Wait For It...

A few nights ago as I was tucking in my son, he told me about a friend who was harassed by some classmates during lunch that day. He was understandably upset by what he witnessed but that wasn't the only thing that was bothering him. I could see it in his eyes. I could tell by the tone of his voice. It took some work but after a few probing questions, he confided in me that he felt badly because he didn't do anything.

"I wanted to tell the other boys to stop, but I was afraid," he admitted. "And then when I felt like I was brave enough, two other boys already stopped them." His sigh was heavy and I immediately pulled him in for a hug and told him how proud I was of him.

"But mom, I didn't do anything," he reminded me.

"That's okay, buddy. You thought about it and next time, I bet you'll offer help even sooner."

He snuggled in while processing my statement. We continued to talk about the events of the day. He shared with me which boys stood by and which ones stood up. As we chatted, he agreed that noon-duty aides and teachers and principals are all good resources when we see a classmate in need. We also discussed how important it is to have friends that will stand up for you, and we explored ways to find courage to protect our friends and the many ways that such bravery can unfold. It was a great exchange of lessons and ideas.

Now I'm sure some parents may have left out the "I'm-proud-of-you-for-doing-nothing" hug and that's okay. At the moment, I was thinking more "big picture."

I wanted to acknowledge my son's internal conflict and help him let go of the guilt, the heavy regret he felt for not intervening. In actuality, I was thrilled that he had that reaction in the first place because, had he witnessed the argument, done nothing and felt nothing, I'd have bigger concerns.

I also wanted him to know that it was okay to pause, to observe the situation and then think about how to help. Thoughtful evaluation in the face of conflict does not automatically qualify as cowardice. We live in a society that sensationalizes people who are quick to react and who dramatically lash out before thinking. I was pleased that he paused first, even if it was initially influenced by fear.

And I wanted him to know that I'd always be here to listen first, then help him figure things out, that I would always be on his side. If I had scolded him for not acting sooner, if I had shamed him for being afraid, if I had reacted rashly rather than taking a lesson from him, I might just miss any future chances to influence the unfolding of my son's self confidence and to shape his moral compass.

So parents, when your child confides in you in instances such as this, when they are faced with navigating life's hard decisions as they will undoubtedly be, pause and proceed with care. Remember, they're new at all this and they're learning from you. Be open. Listen. Then help.


Holly and Jenn