Helping Children Deal With Difficult People

As I parent I think a lot about (read: obsess over) what is an appropriate level of guidance when it comes to helping my kids deal with people and circumstances that make them uncomfortable. Too little involvement and I'm dismissive and uncaring. Too much interference and I'm a hovering helicopter. It's challenging to find a balance to what can basically be summed up as: How do I help my children navigate situations that suck?

Here's an example:

We had some acquaintances (with kids roughly the same ages as the Agents) over one day. The kids were playing in the back yard, and one boy in particular simply took things too far. He starting hitting Agent J with a toy, in the back, as she was trying to get away. She wasn't as hurt physically as she was stunned that it happened. I had to take her aside and calm her down a bit before she was willing to go back to playing.

The kid didn't put forth any effort to make amends, and when his mom came over to offer her sorry not sorry, it was easy to see why. She explained that the reason her precious bundle was so aggressive is because he's a boy (don't even get me started), he's not used to playing with girls (um, or humans?), that Agent J should have fought back harder (victim blaming, much?), and essentially it wasn't his fault because Agent J didn't tell him to stop (not that he shouldn't have been pummeling her in the first place). When we all returned outside, this same boy proceeded to hit his mother with the same toy (on purpose) while she stood there mumbling something about well as long as it's not in the face. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

After they left, all three Agents asked me repeatedly why he was so mean and why his mommy didn't care that he hurt Agent J. I had to delicately explain that maybe he didn't understand how to act around friends and he didn't have someone to show him the right way. The Senior Agents flat out asked, We don't have to see them again, do we? Even Agent A, whom I wasn't even sure picked up on the nuances of what happened, kept asking, Who was that boy who was so rough? Do we have to play with him? Why did he hurt my sister? Oy.

And another example:

This week I took all three Agents to a new dentist. Looking back now, I should have cancelled and tried somewhere else when 1. it took forever to get an appointment and 2. the office staff seemed incredibly unorganized the couple of times I talked to them on the phone. But, local acquaintances raved about this particular dentist as being so terrific with little ones, and although he's a family dentist and not a pediatric dentist we decided to give it a shot.

The office was small, and didn't seem particularly kid-friendly, and the check-in confusing, but I figured it would be worth it if we could get all three Agents through a dental cleaning and exam painlessly with this supposedly great, gentle, amazing with young kids dentist.

{Side note: I've learned that when folks say so-and-so is good with kids, they usually mean good with "easy" well-behaved cooperative kids who do exactly what you expect them to. Any curveballs, and "good with kids" goes right out the window. We had a similar issue with Agent J's swim lessons. Again, people gushed about the instructor, and while she seemed okay with kids who were really into it, she didn't have any clue what to do with a kid who was hesitant or fearful. She ended up pushing too hard and trying to use some crazy reverse psychology on her, to the point where Agent J not only became scared of the water but also doubted her own abilities. Awesome.}

Anyway, dentist. We should have turned around and left. From the long wait just to get started (even though the waiting room was basically empty) to the fact that they were not capable of seeing two kids at a time (after I was assured on the phone they would see Agents J and A together to minimize wait time), to my discovery that I could barely fit in the exam room, let alone have Agent A with me, so my choices were send the girls back alone or leave my four-year-old unsupervised in the waiting room. Ugh.

Agent J went first, and her experience was not stellar but not terrible either, and so when they finally took Agent A back I squeezed in the room and thought maybe it won't be so bad. Then they proceeded to get harsh with him for not being able to lie still. (I mean, nothing like leaving a preschooler in a room the size of a shoe box with limited things to do for 90 minutes and then asking him to sit patiently while someone pokes his mouth. I can't imagine why that didn't work.)

While I was still trying to convince Agent A to cooperate, Agent E went back (alone) for her turn. Now Agent E may be the oldest, but she is the one I most need to be right there in the room with during dental procedures. She is more sensitive, has more sensory issues with the tools, and needs an advocate more than the other two. This should have been the giant red flag waving in my face.

To make a long story short, the dental hygienist scared Agent E (both because she didn't explain what she was doing before she did it and because she kept going on and on about how Agent E would definitely need braces one day). Then dentist came in (after Agent E was already on edge) and clearly showed he is one of those aforementioned people who have no idea how to deal with kids who need extra reassurance and don't respond in a preprogrammed way.

{I should add here that at this point, I was so concerned about Agent E that I had no choice but to leave Agent A in the waiting room under Agent J's supervision and hope for the best.} 

I could tell she was super uncomfortable, and the dentist had the nerve to scoff when she looked at me before answering when he asked her a question. The final straw was when they found out we homeschool and the dentist thought this was a perfect opportunity to quiz Agent E on multiplication. Then reprimand her for not knowing the answer quickly enough and for touching her fingers while she counted.

Of course it was one of those situations where you don't realize how bad it is until your in the middle of it, and then what do you do? It's easy for me to say now, we should have walked out the door. We should have never attempted to go to a non-pediatric doc in the first place. I should have spoken up sooner and been more of an advocate for my kids. I realize that sometimes this happens because of my own ingrained be a good girl and don't ruffle feathers persona. 

There's a point in here somewhere

Which brings me (finally) to my point: I don't feel that my kids (or any kids) need to learn to "deal with it" or that I should stay out of it and force them to continue dealing with these types of people because it will "toughen them up" or other such nonsense. I want them to spend time with same-age peers and other adults who will build them up, not tear them down. We will no longer be seeing with the Oddly Aggressive Family Who Excuses Bad Behavior, nor will we be repeat patients at the Dentist Office That Doesn't Realize Children Are Actually People With Feelings. I want to purposefully seek out favorable influences for them, especially while they are young and extremely impressionable. I don't want to put them in situations where they are being bullied (by other kids or adults) and have them sink or swim. If this makes me overprotective, then so be it.
Call me a helicopter and judge if you must, but I consider it my duty as a parent of young children to keep them away from people and situations where post-interaction damage control is needed. If I have to debrief my kids after we spend time with you, we probably don't want to be spending time with you.
Of course, some of these "damage control" conversations have also provided great learning opportunities as well. Doesn't mean I want to encourage conditions where I know they'll be necessary. And lest you think I'm just trying to save them from all disappointment, rest assured they have had plenty of that occur naturally in their short lives without me creating more to make a point.


  1. Amen, sista!!! I so get it (both examples) and applaud you for your mindful presence in protecting your children. My three oldest are roughly the same ages as your Agents and they seem so similar in temperament. Is nice to read a blog from summertime who gets it! Xoxo, Erika ( is my blog)

  2. Someone not summertime! Lol autocorrect...

  3. Thanks so much, Erika. I will stop by and visit your blog. Have a great weekend.