I was at the park the other day with my daughter and overheard a conversation between a mother and daughter. Now please understand that I do not make a habit of listening in on other’s conversations. The problem was that this mother was sitting back to back from me, and she was talking a little loudly to her daughter.

Well, here’s the set up. There were two 12 year-old girls playing on a piece of playground equipment that spins around and the kids hold on. The four year-old daughter was asking her mother if she could play on this equipment with the older girls. The mother then said, “They are much bigger than you, and if you get on that with them you are going to fall off. If you fall off and get hurt and start crying, I’m not going to come over there to help you. And if you get hurt, I’m going to say, I told you so.”

So, what did the little girl do? She slumped down next to her mom, and gave up. I wanted to open my mouth and ask this mother, “Did you hear what you just told your child? Do you know how that will influence her desire to try new things? Did you see her sink down and give up? What were you thinking?”  I didn’t say anything, because my other thought was that if I say something to the mother, given what I saw, she will probably leave in a huff and then her daughter will probably hear about how much she humiliated her when that strange man commented about her daughter’s behavior.

I realize that I do not have all the information to make a sound judgment on this situation, but what I do know is that what parents say to their children goes straight to their self-image, especially at that age. I view my daughter as a priceless diamond, and everything I say and do with her is like another facet cut into that diamond. I understand that this mother may have been told the same thing when she was growing up, because I know she wasn’t the first parent to say this to their child, and we often treat our kids the same way we were treated.

I think that I feel like I have just had enough. I can’t keep quiet any longer. We, as parents, have to realize our power that we have in the eyes of our children. We have to realize that our kids don’t know our history or pain, hurt or betrayal. They love us in all of our humanness, and it is up to us to help them feel empowered, to help them realize risks and pursue the ones that they feel worth taking when looking at the options and safety considerations, while being willing to pick up the pieces when they fall.

So you may be thinking, “This little girl could get really hurt with those bigger girls. What are you thinking Dr. E…?” Well, let’s look at an option that the mother could have suggested. She could have said, “I feel concerned that if you go over and jump on that spinning wheel you could get hurt with the bigger girls on it. How about if you asked the girls if you could play on that with them, and would they go slow enough so that you wouldn’t fall off. If you would like me to go over there with you to help you, I will.” The suggestion? Be willing to work with your kids to find workable solutions. The girls may have said, “No.” Or they may have said, “Sure, we would love for you to play with us. Thanks for asking.” You won’t know unless you try.

The lesson? Encourage your child to engage in the world with wisdom. Let them know that you love them and support them in their endeavors, successes or perceived failures. They don’t deserve to hear “I told you so!” Remember, failure lets you know when it is time to learn.

Image credit: Rene Cerney

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