When I was in graduate school for social work, I had to examine the role that boundaries played in my life. Social workers often work with people in vulnerable circumstances. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain clear boundaries to uphold professional integrity.
Problematic boundaries can be either too rigid or too loose. People with rigid boundaries do not allow others to get close to them and are often guarded. People with loose boundaries can be too open with others. They do not want to upset or disappoint anyone. It is important to be somewhere in between the two.
In examining my own boundaries, I discovered that they are a little on the loose side. I have a hard time saying no to people. I also avoid conflict. I wondered how having loose boundaries would affect me as a parent. Would I be able to appropriately protect my child when I struggle standing up for myself? I feared that I would let my kids down. Then it actually happened.
My family went to Ikea to buy a bookshelf for my five-year-old daughter’s bedroom. My daughter LOVES Ikea because they have a playroom with a huge ball pit. She begs me to leave her there while I shop. Although I always have reservations about it, I say yes, let her play, and I shop as quickly as I can.
The security seems to be tight. I don’t worry about my daughter getting out, or of someone kidnapping her, I worry about how she will interact with the other children. Will they be nice to her? Will they bully her? Will someone land on her in the ball pit and suffocate her? Yes, I honestly have these concerns. Until this last visit, my daughter never had any of those problems. I was beginning to worry less each time I left her there. But today things were different.
When you first drop your children off at the Ikea playroom, the children have to stand against a wall to be measured in order to see if they are tall enough to enter the playroom. My daughter was standing against the wall when another child, who appeared to be the same age, pushed my daughter out of the way so he could stand against the wall and be measured. My daughter came over to me in tears, telling me what had happened.
I knew what had happened because I saw it with my own two eyes. I don’t know where that child’s parents were, or if they had seen it, but nobody said a word to him about what he had done. My daughter is a very sensitive child and she feels things very deeply. After I calmed her down, I asked her if she still wanted to go into the playroom or if she wanted to stay with me. She insisted on going into the playroom. So I let her. I watched her go in and hoped that she would have a good time.
I left her there for 30 minutes. When I returned to pick her up, I couldn’t see her. Was she burried under the balls somewhere? I became nervous. The Ikea employee took a while to find her and when my daughter exited the playroom, it appeared as though she had been crying. I wiped her nose and asked her what happened. She began to cry.
She said she was building a castle with the balls and there were two boys who kept knocking it down. She said that she kept telling them to stop, and that she was “screaming at the top of her lungs” but they didn’t listen. I became upset. Why didn’t someone help her? Who was supervising these children? I told her that if that were to ever happen again, she had to tell one of the adults in the yellow shirts who worked there. Then I told my husband that I will never leave my daughter there again.
I didn’t know how to handle the Ikea playroom situation as a parent. Should I have said something to the little boy who pushed my daughter when she was standing against the wall? Should I have complained to the Ikea employees about the boys who were bothering my daughter in the playroom? Should I have asked them about the kind of supervision they provide in there?
I really felt as though I let my daughter down because I didn’t stand up for her. I modeled for her the things that she could have said to the boys and I empathized with her feelings, but is that enough for a five-year-old? I know I’m not supposed to fight her battles for her because my job is to prepare her to handle herself in these situations when I’m not around, but am I asking too much? I honestly felt as though my fear of having my loose boundaries interfere with my ability to defend my own child was realized on this day.
I can only hope to learn from this experience. I recognize that I need to be more assertive not only for myself, but more importantly, for the welfare of my children. It’s okay to be assertive, right? One can be both firm and respectful. Who cares if I look like a crazy, overprotective mother, right? At least I’ll be doing right by my kids.
Should parents get involved in their children’s altercations outside of the home?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Kally Mocho of New Jersey, USA.
Attribution for the photo used in this post goes to fridaygirlx’s
That’s awful, I hope she’s OK now Kally. I tend to be a bit loose too, so it depends on where my head is on any given day how I handle these sorts of situations. But, in the end, it’s the adults who are supervising who should have sorted it all out. Sadly, I’ve often found people in those roles think mentioning out-right meaness of another child makes me a fussy Mum. Often they are young themselves and don’t have the skills or experience to really deal with the children they are meant to be watching. I think, in this situation, the correct strategy is the ‘tell an adult’ one. How horrible that you feel you can’t leave your daughter, for a short period of time, somewhere which is meant to be safe and fun.
Thanks for your comment, and for asking about my daughter. Although my daughter is super sensitive, she bounces back pretty easily. I completely agree with you about the adults failing in their role of supervising the children. My anger that day was not with the children who bullied her, but instead, with the adults that didn’t intervene. The situation breaks my heart a little because I know she loves that playroom, but I’m not prepared to leave her in there again. Maybe I’ll have to supervise her myself next time!
This is just what I worry about! My lad is only one so we are not there yet, but I have been wondering what would I do if he was to get bullied at school or in a playroom – it feels horrible to think that we can’t protect them from everything, and I just don’t know how I would deal with it, and I am not sure how I would confront the parents of a bully if I had the chance, not sure I am brave enough, but then what kind of example am I making to my son? I really appreciate reading your story and I’m looking forward to some good ideas from other mums.
Thanks for your comment, Asta. I find that some kids are not bothered by bullies, or they are able to stand up for themselves. Maybe your son will be one of those kids. My son is only 2 and I don’t worry about him half as much as I do my daughter because he’s a tough little guy. But my poor daughter is so sensitive, thinking about her being bullied gives me such anxiety. I guess we just have to keep teaching her how to handle herself in those situations and hope that one day she will be able to stand up for herself. Thanks for reading!
I worry about this ALL the time. I always worry that kids at school will pick my older boy (7) – with his autism, he would be such an easy target, and he wouldn’t know how to defend himself. So far, school has been good for him. He has either a teacher or an EA watching him all the time, and he’s actually very well-liked by the other kids. I worry about this going forward, though. I hear so many terrible stories of people with autism being mercilessly bullied in high school.
I’m so happy to hear that your son is well-liked and not picked on by other kids. It’s refreshing to know that there are nice kids out there who will be friendly to the shy kid or the underdog. I hope the positive school experience he is having continues for him in high school. I know it won’t stop you from worrying though! I guess it’s just what we do as moms. Thanks for reading.
Big hugs to you and your sweet little girl! I deal with this too, as my 5 year old son is super sensitive. I coach him alot on how to handle conflict, but it still stings. After being pushed by a friend, my son said to me in tears, “But Mom, she is one year older than me! Why wouldn’t she use her words?” Now, my son can dish it out too. All kids do. So for me, I expect to have conflicts, because kids learn by testing boundaries. My issue is with the caretakers involved who do not intervene. I think there is great value in letting kids try and work it out first on their own. But if they can’t (because they are kids after all, and it’s even hard for adults to do it!), then someone should be there to step in and help, particularly if we are talking about young children as they don’t have the skill set. Heck, even if they handle it beautifully, it would be great for a caretaker to offer praise and reinforce the message! It drives me bonkers when caretakers are completely checked out at the playground, across the field on a bench reading a book while their child is crying or fighting. I have been in more than one situation where I had to call out to find a parent for a child or finally leave with my kids because a bully wouldn’t listen to me and his caretaker was nowhere to be found (we are talking about a kid throwing rocks and wood chips at other kids faces!). I get we all need a break, but this is important stuff that we all need to participate in. Whew…ok…off my soapbox. Your little one will be ok because she has you to turn to. You are so intuitive and thoughtful…she’ll know she can always bring her worries home 😉
Get back on your soapbox! I got pumped reading that. I completely agree with you on the absentee parenting being unacceptable. Throwing rocks and wood chips at other kids? Are you serious? Even I would have said something to that kid. I also agree with you on praising children when they’re able to sort things out peacefully on their own. We should be giving them an opportunity to work it out themselves, and either praising them or correcting them on their attempts. My problem is that my daughter doesn’t have the guts to even try. But I’ll never give up on her. Thanks so much for your comment.
I bet it’s tough to see your daugher shy away from conflict so much. And I can totally relate to you wanting to help your child not struggle in the same areas you have. But I also think our weaknesses and strengths sort of tie together. Your non-confrontational way may have made it hard in some areas of life, but look at the amazing profession you found in which to utilize it! Social work is soooo important, and it takes a special sort of person to do it well. Assertive-confrontational or unfiltered-quick-response personalities wouldn’t work as well in your field as in others. Your daughter maybe has that same special thing in her. I try to remember that with my boys. My older son is bossy, in-your-face social, an intense thinker, and wants to be in everyone’s business, which can make it hard for him on the playground. But as his teacher always tells me, he’ll make a great project manager some day. So I remind myself that if I can help him channel this stuff in the right way, it can be just as much a strength for him. Hang in there, Momma!
I LOVE the idea of looking at our weaknesses as our strengths. This is the stuff I tell my clients, yet I forget it when it comes to my own life. Thanks for the reminder, and for the kind words!
I am proudly “that mom” through and through. Utterly fierce! I have learned the importance of being that way. How are our children going to learn how to stick up for themselves or others? We must show them!
A kid that my son loves to play with hits him sometimes. It happened recently and I told him that my son would never come back again if he continued that behavior. I was mean. Mean and scary! It has worked.
Our kids are only going to be as assertive and caring as we are. Great and thought provoking article.
Thanks for reading and for sharing your position on the topic. I could use some of your assertiveness! I suppose it’s true that if my daughter saw me standing up to people, she would be more likely to do it herself. I’ll work on it!
Kally, since I edit a lot of our posts, sometimes I forget to go back and leave a comment once they’ve published. I wanted to tell you about a TERRIFIC children’s book out there that I highly recommend reading to your wee folk: ONE by Kathryn Otoshi. It’s a very simple but empowering tale about bullying. Here’s a blurb on a fellow WordPress blog: http://www.papertigers.org/wordpress/one-by-kathryn-otoshi/
Hope this gives you some food for thought and fodder for your cannon. Cheers!
Thank you for your book recommendation. I will look into that. I can use all the help I can get!
Oh Kally, what a tough situation! That sweet spot between fighting their battles for them and showing them that we’re right there by their sides is a tricky one, for sure! I think that my favorite part of what you did to “handle things” is how much you talked about it with your daughter. You showed her in that way that you took the situation seriously and you enabled her with tools for next time. I think that you did great, Mama! If you’re looking for any good reads, my favorites ALL come from Barbara Colorosso. I’m sending you and your sweet girl STRONG thoughts!!
What a tough one! We live and we learn. My daughter is three, and I haven’t been able to leave her in a situation where she doesn’t know anyone yet. When I say “haven’t been able”, it’s more me, and not her. When she started preschool she had a friend or two in the class that she knew, and then at dance school she didn’t know anyone at first, but I was able to watch her class on a t.v. screen just outside her dance class room. It irks me when I don’t know what is always going on!!!
I have stood up for her a few times in playgroups or at the playground, but sometimes I’m at a loss for words or a game plan, just like you! So, you’re not alone!! 🙂
I have also thought about the future and kids making fun of each other. EVERY kid gets picked on at some point — the popular kid, the shy kid, the kid with autism, the jock, the smart kid, the not so smart kid, etc. It is inevitable. I want to have the type of relationship with my kids where they can tell me what’s going on in their lives and what’s bothering them. (Isn’t that every mom’s dream though?) Then from there, I will have to somehow have to figure out a way of how best to deal with their social problems — whether it’s talk to the other kid’s parents or talk to the teacher or principal or help my child find a way to best deal with it — I don’t think every case will have the same answer.
Remember, you will not be alone — we will all go through this as parents, as heartbreaking as it is!!!! All we can do is hold each others’ hands! Thanks for sharing your experience on the blog!!
Veronica Samuels 🙂