Sitting at the playground after school, the boys were getting into it again. One wanted to play ninja, the other didn’t want to be ninja-ed in the face. One wanted to throw mulch, one wanted to sulk because he wanted to throw acorns instead while playing ninja. Emotions were running a bit high after a long day at school.
“Keep your hands to yourself, please,” I said.
“Stop throwing mulch,” another mom said.
The other moms just sighed. Because we all knew what was coming next. Four little voices, four different, frustrated cries for mom. We all took a deep breath.
The boys — three 5 year olds, and a 4 year old — started all at once. The older ones were frustrated, the youngest was almost in tears. “He said blah blah blah” and “He was doing blah blah blah” and “I told him blah blah blah” and “He called me blah blah blah”…
Holding a squirming baby Em, I was just ready to tell Bear it was time to go. Another mom started to say something along the lines of stop tattling and go figure it out. But luckily Ms L spoke first.
“Boys, boys. Let’s all take a breath so we can think clearly,” she started, turning towards them, giving them full eye contact and zero exasperation. The sweaty boys took a breath. “Now, how do you think you can solve this?” The boys were quiet. “What do you think some options are?” Ms L pressed on, us sitting and giving our attention but not our solutions.
The boys started talking, over each other, frustrated at first, but quickly calmed down and worked on working it out. They walked off together, and came to the conclusion on their own to just do something else. They happily played together for another hour.
Ms L turned around and went right back to chatting about her new job. I had to interrupt.
“Um, that was pretty awesome,” I said. I admitted my patience these days is a bit shot. And I admitted to realizing my original thought of just leaving would have escalated the situation. And I didn’t admit out loud that the other mom’s thought of stop tattling and go figure it out without offering a moment of calm attention would have sent a terrible message.
In fact, that’s what I usually see happen at the playground, or during holiday get togethers. The kids get into it — someone steals a toy, someone gets hit, someone is being a bully, someone is being bullied — and the solution I hear the most is: don’t tattle. Figure it out.
We tell our kids to come to us when there’s a problem, and the response they get is “don’t tattle” — what message does that send? It tells them not to even bother, to figure it out when clearly they need a sounding board. A moment to know that someone cares enough to help if needed.
And we wonder why our teens are starting to find suicide as the only way out. And then we ask ourselves, why didn’t they come to me? Why didn’t they tell someone? A parent, teacher, anyone?
Because maybe they learned when they were little not to tattle. And to solve their own problems on their complete own. Not to bother us with their “mundane” problems that seem so trivial to us, yet in the child’s world, is bigger than anything. Because while they don’t need us to solve every problem (that doesn’t do them any favors), they are asking for help. They are asking for a bit of comfort. They are asking us to be their mom or dad, to give them a hug and say I’m here for you, you can tell me anything.
Surely I’m not the only that feels this way. That sometimes we as parents cast aside our kiddos’ problems without even meaning to, because we think it isn’t important. That when Bear drops his Lego creation that he worked hours to build, and the little Legos scatter across the wood floor like dropped Skittles, that it is a huge deal. To him. In his five year old world. And he needs a hug, and the confidence to rebuild.
Or we think they need to solve their small, little problems on their own, otherwise it’s tattling and they’ll never learn to problem solve. Or, and tell me if I’m wrong, because “tattling” can sometimes be annoying and we just want to sit for a moment and soak in some silence. Or get some dishes washed. Or read a page in a book.
But, they’re kids. How are they supposed to learn without a little guidance?
I realize I’ve probably rambled, but that’s just how my brain works these days. Slightly fried, out of order, a continuous stream of interrupted thoughts. But this topic weighs heavy on my heart. It’s amazing what message a little eye contact, a silent nod, an “I’m listening” lean in can do to build confidence in a child. Even if you do nothing other than ask, “What do you think you can do to solve this?”
And a confident child grows into a teen with confidence — and who wouldn’t want that?