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What would you do?

A few weeks ago, I was on a weekend trip at a lakeside campground.  While on the beach I had a front row seat to a developing drama between a father and his preschool-aged son who didn't want to go in the water.  I watched with amusement as the father coaxed and pleaded with his son to go into the water with him, but his son was scared that the minnows would bite him.  So as soon as his father tried to take his hand and lead him into the water, the child would have none of it and would run up to the picnic table and stand on top of it and refuse to get down.  This scene played out just a few feet in front of me making it hard for me to conceal my amusement.  The father tried to reach for him, but the child would elude him and run to the other side of the picnic table. 


This went on for a few more minutes when finally the father caught his son and the son angrily yelled at his dad for pressuring him to go into the water.  My amusement quickly evaporated when I saw the father get angry and grab his young son by the front of his shirt and pull him towards him.  The child was suddenly frightened and I kept looking, now it was out of concern and worry.  


The father then noticed that I had been watching and sheepishly apologized for the "noise show" as he put it.  I took the opportunity to try to talk to him and diffuse the situation and maybe plant a seed of parental insight into the father's head.   I don't know how much wisdom I imparted but the father vented about his ex-wife who he said was making his son afraid of everything and had probably been the one who told him that minnows would bite him.  I think he figured it out that he was really angry with his ex-wife and had been taking it out on his son.  Whatever his conclusion was, his mood seemed to calm down and they left seemingly peaceably.  


Should I have intervened?  It wasn't any of my business, but it wasn't a fair fight and the father's behavior was maybe one step away from being outright abusive.   And whether it's a client or not, I won't stand by and watch someone be abused, especially a child.  


The take-away here is that kids need to have their bodies and personal space and emotional make up respected.  Of course it's unreasonable to think that minnows can actually harm a human being, but that wasn't the issue there.  The father missed the point that when he's with his son, he's always "on duty" on some level, and part of his duty is teaching his son how to handle emotions, and to teach his son that he has rights and can say no to things he doesn't want to do.  Later on that same father who was chiding his son for being afraid of doing something the father wanted him to do, is going to want his son to not get chided into doing other things for fear of being called a "fraidy cat" or whatever insults kids use these days when someone doesn't want to do something that could lead to trouble.  I'm thinking drugs, petty crimes, risky behaviors.  


The bigger picture is that that child needs to learn that he can say no to unwanted requests and to learn to trust that his boundaries will be respected.  The child also needs to learn that his parents are safe and to be trusted, and to have his feelings taken seriously even if it is about something as small as minnows. 

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