Making Children Feeling Safe and Important, Part 2

Featured Picture Book

PHOEBE & DIGGER by Tricia Springstubb (Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.) “When Mama got a new baby ….” things changed for Phoebe. On the good side, a new digger was her big-sister present. She loved Digger. It helped her ignore all the loud and annoying baby-stuff going on. It filled the gap of missing Mama’s time with her – just her. When Mama decided to go to the park, Phoebe was excited about taking Digger. The park had “real dirt.” Phoebe and Digger had a great time playing – until a “crybaby boy” made it seem that Phoebe wasn’t being nice. “Phoebe, can’t you just play nicely?” was Mama’s reaction. Phoebe ended up in a time-out with Mama telling her, “ … she could go play, if she knew how to be nice.” Phoebe decided she could play nicely, but then came a Digger attack. A “giant” bully girl arrived and helped herself to Digger. When neither being nice nor being naughty was successful at rescuing Digger, Phoebe was about to be just like the baby and let out an “…I’m-all-alone WAA.” But, her Mama was quick to step in and help. Being protected by Mama left Phoebe feeling totally “Safe!” – and for the first time she acted like a caring big sister.

Parenting Thoughts 
28 Sidebar 1
Should Adults Step in When There Is Trouble?

Dr. Mom:  Absolutely. But, as a helper, not a savior. Check in with the child as to what is going on. See what help is needed. Here are some options.

  • You can help children use their words and talk to the person they are having trouble with. Older children may only need you to be with them while they speak their mind. Younger children may need you to coach them about what to say and then stay with them while they say it.

Darling Daughter:  I tried this a few times with Ezzy when she was younger (4-years-old-ish). She had a hard time repeating what I said. She is shy and would not repeat my words. I guess she figured it was said once why should she say it again – the kid heard it the first time. The other child would respond to hearing my coaching and give the toy back or stop doing whatever it was they were doing leaving nothing for E. to practice. The situation was resolved. But, those few times when she spoke up she did feel empowered when another child paid attention to her words.

Dr. Mom:  I think there was some good to having E. there beside you, even when she would not speak herself. For other parents struggling with that super-shy child, here is a suggestion. At the end of your comments to the child, ask her if you got it right. Did you say what she wanted to say? If she can say “yes” or even just nod yes, that is another step forward for a very shy child.

  • If a child is angry and out of control, you can let him know that you won’t let him hurt himself or any other person or thing. Sometimes you may need to use your “friendly muscles” to keep a young child from using his muscles to hurt himself or others. It may be helpful if you stay with him while he settles down (time-in), especially if you want him to do any thinking about his behavior and how it needs to change. (For more information about time-in take a look at the book, TIME-IN by Jean Illsley Clarke and Cary Pillo.)
  • There are times when a child is being bullied that you may need to be the voice of reason with the person the child is having trouble with. It is very important that children know adults will protect them and not let anyone hurt them – also, that no one will be allowed to take or break their things. For more thoughts on bullying, check out Bullying.
Naughty or Nice?

Phoebe was told to be “nice” – not the best direction to give in my opinion – at least not without some very specific ideas about what it means to be nice. Being told to be “nice” is like being told to be “good.” It doesn’t mean much unless it is explained.

It is good to give details about what it is the child did that was nice or good. Then they know exactly what to do again in the future.  If they don’t know exactly what you expect, they are left trying to read your mind.  In my experience, psychic mind-reader is not a talent most children possess. 

A child will not easily know what nice or good behavior is in any given situation. Does being nice mean giving in all the time? Can you stick up for yourself and still be nice? Can a person be nice and still get her needs met? Is “nice” just for girls? Is there a nice way to say “no?” Can nice people insist on things? Can they be loud? These are all important questions that over time children need to collect the answers to as they grow up – with the help of the adults around them.

No, yes, yes, no, yes, yes, and yes! 🙂

Thanks for answering all those questions. I hope our readers do the same and that they answer them as honestly as possible – what they truly believe. They can then take a look at their answers and see if there are any they wish they believed differently about. If so, they can work on that.

Even naughty needs some explanation from adults. The most important thing for children to learn about being naughty is, not that Santa won’t bring presents, but that it is possible to make-up for being naughty. We need to teach children how to fix the damage or hurt that they cause. We need to help them understand that being naughty doesn’t make them horrible people. We need to help them know being naughty and all that it causes doesn’t last  forever either. They are still loved. You will teach them how to do things better. For more information about making amends see Your Child Is a Star!

One other important thing about when kids are naughty: time-in is sometimes better than time-out. Time-out is useful when a child needs to have alone time to settle down. But, we tend to expect this to also be time for children to think how to make better decisions about their actions. This is not really what happens in a lot of cases. Children can be too young or too upset to really turn time-out into “think” time. This is where time-in is useful. During time-in, an adult is spending one-on-one time with the child and helping him understand what went wrong and what would work better. This is truly think time. For more information about time-in take a look at the book, TIME-IN by Jean Illsley Clarke and Cary Pillo.

E. really seems to respond when we sit and talk about what happened – why it was wrong or not a good choice.  Sometimes we do a pretend conversation so she can think of things from someone else’s side.   Sometimes it just helps if we think of other solutions and better choices together for the next time the same situation (or one similar) comes up. E. seems to relax and calm down when we make a plan together.  I think she feels relieved that she doesn’t have to face the situation alone.

She also may be getting a better understanding about what you expect – what is “good” or “nice” – because you are figuring it out together. She leaves the situation pretty sure she can get it right the next time.

What about Tattling?

We want children to know they can and should come to an adult when they are in trouble. But, we don’t want them to be tattletales. There is a thin line between these two situations. How can children learn which is which? Children can learn the difference by asking themselves one question, “When you go tell an adult about someone’s behavior, are you trying and hoping to get someone in trouble?” If you are, it is tattling. If you are not and instead are just trying to get help for yourself, it is not tattling.

Could you also be trying to get help for someone else?

Absolutely. Thanks for pointing that out.

Don’t forget teenagers when thinking about tattling. They avoid being tattletales at all costs, but they are not always good at telling what is and what is not tattling.

They do seem to take an all or none stance on the matter, and talking to an adult about anything falls into the tattling realm.

Adults need to help teens understand that there are things that really need to be reported to adults. For example, when they hear about weapons at school or kids that plan to hurt themselves or others. This is not being a tattletale or a snitch. It is being a responsible person and looking out for their friends.

Just for Girls or Just for Boys?

28 Sidebar 2PHOEBE & DIGGER revealed many attitudes about being a boy and being a girl. In PHOEBE& DIGGER, Phoebe was a happy little girl when she was playing with what was typically a little boy’s toy. On the other hand, a little boy in the park was grossed out by dirt and worms – things Phoebe loved to play with. And interestingly, the boy was labeled as a crybaby boy as though boys shouldn’t cry or be afraid. All these attitudes in the story reminded me that boys and girls should have equal opportunity to play with whatever they are interested in, regardless of whether those things are usually only for boys or only for girls.

  • Be sure to give your children opportunities to be interested in all things. For example, boys in dolls or interior design and girls in trucks or sports.

E. was totally into trucks, diggers, and dinos.  She’s grown out of the trucks & diggers phase, but recently she had to draw a picture of what she wanted to do when she was older and she drew a picture of a ballerina paleontologist!  Quite a fashion statement at the dino dig – tutu & all.

LOL. This is a very funny site in my mind’s eye.

  • If your little girl (or boy) is involved in play that is not typical for girls (or boys), try to prevent others from making fun of her (or him). Let friends and relatives know that this is OK with you. Let them know you notice how much fun she (or he) is having right now with those toys. Mention that you expect to see completely different interests develop any time now. Tell them you have seen children switch from trucks to princess dolls or sewing to football overnight.

Yep – bye-bye diggers . . . hello mermaids!

  • Don’t be afraid to play football with your daughter or cook with your son. Show your OK with whatever he or she likes to play by asking to play right along with her (or him).

You can read Part 1 of this post at Making Children Feel Safe and Important, Part 1.

 Read All About It

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson


STICK UP FOR YOURSELF, Gershen Kaufman, Lev Raphael, and Pamela Epseland

TIME-IN: WHEN TIME-OUT DOESN’T WORK, Jean Illsley Clarke and Cary Pillo

 Surf the Internet:
  • self-esteem
  • time-in
  • time-out
  • kids making amends
  • empathy
  • sticking up for yourself
  • bullying
  • sibling rivalry
  • personal responsibility


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