Your Best Parenting
Just Got Better
Dealing with Bullies 

Too Little For Sandbox

This is a playground story with a twist. (When sharing this story live, audiences are usually astounded.) Aston was newly four. He already stood out on playgrounds because he was a gentle soul and I could usually hear him saying “Excuse me guys!” as he ran past kids in tight spots.

On this day, I had some client work to do and he wanted to hit the sandbox. I settled on the bench where I could see, but not hear him, as he happily high-tailed it over to the sand pit. In under a minute he was tearing back to me; I could hear the panicked tone of his cries.
After scooping him up and checking for injuries he clued me in, saying, “The big boys say I’m too little and I can’t come in the sandbox!” with a pitiful wail. This was his first public rejection and my heart ached for him in that moment. I thought: this will not weigh on his mind past a week, if I have anything to say about it.

I told him I was sorry it happened and I knew what it felt like to be left out. We gave his feelings some names; like mad and sad, and then I said, “Well, the sandbox is for everyone. Those boys cannot keep you out. But I bet I know what they were doing, they were trying to use their power over you.”
Now I had his attention.

“If you want to, you can go back to the sandbox. I’ll practice with you what to say to the boys and you can keep your power.”

“I don’t want to go back.” He was clear about this.

“OK, well do you know what I think?”


“It sounds like those boys are not in charge of much in their house. That’s why when they come to the playground; they look for littler guys to try to take their power. Isn’t that kind of sad?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Now when you come to the playground, you don’t have to steal power from any kids, do you?”

“No, I’m in charge of lots of stuff.”

“I was just thinking that.”

At this point he said, “Maybe their parents need Super Nanny.” (He had just seen some footage of an episode and was astounded as what he called “Crazy, no agreement families.”)

We laughed about that as I put away my work. We spent the rest of our time together having fun on all the other stuff he loved.

When I tell this story to an audience, this is the point where a hand usually goes up to ask, ‘Why didn’t you say something to the boys who treated him so poorly?’ Here is what I knew; if I spent time, energy and attention tracking down those boys then being upset with them, they not only took Aston’s power, they hijacked mine. I was not interested in feeding that animal. I never even saw their faces.

Now, over the next three days (a lifetime to a new four-year-old) Aston would at times ask questions and start conversations about this incident as he processed what happened to him and his feelings about it. He went through many different spaces and scenarios. I didn’t try to discourage his fantasies. I recognized them as a natural way to express himself without judging their practical application.

One storyline included him and his perfectly capable younger cousin finding the boys’ house and fighting them. I asked him what would happen after that. He supplied jail as the outcome on his own, then dismissed that plan. Another vision had the police arresting the boys and telling their parents what they did. That was my favorite.

During these discussions I realized what was important was that the incident did not linger in his mind or affect his assessment of himself. I began to suggest ways he could keep his power, no matter what happened to him. We created other scenarios and imagined him doing just this. (Here I will underscore the fact that without a DVD in the van, we tend to have our best conversations on the road.)

I also wanted to explore forgiveness of the boys and compassion for their choices, since they obviously were not lucky enough to know about their own power. (It was during this talk that I saw a whole new direction.) I realized that for the last three days, I had enjoyed amazing opportunities to connect with my child and coach him through one of the first (of many) defining moments of his young life. More than that, I now had created a blueprint on how to do that for him again and again. Kind of neat.

On that day we actually thanked the boys, out loud, for acting as they did, and were grateful for the experience since it caused us talking about really important things that we maybe would not have otherwise. Interestingly, that was the last time he brought it up.

Now, the first time I shared this, the audience was silent at this point with their own thoughts about where the story had ended up. Their sense of right and wrong was all mixed up, as intended. It is one of my favorite memories to recall Aston’s preschool teacher, Ms. Shannon, sharing that all that year, when someone tried to exclude someone else on the playground, Aston was frequently heard saying, “The sandbox is for everyone.”
Parenting Tips, Parenting Resources, Parenting Advice by Parent Coach Dawn Roth  
Home  ::  About Us  ::  Services  ::  Articles  ::  Contact Us
Associates  ::  Friends  ::  Privacy Policy  ::  HTML Site Map
Copyright © 2008, 2009 Licensed 2 Parent.  All Rights Reserved.