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To the parent of the child who hurt mine

By Lianne Zilm 3 min read
Sunday, February 07, 2021

It may have been an accident or it may have been intentional . . . regardless, the damage has been done.

The events seem to always unfold in slow motion. Sometimes I watch the incident occur; the push, the hit, the kick, the bite. Sometimes I don’t, but am alerted that something is wrong when I hear my child cry out in pain and shock. As I rush to my child’s side, my facial expressions may reflect how I feel, but just know that they may not linger.

The damage may be minimal or sometimes it may be more serious than that. It may have been an accident or it may have been intentional. Sometimes the pain of social rejection may be more than the physical hurt, but regardless, the damage has been done.

Please, do not feel guilty.

Please know that I do not hold you accountable for your child’s decisions. Children are children, after all, and are still learning how the world works and how their actions affect other people. For whatever reason your child lashed out, please know that I do not blame you. I have been in your position before—all too many times—and I know the shame that you may be experiencing right now.

I'm sure there's a back story to this incident, which may help us understand the reason it happened. Maybe it was my own child who instigated it and your child simply reciprocated. There may have been a miscommunication or a situation where the children could not find their words, so used actions to speak. Or maybe it was a malicious act, a poor decision that would definitely be worth discussing afterwards.

I also try to consider your child: Were they perhaps tired or hungry, and their judgement was clouded by their immediate needs? Maybe they were on the receiving end just moments before and chose to then release their frustrations on another child. Maybe they just need to work on their negotiation skills and would benefit from a bit of space to work through big feelings. Perhaps there may even be a hidden disability that only shows itself when conflict arises.

Whatever the reason, what’s done is done, so let us move forward from here.

I have seen many responses from here, ranging from you shouting at your child to you hiding behind your coffee cup with complete apathy.

My suggestion is, just come and talk to me, and let us work it out parent to parent. Do not force your child to apologise, especially if they are still upset and are not in a good mental space to admit wrongs. Your apology is fine and checking that my child is okay would certainly be appreciated. If there is more to it, I am happy to discuss it, but if not, that will do. If this is the first time your child has done this, trust me when I say it will not be the last.

Let me deal with my child. Let me wipe their tears, let me calm their anger and explain why they should not fight back. Let my child speak to me, tell me their side of the story or simply express the feelings they need to express. My child is resilient; they will be fine, but give me the space to ensure they are feeling safe and loved.

Do not dwell on the incident, but consider how you will address this with your child. Yes, please talk to your child, reprimand if you have to, but do it in love. Do it with the understanding that your child just had a momentary lapse of judgement, but they are still good children who are trying to navigate playground politics.

Help them reflect on the situation and the consequences it brought, but also help them think of better ways to express their frustrations. I don’t expect you to do it there and then, but I do hope that you will give them an opportunity to learn from this incident.

Reassure them that they are worth more than their actions and that regardless of their mistakes, they have your unconditional love.

And then, my fellow parent, remember to return the favour. In some playground in the not-so-near future, when your child is on the receiving end of the hurt, please extend grace to the parent who might be feeling as guilty as you did.

We are all on our individual parenting journeys, but it is these shared experiences and sentiments that bring us together and help us support the village in which our children grow in.

A supportive community of mums

Lianne Zilm is a mother of three children under eight and lives in Adelaide. She is also the moderator of our Adelaide Mums At The Table group and regularly organises meet-ups with mums.