“Mommy, can I ask you a question?” Rachel asked as her mom tucked her in.
“Of course!” Mom braced herself. Rachel usually just blurted out questions, so this intro was a signal that it was probably going to be intense.
“Travis keeps rubbing my tushy and calling me ‘honey’ and blowing me kisses even when I tell him to stop. What should I do?”
Last week Rachel had said that she was going to marry Travis.
Mom already knew that Travis often started fights with boys in their kindergarten class, but this was a shocker.
Mom asked me for feedback, so I started by asking, “How did you handle it?”
“I’ve taught myself that when I have those moments where the sirens go off inside me and I want to scream and hurt someone, that’s a red flag to do three things. First, pause, take a deep breath, stay calm and don’t freak out. Second, in a calm tone, speaking slowly, affirm that I’m glad she came to me. Third, start by asking questions, and do a lot of listening.”
I told mom I thought that was a great strategy.
She recounted their conversation to me. She started by asking Rachel, “How did that make you feel?”
“I didn’t like it,” Rachel replied, “I told him to stop. I even wrote him a letter about it.”
“Good for you. How do you think I could help?” mom asked.
After a thoughtful pause, Rachel replied, “Maybe you could tell my teacher.” Of course mom had planned to tell the teacher from the instant she had heard what was happening.
“That’s a great idea. Then she’ll know to keep a closer eye on Travis. That’ll help you and everyone in your class. I’ll email her tonight and talk to her tomorrow. Can you think of anything else?”
After another pause Rachel said, “Maybe you or my teacher could talk to Travis’ parents.”
“That’s another great idea. Then they could talk with him the way we’re talking together. I’ll do that, too, but let’s also practice some things you can do directly.” Mom affirmed that Rachel has the right not to be touched like that. She initiated a role-play, guiding Rachel to make eye contact with Travis, point a finger at him and say, with a clear, strong voice, “Travis, you have no right to touch me like that: STOP!” They discussed it and practiced.
At the end of their conversation she asked her daughter, “So, with you being prepared and your teacher and all the parents knowing what happened, do you feel better now?”
“Yeah, a lot better.”
“I’m so glad you talked to me about this. This is so important.”
“I’m glad, too.”
“Goodnight,” they both said with a sweet kiss and hug.
I told mom that I thought she had done a fabulous job in a tough moment. And I explained that I thought the most significant aspect of the story wasn’t anything about Rachel and Travis: it was about Rachel and mom. The fact that her daughter came to her in the first place is a sign that she’s successfully created that open and safe space that’s so essential for kids to thrive. And the fact that she handled it so lovingly, comfortably, and effectively bodes well for their future. “Stuff like this is going to happen. We’d like to think it wouldn’t start in kindergarten! But it did. The most important thing that happened that night is that your response told your daughter, ‘You can talk to me about anything, and those conversations will help you grow up. A+, mom!’ ”
I believe in the power of storytelling and learning from each other’s stories. Parenting is a tough job, and I’m hoping that this mom’s three steps will be helpful to other parents. I’d love to hear your stories, too. You can reach me anytime at Vivian@VivianPetersOops.com.
The views expressed above are solely those of the author and not those of Planned Parenthood.