Some people hesitate to acknowledge the truth kids see, know or sense. Common examples are when kids sense they’re unsafe in the presence of:
- A neighbor or a family friend or relative or someone’s unleashed pet.
- An older kid who lives next door or who’s included in family activities.
- One parent in a divorce or someone at that parent’s home.
Sometimes, adults simply don’t see the truth themselves, but more often, some adults:
- Want to maintain illusions that these close people are not actually dangerous.
- Hold back because they don’t want to say anything bad about someone like an ex or a relative.
- Have a value that it’s wrong to judge a person’s identity as bad or evil.
Some parents hesitate even when the danger is obvious and glaring.
These hesitations are wrong and very damaging to the kids. Kids need to now that they may be in dangerous situations even at home. Especially, kids need to know when what they sense is accurate.
Jane’s father had even seen his five year-old daughter yelled at, harassed and verbally and emotionally bullied by the new boyfriend of his ex, Jane’s mother. So when Jane said she was scared to go there and that the boyfriend was bad to her, he knew her fears were well-grounded. Jane also said that her mother had said that the boyfriend was a good person. Obviously, Jane was unsure what to think. But she knew what she felt.
Jane’s father was a nice person and didn’t want to think of the boyfriend as a bad person, so he hesitated in responding to Jane. He didn’t want to say that someone was bad. Also, he thought it was important for a child to see her mother often and to like her mother’s friends.
Get your hierarchy of values and priorities straight. Jane’s father is missing the point.
- Jane’s father has conflicting values and hasn’t effectively organized his priorities in a hierarchy of importance. It may be important to him not to judge or label people as “bad” or “evil,” but more important than that value is the value of protecting his child. And there’s a way he can intervene without judging the boyfriend’s identity.
- Jane is unsafe. She’s being subjected to mental and emotional bullying and abuse. Her mother may be also. And both Jane and her mother may be targets of physical abuse already or in the near future. Jane’s father must intervene effectively even though he may have difficulties because of court ordered divorce requirements or because of the possibility of starting a fight with his ex in court.
Kids need to know when their sense of things is accurate and true. A key step in developing confidence and self-esteem is learning when we can trust our estimations of people and situations even if other people disagree or our self-bullying, “monkey mind” tries to talk us out of what we sense to be true. Tremendous damage is done to kids when adults tell them not to trust their feelings, thoughts and intuitions.
Jane needs to know that she’s right. What she estimates as “not safe” and “fear” is accurate. She should not be talked out of those accurate estimations because of big and meaningless words like “compassion,” “kindness” or “being non-judgmental.” She must know that she does see the reality of the situation. Even more damaging than thinking that “love” means putting herself in dangerous and painful situations, if she’s talked out of her feelings, she’ll grow up riddled with self-doubt.
To protect Jane, we don’t need to judge the boyfriend’s identity. Jane, at age five, may think in terms of good or bad, but we don’t have to.
Thinking in those terms is usually a self-motivation strategy. Some adults generate enough anger to act only if they think in those terms. Then they often over-react because they’re so emotional.
But we can act simply when we recognize that a situation or person is dangerous. We don’t need to get into a highly emotional loop that keeps us from acting effectively. And we don’t need to label people’s identity. We can simply discern a pattern in their actions no matter what their reasons, excuses or justifications are.
In a way that a five year-old can understand, Jane’s father must acknowledge to Jane that she’s right; the situation is painful, dangerous and scary. Then he can deal with the difficulties in the situation. If Jane’s mother is also feeling abused by her new boyfriend, Jane’s father may be able to stimulate her to act without her admitting she’s done anything wrong – which might make it easier for her to act.
But Jane’s father may have to deal with difficulties in order to protect Jane. Can he get Jane’s mother to get rid of the boyfriend without going to court? Can he get documented evidence that a court would accept? Must he get a court-approved psychological evaluation, which would put Jane in the middle of choosing between her parents?
These are not easy choices. Jane’s father probably needs good legal advice before he begins.
But he must act soon. He can’t keep putting his daughter in danger.