ASK A MOM: A good apology, gender reveal parties, and rules for rough-housing
WBTV’s Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions
Q: I have a weird problem. My 4 yr old was at a play date at her friend’s house who has a pet hamster. She got really excited to hold the hamster and squeezed too hard…and now they don’t have a pet hamster anymore. The parents were really understanding when I offered to replace it and said not to worry about it, but their daughter is still really mad at mine. How we smooth this over with the other kid?—Name withheld
A: Umph. This is hard. I’m sure we all understand why the child is upset and wants someone to blame. A 4-year-old’s mind isn’t developed enough to know it was an accident. She only sees that the pet she loves is gone.
Even if the parents were calm—they’re adults who understand your daughter didn’t try to hurt the hamster—they’re still most likely dealing with feelings of loss with their own child. Sounds like they’re kind enough to not lay that guilt at your feet. My gut reaction would be to get them a nice pet store gift card and mail it in a sincerely written note. Don’t tell them it’s coming. They can then either acknowledge it and thank you, or use it on their own time and never say a word. Either way, you shouldn’t worry about their reaction. You were doing something to show your regret, without making them talk about it. That’s kindness on your part.
As for the children’s relationship going forward, 4-year-olds can hold a grudge, says Clinical Psychologist Dr. Laura Markham. If a child feels there is some injustice in the world that’s not being addressed—whether we as adults agree with how that child sees it—they can feel misunderstood. Dr. Markham says the best way to handle that is to talk about it directly so they can air their feelings. Even as young as 4.
To be clear, in this particular situation about the hamster, it’s best for the child’s parents to have that conversation with the child. Not you.
“Once an adult connects, if the child is willing to talk, often it can be worked through,” says Dr. Markham on the website, KidsInTheHouse.com. “If not, it’s because the child actually has some big feelings that they need to get out. Sometimes kids can get those feelings out… sometimes elementary-aged kids can get those feelings out by telling stories about it.”
Dr. Markham says letting a child talk about an incident they believe was unfair validates their perspective. For young kids without larger vocabularies, making a book and drawing pictures about what’s bothering them (with an adult’s help) can be effective.
“Sometimes when you make a book like that,” she says, “children ask to read it a few times and there’s some sort of healing that goes on.”
I’d add again, it’s not your place to broach a “feelings” conversation with the other child. If the parents receive a gift card or letter you sent and bring it up with you, then you could ask them how their daughter was doing. But at some level here, it’s out of your hands. Lean in on the fact both girls are 4 years old with lots of friendship ahead, and at some point, this situation will pass.
Q: Are you supposed to bring a baby gift to a gender reveal party?—Casey
A: Not necessary.
And yet, people will.
I’ve been to a few and have seen beautifully-wrapped gifts that generally hold small gender-neutral items. I’ve taken a few green onesies to parties myself. According to gifts.com, something nicer than what I’ve taken would’ve been appreciated.
An idea I like and started doing the past few years (whether I can make the party or not) is to give a small donation to a local charity that helps preemies or works with children in some capacity. I donate in the name of the parents and put the website or non-profit information in a card so they can learn more about that organization. That way I’m not buying yet another green/yellow/white outfit, but the people I love and want to celebrate know I care.
Q: My friend’s child is big and rambunctious and likes to rough house when he comes over. The bigger he gets, the more I’m afraid he’ll hurt my 9 yr old. I value our friendship and don’t want to hurt any feelings or correct her child’s behavior. What should I do?—Jess
A: When kids are in your home, you’re the rule maker. If a child’s friend comes to your house for dinner and they don’t take their dishes to the sink after a meal because that’s not a rule in their own home, it’s easy to explain they do when under your roof.
But to your point, Jess, that concept of “rules in your home” can be harder to implement if they center around the level of rough-housing, body types, and 9-year-olds at different developmental stages. I took your question to two local professionals for their takes. One man, one woman.
“It sounds like the friend may struggle with self-regulation—meaning the ability to moderate thoughts, feelings and behavior—and self-awareness—the personal boundaries and understanding how one is being perceived by others,” says Ryan Kelly, a psychologist with Southeast Psych who is also an author (find him on Twitter at @DrRKelly). “Although it isn’t your responsibility to ‘correct,’ it is your responsibility to address. I would encourage you to speak with your friend warmly and non-judgmentally about how much you value their child and the relationship they share with yours, as well as your related concerns (e.g. your child being inadvertently hurt). Furthermore, you could let them know that you are going to implement new structures of play in the house, like no play fighting or physical touching outside of high-fives, until your child can better learn to set personal boundaries when rough-play is involved.”
Moving forward, he says it’s your job to maintain those new rules of play and it’s on you to follow-up and inquire about your friend’s feelings on the matter.
“Actively listen and validate where you can,” he says. “Remember, your thoughts and feelings as a friend and parent matter, too—if they are your friend, they will not resent you for expressing them.”
Juliet Kuehnle, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, came at it from this point of view (find her on IG at @yepIgototherapy):
“My first thought, is that I’m curious what her 9-year-old thinks about it, if anything,” she says. “We want to let kids have room to express their limits, and at times have to help with giving them the language… but maybe there’s a chance he finds it fun? I’d check in with your kiddo, not by leading, but just something like, ‘Hey, do you like when ___ comes over to play? Do you want to have him over soon?’”
She says if the answer is no, then gently prompt with open-ended questions. Those answers could help you discern if he knows how to set boundaries or advocate for himself.
“It’s more work for the parent, but you could also curate the play dates a bit—maybe going to a park will feel more comfortable than seeing ‘rough-housing’ in the living room,” Kuehnle says. “We always want to have compassion for the different ways kids learn and play, but if it truly is dangerous or persistent even after this mom’s child has tried to stand up for himself, she needs to have an assertive conversation with her friend. A script like that could start with, ‘I’ve noticed ___ is more into physical play than my kiddo, and I’m having trouble knowing if my child can hang. Can we brainstorm to find a different way to play together?’”
If you’re worried enough to be asking advice, follow your gut. Talk with the child’s parents first, especially as you say you value the friendship, but keep the conversation away from body types, and more about the type of play. Asking them what rules they have for play dates and “rough-housing” is totally fair, and a good way to get into the conversation.
Hope you guys are hanging in there; can’t believe it’s nearly Halloween. Keep sending questions… Charlotte Parent will keep having me search out answers for you next month. Until then, see you tonight at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., or 11 p.m.
@Molly_Grantham on IG
MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.