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I picked up my kids yesterday and could immediately tell something was off with my youngest. It was obvious he was bothered by something, but wasn’t forthcoming with anything. I let it go and gave him space but just before we got home, I heard him crying.

I asked him about it and encouraged him to talk and after some time he finally let it pour out. Apparently, when they were out for dinner, he had been teased by other people at the table. He was teased about a topic that is already particularly sensitive for him and he was feeling hurt by it all.

As his sobs continued, my heart broke a little for him.

So many emotions flooded through me. I felt empathy, sadness, a little angry and annoyed. My first thoughts were wanting to comfort my son, to make the hurt go away and help remind him what a beautiful person he is and that he doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. My next thoughts were that I needed to talk to those involved, let them know the impact of their actions and encourage them to not do it again in the future.

But then I realized, doing that would be a huge disservice to my son.

As a mother, I hate witnessing my child feeling hurt. There is an innate feeling for most of us parents to shield our children from pain and hurt. But, I can’t protect him from being hurt…and do I really want to anyway? There have been many times in my life where it’s felt painful in the moment, but it’s brought about the most amazing gifts and become an impetus for me to grow and change. Would I want to take that away from my child?

I realized, if I went to those people it would be me trying to get them to change. I would essentially be teaching my son the very things I am working so hard to turn around in my own life. We cannot ever change anyone else and if we are feeling hurt about something, it’s an opportunity to look inside. We can only ever change what we feel and what we do and looking to others to change so we feel better could set my son up for a lifetime of feeling powerless, it may hold him back and possibly set him on a path of unhappiness and discontent.

So, I proceeded in the way I’m learning to live myself. I showed him great empathy and expressed how much he is loved and supported. I helped my son know that he can’t change what others say or do, but he can change himself. He can also choose to learn from situations like these and make different choices for himself, both now and in the future. I explained that it was his job to just keep feeling the best he can about himself and keep being the person he knows he is deep down inside.

I also helped him see a different perspective of the situation. I could see how the people there were likely just doing what they know, how I was very sure they would never have done that if they thought they would hurt him, and how I would guess they thought they were actually trying to connect with him, thinking they were playing with him in some way, not hurting him. I helped him know he can change the way he looks at the situation so he can feel better about it and perhaps even look at it as an opportunity to learn more and grow.

One can never know how these lessons will end up, but as a parent, I feel I good about how I processed that experience last night. It ended up being an important lesson for both me and him and another opportunity for us to learn and grow.