A. and H. are our daughters, they are four and two respectively.
A: “Sh…she…shee pushed me over” The words dribbled out of her mouth between sobs and gulps of snot.
I saw the whole thing, my body tensing as they clumsily ran into one another, watching anxiously for blood, and when that check cleared, I knew one of them would get up and run my way. At least I was hoping they would be able to get up, and A. did.
Me: “No she didn’t sweety. You guys ran into one another and you fell”
A: “No, no she pushed me. She’s laughing”
Me: “It was an accident. She’s in the other room. She doesn’t know why she’s laughing. You okay to play?”
A:”I think so.”
Me: “Well, be careful and go play.”
I thought we were back on track, but A. went into the other room to blame H. for running into her. A grab of the arm, bonk of the head, running to me for protection, and ‘breaks’ in their rooms followed.
This misunderstanding, and subsequent exchange that ended negatively, got me thinking about ‘accidents’, specifically accidents that take place between strangers in public, and even more specifically about accidents that take place between kids and adults in public.
Every outing in public presents a chance to teach kids about manners, and, as a bonus, usually offers the chance to explain the importance of respecting other people’s space. When our kids bump into people, or get too close to them in public, reactions range from gentle pats on their heads with reassuring smiles to let us know that they understand, to darting eyes and quick movements to make it clear that they don’t think our kids are cute.
I want our kids to be respectful, but I don’t want them to fear people. I don’t want them to walk/run around worrying about what might happen if they bump into someone – carefully thinking about every step they take. We want them to run free, and if they lose track of where they are and make contact with another human, so be it, they can practice their ‘excuse me’s’ or say sorry, and move on, but some people think, judging by the looks we’ve gotten, and perhaps gave before we had kids, that kids need to be on leashes. If you are kept on a leash, how do you learn boundaries and results for your actions? If I tried to control every collision that occurred in our home I’d constantly be on edge. Our kids need to learn that not every hurtful interaction was intended to be hurtful, sometimes we just ‘bang into one another’.
My Papa Sense tells me: We shouldn’t live our lives fearing what might happen – that’s obvious and obviously limiting, but I think that it starts when we stifle our children’s movement and exposure to situations in public because they’re unpredictable and might upset someone.
Do you avoid situations so you don’t have to ‘deal’ with the possibility that those interaction may occur? I know we have. I said, at the time, that it was out of respect – really, it was out of fear.