We’ve all felt that debilitating, stomach-dropping sensation of being powerlessness. Of being at the mercy of others, or of a situation. Of wanting to ‘stop the ride to get off.’ Somehow along the way we’ve learned how to deal with it. Do you remember a specific moment when you determined a course of action? Was it breathing, retaliation, pinching yourself, crying, eating, inner monologue, or something else entirely? Do you try different things each time? Or do you have a tried and true way?
How about parenting through that? How have you parented when a kiddo has come to you? How did your parents handle it? Did you even talk to them about it?
My lil miss came home after school the other day, crying. After taking off her bike helmet, her hair plastered to her sweaty head and tears adding to the drippy mess, she wanted a hug. Her brothers were instantly attentive, but Miss didn’t want to talk yet. She needed a cuddle to help regulate and chill out.
We all hung out in the living room, her and I snuggling on the couch, and the brothers on their devices in the comfy chairs. After I asked if she was ready to chat, she told me the story of what happened after school.
Two boys in her grade had begun to target her and a friend on their bikes. They darted in front of their path, preventing them from biking home. Once cornered, the boys grabbed backpacks and twisted Miss and her friend off their bikes, hopped on and threatened to take their bikes home. She was worried about having her bike stolen, and couldn’t think fast enough in the moment to figure out what to do or who to find for help. A little more harassing and the boys let them have their bikes back, only to stop them again and bodily lift her up while she was sitting on the bike – she couldn’t touch the ground anymore and was afraid she’d fall to the pavement. Like cats with a mouse, they let her go and then stopped her again, pulling on the handlebars and the back tire. More of this and haranguing, and the boys eventually let them go. She was badly shaken and was sure they were going to chase her home and she wouldn’t be able to get away fast enough.
Ohmygawsh. How do I parent in this moment? What is my intent? What is my goal? How do I set aside my triggered responses and help her build resiliency?
My knee-jerk reaction was to say all the things that minimize or reduce her experience (in the misguided hope that she wouldn’t feel so bad) and excuse the boys’ behaviour:
- “Those boys probably just like you and don’t know how to show it”
- “Boys can do stupid things”
- “What did you do just before that happened?”
- “Boys will be boys”
- “Why didn’t you go into the school?”
- “You should have left straight-away”
- “Are you sure it was a big deal?”
I know, I know! I feel awful that those were tumbling around my head. To create some space, I just held her while she cried and said that it was a scary experience and maybe she just needs to cry and feel it in her body right now. And in the meanwhile, I was trying to figure out what to say. I could feel the brother’s antenna’s directed at her and I. I knew I couldn’t excuse the boys behaviour – it felt there was a lot of weight in this interaction – for her future self, and for my boy’s future relationships with girls.
I labelled some of the feelings I was imagining she felt:
And the reasons why she felt those emotions:
they were in her space
touching her and her things
she couldn’t move away
uncertain about who can help
and whether it would escalate further.
And I commented on how those were transgressions:
they didn’t recognize her body language
they were only considering themselves.
She shared some of what she felt she did well, some of what she would do differently, and other choices that might have been available. We imagined options for tomorrow if the boys continued to harass, and who she can access for help. I outlined the process and the steps of escalation if her dealings with the boys wasn’t successful, and if the teachers at school couldn’t help. We joked about her brothers coming to the school to pick her up and throw their weight around. We all had a laugh and enjoyed dinner together.
There was a brief moment when she begun to show signs of perseverating, but I didn’t want her to feel victimized or anymore powerlessness. I asked if she needed to review her strategy, otherwise we’ll put it away for now.
She went back to school the next day, armed with a plan and (hopefully) a sense that we at home had her back. She was happy to report that the boys acted as if nothing happened, and she was prepared to let it go. We discussed whether she would feel comfortable approaching them and telling them she hadn’t enjoyed what they did. She made the choice to leave it, unless it came up naturally.
That was a big parenting moment for me. Trying to find the balance between letting her know that we support her, and letting her know she can handle it.
How do you create space during big moments to let things unfold? This situation was easier because she so obviously needed the time – it’s harder when I miss the subtle cues. How do you create space during those subtle times?