Friday, February 10, 2012

Stepping Back, Not Forward

You’re on the playground and your five-year-old son pushes another boy down while playing a game of tag. You see children being children, no harm done; the other mother sees a playground bully preying on her child.

As any mother can attest, situations like the one above are fraught with drama. If you’re the mother of the pusher, you can feel judged and embarrassed. If you’re the mother of the pushee, you can feel angry and scared for your child’s wellbeing.

Used with permission from
That scenario happened to me earlier this week, with my son being the one who pushed another child down while playing a game with a group of boys, all around the same age. Boys of a certain age tend to be play a bit rough. None of the boys were being mean or vicious—and I keep a close eye on my two boys to ensure their play does not stray into that territory. I know my oldest son can get carried away with his play and become too rough, and I try to nip that tendency in the bud.

I feel in general that we as parents, and particularly as mothers, have become oversensitive about our expectations for our children’s behavior and the behavior of other children. With the pushing incident, I felt the other mother wanted me to discipline my child for something I wasn’t even sure he had done. The other mother was visibly upset and angry, even though her son was back playing as if nothing had happened.

Sometimes, we strive too hard to please everyone with our parenting—and that can lead to us to make mistakes and not parent effectively. Sometimes, it’s harder to let children be children, and to let them work through their own squabbles without interfering.

My goal with my children has been to be as hands-off as possible, to let them figure things out on their own whenever possible, to train them how to resolve conflicts as they grow (and with siblings, there’s plenty of opportunity for that!), and to just be kids. Allowing our kids the chance to grow in their own can be a beautiful thing. That doesn’t mean we turn them completely loose, or that we ignore bad behavior, but that we step back from them more often than we step forward into their lives.

And keeping a little perspective on the playground, helps, too.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at, where she blogs about working from home.


  1. Oh Sarah, it seems like my oldest is always the one doing this. I wouldn't say he's intentionally mean, but when he gets excited, he can be pretty rough. Thanks for the advice!

  2. Can we just play in a bubble, please? :P

    1. Ah yes, those play bubble seem to solve all the trouble, except for actually giving our kids social interaction. Now why can't our children just be perfect?