Lessons Through Limits

Something happened this morning that I thought unfolded in an interesting way. I overheard my oldest son asking his brother if he would switch backpacks with him “for the whole year”.

As innocent as this sounds, alarms went off in my head. The two of them had just had a conflict yesterday stemming from a baseball card trade in which not all information had been disclosed to both parties. And, more importantly (since I think we made it through that battle alive and smarter), my oldest son REALLY wanted that Yankees backpack for school. Why would he want to trade it? My middle son is not as into baseball, and he probably would have traded his A’s backpack, both because he’s kind of an every-team fan, and because he has a tendency to want to make life easier for his brother (that for another blog post!).

Without thinking too much about it, I walked into the room and said, kindly but firmly, “No, you may not trade backpacks.” As you might imagine, I was interrogated… and yelled at.

“Why not? I didn’t even want that backpack! YOU told me to get it. Don’t you remember!!!” Hmmm. In fact he was right. He had asked me whether he thought he should get a Yankees backpack or an A’s or Giant’s one (our local teams), and I did say I thought he’d be happier with the Yankees pack, since he’s a real fan. He knows the current and past players and the paths they took to get on the team. He knows their stats…and their birthdays.

I asked my oldest if “something had happened”. He said it had, and tears started streaming down his cheeks. I asked what had happened, and as he cried, he recounted the story of a couple of boys in his class who had thrown his backpack onto the ground, saying that they hated the Yankees. I assured him that it was these boys’ actions that needed to be addressed, not his backpack. He perked up.

I said, “Listen. You get to be you with all that that means, and you get to stand up for what you believe.” True, some of us (though not all) may think that baseball loyalties are trivial, but he will undoubtedly find himself in many situations in which he likes something or believes in something different from the crowd, and I want him to know that that’s okay. As the tears subsided, he listened intently as I explained that teasing about choices we make (whether they are the team we root for or the hairstyle we choose) is as unacceptable as teasing about things like someone wearing glasses or being overweight.

I suggested that if he wanted to, he could approach his friends and let them know that he doesn’t like them taking his backpack and teasing him about liking the Yankees, and he could remind them that they can be friends and like different sports teams. I told him that if he needed more help with the situation, he could ask his teacher, or come back to me.

When I dropped him off at school, he said to me, “I don’t want to do it.”

I said, “You don’t have to. Do it if you want, and let me know if you need help. Have a great day. I love you.” He walked into the classroom, and before I left, was already chatting with one of the “Yankee-hating” boys.

I haven’t picked him up yet, so I don’t know how it all played out. My guess is that it didn’t come up again. Whatever happened, I’m grateful that I was aware enough to set a limit that offered my son the opportunity to offload some feelings, and me a teachable moment.

Tosha Schore, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor
Tosha teaches a special Building Emotional Understanding class for parents of boys starting September 12th

2 thoughts on “Lessons Through Limits

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I have been in many similar situations (i.e. when my kids were “trading” belongings and it didn’t feel right to me). Usually, I assume that the big one is trying to take advantage of the littler one. I love how you got deeper into your older son’s feelings and gave him a safe, comfortable space to express them. Also, you gave him so much support while still giving him the chance to make decisions about next steps. How empowering for him. Thank you for sharing this teachable moment with all of us.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the story! I should add on the real live ending now too… So, my son came home from school that day and said, “I did it.” I said, “Great!” and asked what he’d said. He told me he didn’t want to share the details, but that they “agreed” and “everything was okay”. I was happy that he took the initiative to solve the problem in a way that worked for him. This was a few days ago now, and he’s been happily carrying his Yankee backpack to school ever since…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s