

    Thank you for sharing this moment. It has given me food for thought 🙂


  2. Chris K. says:

    This is such a great post. I remember arguing with my mother in law when my very cautious 1 year old started to climb up a carpeted step. My daughter looked at me and I encouraged her. I was right there and wanted her to try. My MIL was so upset that I was letting her climb (it was ONE step). I just stayed close and watched and told my MIL that, yes, she may fall, but she will learn. If never given the chance, she would never feel the gravity. I just wrote a post about resilience and my two daughters as well. Thank you for sharing.

    I just wrote ‘Teaching Courage and Resilience as a Skill, Not Just a Lesson’. I hope it’s okay to share. Would love to hear your thoughts as well.


  3. Rita says:

    Good for Lucy. But my heart broke a little when the girls left.


  4. Allison says:

    I felt so nervous reading this, and then I cried. But I apprecitate your perspective and insight.


  5. Nae Peters says:

    Great post and from a really positive perspective. I know this feeling and my heart breaks ever so slightly as well in some social situations my sons been in but its good to sit back and realize that a childs view of the world is so different before deciding to bring it up with them. thanks


  6. Penelope says:

    I agree with your response in that situation. I am having some challenges though with a “friend” of my 7yo son. He will play with my son if they are the only two there, besides his 6yo sister. But once at a party he was downright mean to my son, telling him to go away and play somewhere else ( this was at this boys home at his birthday party). I just happened to be right behind the boy when he said this to my son. My son was so sad and I did say something to this “friend”. About his actions not being kind. Fast forward to now, this boys birthday is coming up again and multiple times since then this boy has been unkind to my son, along with his “new” sidekick who has decided that he does not want my son around and I have overheard that boy being mean to my son. I even called attention to that situation to his mother who is my friend. But I have seen no change in this young child. While at three I think the way you handled it was perfect. But at 7, I can see in my son the hurt this is causing. So we talk about it. He asks why this boy treats him like this. We talk about what it means to be a true friend and we talk about how great his other friends who love him are. And how we want to treat others the way that we want to be treated, cuz it hurts to be treated that way. But, we will not be attending the boys birthday party. I see no benefit to putting my son back into that situation. I don’t need to toughen him up to the harsh realities of the world at 7 yo. I am all for children being authentic with their feelings and I know some gentle parents don’t have their children apologize if they don’t want to. I am a gentle parent, but I believe that children need to be guided. I guide my son to make amends, I guide my son to be a good friend when I see that he is not. I am also guiding him in what character traits he might look for in friends and to be someone who stands up if another is being bullied. Yes, part of this is protecting him, but the other is enabling him to think… No I don’t want to be your friend…. I don’t want to be treated this way any more. And to know that not everyone will be your friend….and that is ok.


    • What an awful situation to be in, Penelope. As I was reading your comment, I was drafting a response in my head and it including not taking your son to the birthday party so I was pleased when I read that was your decision also. If it is clear your son is being made upset by this friend, I would limit the times when he has to see him, which you are doing.
      The message I wanted to get across in my post is that it is important to watch and observe our children before jumping in with comfort, advice or protection. In my case, my daughter clearly indicated to me she did not need any of the above, whereas in your case, your son IS being hurt and does need comfort and guidance.
      My advice would be to empower him whenever possible. Let him know you can see he is upset that his friends don’t want to play with him and it is normal to feel that way. This will make him feel less of a victim. Let him know he has a choice to stay away from them if they are making him upset but it is ok if he wants to keep trying to join in if that makes him feel better. Like you have already been doing, speak through the cause and effects of his decisions and let him know he has ultimate control over his thoughts and actions, as do his friends.
      It sounds like you are doing a great job at supporting him through this. He sounds like a delightful boy who has a loving mother guiding him through a tough patch.
      Best wishes with it all.


  7. katepickle2 says:

    Loved this!

    It is so easy to assume that we know how our kids are feeling or reacting and jump in. Good for you for having the forethought to wait a moment and see what happened. It is not always easy when they are little and it doesn’t get any easier as they grow… but I often tell myself it is not my job to fight battles for my kids that may not really exist, it is my job to be there when they need me.


  8. Thanks for this post Kate. I would have absolutely jumped right in and gone to the aid of my poor daughter if in your position but you will be a little voice in my head saying to just step back and see what happens. Excellent advice. I think we so naturally want to quickly go to the aid of our children without thinking that they might be able to handle/cope with the situation themselves.


  9. What a lovely post! I agree, it can be so hard to watch your children get hurt and as a parent of three girls myself, it can be harder still to sometimes make sense of the way girls treat each other. I just try to be there when they need someone to listen to them.


  10. Ms. S says:

    Wow! Didn’t expect that ending! Cool move Mom!




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