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It’s been awhile since I’ve had to figure out how to respond to a real physical conflict between my daughter and a friend.  Last weekend, I got my opportunity!

We have the most amazing and dear neighbors who moved in this past Fall.  It was such a blessing to us because we live in the country and scheduling play dates for our kids is not always easy.  I really missed the days when kids could knock on the door and ask to play after school.

Really, we couldn’t have lucked out more than we did with our new neighbors.  Not only were they just down the gravel road from us, but the genders and ages are perfect for our kids.  They have a 7 year old girl and a 4 year old boy – just like us!

Once we established that the ages were a match we scheduled some after school play dates and discovered that the little group was very compatible.  It’s been so much fun for us, as parents, and for the kids to have a connection so close by to another family.

Last weekend, all went fairly well on a typical play date at our home. The children played until their dad came to pick them up.  Unfortunately, my daughter’s assertiveness turned into aggression toward her friend and in an effort to get her playmate to be quiet in their secret hiding spot, she smacked her with a broom out of frustration.  Her friend wasn’t at all happy and she pushed my daughter and ran to her car to go home.  To make matters worse,  all of this “went down” outside of parental vision.

I’m thankful for my daughter’s fearless honesty and her desire to be forgiven. The whole story spilled out in a tumble of tears and remorse.  I held her and companioned her through her feelings and her choice in expressing her anger with her friend.  I know that many parents may believe that these incidents happen and that they just need to be patted away or scoffed as typical kid stuff.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  After learning about better ways to cope with conflict through Kim John Payne’s Social Inclusion work, I felt prepared to help the girls through this tiff.

These moments when our children are most troubled by their own moral choice is a great teachable moment in their life.  How we confront our fear and embarrassment when we do something that is not kind or appropriate is a big life lesson.  I explained to my daughter that I would call our neighbor’s and check in on her friend to see if she is alright and to find a time that we could all talk about what happened.

Of course, she was really scared and upset that I would call and talk about what she did.  As my child’s spiritual mentor, it is necessary for me to help navigate through these scary and challenging moments for her.  I assured her that no one was angry with her but that it is important that we let their family know that she is sorry for what she did.

So, I called and spoke to our fantastic neighbors. They shared that their child was very shaken and upset and not ready to talk about it.  We agreed to hold off on a face-to-face meeting until the next morning.

An incident like this may not physically or emotionally affect your child, but for many it will.  My own daughter was very stressed, anxious, and worried.  To release her anxiety, we held her while she cried.  The next morning we talked about our scheduled visit and she cried again.

With much reluctance she came with me and we sat together on the couch – the two moms and our daughters.

Me: “Girls, no one is in trouble.  Something happened yesterday before you left and we want to talk about it.  I. shared with me that she felt frustrated that you were talking when your dad came to pick you up because she wanted all of you to hide together so he wouldn’t find you.  You were so excited that you kept talking and that’s when she hit you with the broom.  What is your understanding?” [I’m looking at our neighbor’s mom].

Neighbor’s Mom: “Yes, that sounds right. The girls were hiding and my daughter was very excited and didn’t stop talking and I. got nervous that they would be discovered so she hit her with the broom.”

Me: “Did we get the story right, girls?”

Both girls nodded, mine tearfully and burying herself into my side.

Me: “What would help make you feel better about this problem?” [I’m looking at my daughter’s friend.]

Neighbor Child: “A sorry.”

My daughter: “I want to go home.”

Me: [Gently and with empathy]. “Okay, I., I know this hard; your friend needs to hear an apology.  We want her to feel safe and happy again.  I think it will help you too. We can go home as soon as you can tell your friend something from your heart.”

We waited a bit in a friendly silence, giving my daughter the space to have the courage to apologize.  It was definitely not an easy moment for her.  And then…

My daughter: [With unsolicited eye contact, gentleness, and conviction]. “I’m sorry P.”

It was a very sweet and honorable apology and her friend responded graciously with a “thank you.”

Within a few minutes the girls were laughing and having fun again and the incident was behind them.  Later, in the car, my daughter confided in me and said, “Mom, that was really embarrassing.”  I nodded and replied, “I know sweetie. I’m so proud of you for showing so much courage in being honest about making a mistake and facing your friend to tell her you’re sorry.  That was really brave.”

I believe I’m just at the beginning of a new stage with my daughter. There are new challenges for us and I’m having to dig deep for a new level of compassion, self-discipline, and understanding myself.