There will be some people who won’t like this post.
They will say it’s over the top and it’s this sort of thing that is contributing to raising a generation of “precious little snowflakes”. If you take the time to fully digest my plea, I think you’ll find it’s actually the exact opposite.
And, besides, this is about children’s basic rights, which are much more important than any backlash I may or may not get off the back of this so…whatever, I can take it.
Don’t touch other people’s kids if you’re helping them.
And, in fact, stop touching your own kids, when there isn’t a call for it.
Let me explain with examples from our life.
1) A few weeks ago, Biggest (aged 3) and I were on the way to visit my nan, with Littlest in the pram. I don’t drive so we get the bus together. We have a Buggy Board but Biggest needs to get off it in order for me to get her and the pram on the bus. On this particular day, it was raining and she had the hood up on her rain suit.
The bus arrived and opened its doors and I started stepping on with the pram. Biggest was stood firmly in the same place on the pavement and was starting to say something to me. I stopped to listen to her. She was saying, “Can you ask Puppy if she wants her hood down before she gets on the bus? (she was playing at being a puppy at the time),” but before she could finish, a well-meaning lady behind us picked her up and placed her on the bus.
We weren’t holding up the queue. Listening to and obliging Biggest’s request would have taken 5 seconds, max, but as it happens, the “helping” actually made our bus journey a whole lot more difficult, because Biggest was shocked and clung to me the entire time, including when we needed to get off with our big pram.
She was just trying to help.
But let’s reverse the roles, a second.
What if, one day, you were waiting in the rain for a bus with, say, your partner. You have an umbrella. The bus arrives and opens its doors, your partner gets on and you’re still on the pavement saying, “Ooh, one minute, I just want to put my umbrella down…” and before you manage to, a stranger behind you is lifting you up onto the bus. How would you feel?
It’s not the same. It wouldn’t happen to an adult.
These two scenarios are near enough the exact same situation. It’s just that one features a child. Just because she’s a child, does that mean she doesn’t have a right to voice and act upon something she wants to do in the same way and adult would in the same circumstances? Where is the sense in that? Why does she have fewer rights? Basic ones, at that?
2) We had a lovely playdate visit from a wonderful friend and her child a few weeks ago (and if you ever read this, Wonderful Friend, I really hope you can appreciate why I’m including this story. It’s not personal <3). The whole afternoon was lovely.
As our friends were getting ready to leave, Biggest accidentally knocked over the dregs of my friend’s cup of tea, which was sitting on the floor anyway and had long been cold. The small puddle of tea flowed in Biggest’s direction and she ended up with both bare feet standing in it. It all happened quite fast and she stood there a few moments, bewildered, looking down at her feet in the puddle, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
My friend panicked and flapped a little, looking for something to mop it up with and wanting to ‘rescue’ Biggest simultaneously, despite me assuring her it was completely fine.
She then scooped Biggest up and placed her on the sofa ‘out of harm’s way’.
Biggest was beside herself. I assured my friend again, that it was fine and not to worry about mopping it up as I would sort it. They left not long afterwards but Biggest’s upset went on much longer.
She had been upset because she thought that she had done something ‘panic-worthy’ and also because she hadn’t been asked to move but rather moved without her consent.
She was just trying to help.
And I love her for it. But, again, if it had been me standing looking at my sodden feet wondering what time of day it was (which, believe me, is not an unlikely circumstance with my eternal Baby Brain), no one would have physically helped me move out of the puddle because they trust I will do it.
She felt responsible, she just wanted to fix it.
I told her it was fine. It happened in my house.
It was a spill. She didn’t want your Biggest, or the house, getting mucky.
OK, it was tea. Tea. Not red wine or lava or tar. Cold tea. Barely any different from water. We have a laminate floor, it’s no big deal. It’s just tea. Biggest, and my house, have seen much worse messes than tea.
You’re being completely over the top. Biggest could have started splashing or messing about.
Right, but she didn’t (not that she had time to anyway). And, even if she did, I was there, I am her mum, I could have dealt with it perfectly well, the same way I deal with any other number of things which happen when I don’t have a friend there and I had said it was fine.
3) It’s Biggest’s birthday coming up and my mum and dad took her out shopping today to buy new shoes. She was going to have her feet measured and choose whichever shoes she wanted.
Mum and I had been texting throughout the day, as normal when she has Biggest over. She said that Biggest became frightened in the shoe shop and wouldn’t let the assistant measure her feet. I said that was totally fine.
Later on, my dad, bless him, text me and said that I should take Biggest out in the ‘hustle bustle’ more, to ‘get her used to people’. Mum and Dad didn’t say much about the incident, but from this text, and Mum telling me she felt a little obliged to buy an additional pair of shoes Biggest had tried on because the lady had spent some time trying to help them, I imagined they were a little embarrased that Biggest wasn’t in a compliant mood.
I assured my dad that I’m perfectly OK with her being wary of people she doesn’t know, particularly if they want to touch her. He conceded that that made sense!
So how are you going to know which shoe size she is?
We’ll go to a shoe shop where parents can measure their own children’s feet or just try the size I think she is and ask her if they’re comfortable. Basically…the same as what adults do.
It was a waste of the lady’s time.
I’m pretty sure it’s part of the lady’s job description to help customers and that she would have been paid, whether or not she had successfully managed to measure my daughter’s feet (and whether or not my mum had felt guilty enough to buy an additional pair!).
4) We had visited a home education meet up we often go to which is held at our local community centre. When it’s really busy, Biggest sometimes gets a little overwhelmed and is very testing when we come away. This time was no different.
I was holding her hand and when we got to the massive, automatic double doors to leave, Biggest let go and was standing firm in the foyer. “Come on!” I said. “It’s time to go now.”
She said she wanted to do it by herself. “Go on, then,” I said. She wasn’t moving.
“Biggest, come on, we have to go now.”
She wasn’t moving.
I was starting to feel conscious of the people coming in and out, concerned that she was in the way.
“If you don’t come now, the doors are going to close on you and you will get stuck.”
She wasn’t moving.
My self-consciousness got the better of me and I went in and picked her up. Cue meltdown.
It turns out, she was waiting for the automatic doors to close so she could activate them opening and walk through by herself and the reason she stood there so long is because I was standing in what must have been the doors’ sensor path because they didn’t close all the time we were there.
But I didn’t ask her what she was doing. I assumed she was being awkward for the sake of it and was more concerned about what other people were thinking.
She was in the way.
She really wasn’t.
She’s a toddler, the doors are massive. If you can walk around an adult standing in the way (which you can) a toddler is no problem.
You had to show her who’s boss.
But I’m not her boss.
I’m her mum.
Imagine if you’re out somewhere with your partner and you’re about to leave a building and you dawdle by the door, looking at something without telling them, and instead of asking you what you are doing, they drag you out? How would you feel?
OK, Mrs Bleeding Heart Know-It-All. What should we do instead, if we’re all such bad people for wanting to help?
OK, first, no one trying to help is a bad person. At all.
All I’m asking is for another second’s thought to consider what any intervention without invitation might feel like for a child. A child who might not have the words to say no, or be believed or respected if they do.
My suggestion, if you want to help out a mum or dad who you believe is struggling with a child, is to first ask the child if they would like you to help. And then, equally as importantly, wait for them to answer before doing anything.
If they don’t answer either because they are too young to, they don’t understand you or they don’t want to talk to you because they don’t know you, go ahead and ask their parent if they need any help. And, again, importantly, wait for them to answer before doing anything.
And, parents, at this point, don’t feel under any obligation to accept well-meaning help if you don’t need it and believe your child won’t like it for the sake of potentially not offending somebody. Maybe they will or maybe they wont be offended, but how your child feels about the control they have over their own body is infinitely more important than some passing perceived embarrassment at a refusal any fully-grown adult may or may not feel.
And, I know. Our Western culture is set up to live life by the clock, and we all have busy lives and sometimes we do need to rush and hurry our children. I know.
But do you rush and hurry adults in your life in the same way?
I cannot count the amount of times my husband, Danny, made me late for work because I didn’t manage to get in the shower before him. Did I march in and drag him out of the shower? Shove him along the street? No. Why not?
Because he knew you were running late.
Yes, and that didn’t stop him doing the exact same thing the next day.
And, back to the precious snowflake thing.
Surely giving our children the opportunity to accept or refuse help makes them stronger people over simply doing it for them without even asking?
If they choose not to accept help or do what the adults want them to do, it’s also a great opportunity for them to experience natural consequences.
Don’t want to get on the bus? Fine, the bus leaves without us and we don’t get to visit Grandma.
Don’t want to get out of the puddle quickly? Fine, you’ll have cold wet feet.
Don’t want your feet measured? Fine, the shoes you have might not be the right size for you.
I’m not trying to be a dick about it, and I really hope it doesn’t come across that way.
I’m just asking for us all to think about how often in society we deny children the rights an adult would have unquestionably in the exact same circumstances, simply because they are children.
There are many adult members of our society who might respond to a situation more slowly than others, for various medical reasons, as one example. Would we ‘enforce’ help upon them without asking?
Never stop trying to help. The world needs so much more of it.
But, unless it is an emergency situation where someone is going to be very hurt, please, hands off.