Thoughtful Thursday: It Takes a Village

June 14, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday

I had my first real instance of a stranger trying to parent my child. Burrito took a toy out of a 4-year-old girl’s hand, and she burst into tears. As the girl sobbed, her mother stepped in and told Burrito that he needed to ask before taking something.

On the surface, the content of what she said was reasonable, except for a couple of things:

  • Her tone. Because of her cultural background, it came across much, much more harshly than it could have. No one has ever spoken to Burrito with that tone before.
  • Her expectations. I flashed back to a blog post that Dresden did a year ago about her then not-quite-2-year-old looking like an asshole because he’s so big for his age and therefore looked like he was 3. Burrito and Tamale are the same height as an average kid a full year older. It’s reasonable to expect that they have the capacities of 3 1/2 year olds, but they don’t.

Burrito looked at the woman, then looked at me, then burst into tears. He was inconsolable for a long, long time.

Into his 4th minute of sobbing, she looked sorrowfully at me and said, “I just told him that he should ask before he takes things.”

I replied, “He’s only 2. He doesn’t have the language to say that.”

Her eyes got big and she said, “Oh. Sorry.” And then she wandered off. Several minutes later, after a lot of processing the event, Burrito calmed down.

I have plenty of opinions about what other people’s children should be doing, but I rarely intervene. If I do speak up, I tend to do one of two things: either I give gentle reminders as a bigger kid is endangering my child, like “Be careful, there’s a little kid coming down the stairs,” or I passive-aggressively talk about the child to my kids, such as “I know you were having a turn with that, but that boy is choosing not to share.” I have little, or more likely no, influence over anyone else’s children, so all I try to do is keep my children safe and teach them how the world works.

What’s your stance on “guiding” other people’s children?

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18 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: It Takes a Village”

  1. St. Elsewhere Says:

    I am sorry about Burrito having to face this.

    (One of the things that now weighs heavily on my mind is that dear daughter is growing up, and that I will face increasing number of situations demanding my parenting skills to be appropriate, and I may not respond correctly – that it is easier to judge than be judged.)

    I talk to the parents, the elders if that is possible. I caught a kid eating snot – digging right in and putting it in the mouth straightaway (ewww….). I told the kid that it is not a good thing to do, and told the kid’s mum. Looping in the elders and those who are directly guiding the kid is perfect in this situation.

    Usually, unless there is something gross happening, I will not intervene.

  2. Anne J Says:

    Oh that is such a hard one. It’s so natural to get indignant and angry when someone upsets your child, I find nothing makes me flare up more!

    I find that in principal I think in one way and in practice when one of my children is on the receiving end of behaviour which is not ok with me or him I tend to act in another way.

    I believe that it’s better to parent my own child and not others, but when a child tries to hit, push or aggressively take from my child I will always see if the parent is going to intervene (which 9 times out of 10 they are) and if not I will intervene myself and gently but firmly tell the other child not to push/ hit/ take from before turning my attention to my child. Once this did make the other child cry but in this instance they were tantrum tears as the child was bigger than my son and was not expecting to be stopped.

    I personally would expect my two and a half year old not to take toys from another child but I would not expect him to be able to formulate the sentence that the person who told Burrito off did. The best I can hope for from my son is pointing to the item and saying “Sammy have ….(truck etc). If he then takes would’ve child then I would always tell him to give it back until the child has finished playing, and then distract him with something else until then.

  3. Mel Says:

    When it’s safety, or their parent isn’t around, I’ll say something to protect them but never to parent them (for instance, I told a child last night to step back from the Wolvog because he would have been smashed in the face by his bat. The kid thought I was yelling at him not to practice and started to walk away — he wanted to use the Wolvog’s batting stick — I called him back and explained that I just didn’t want him to get brained because the Wolvog couldn’t see behind him when he swung back. But that’s talking to a 7-year-old, not a toddler). But I’m also in a situation often when the kid is at my house for a playdate and their parent isn’t there. I have to help settle things then, but I try not to give anything preferential to my kid. When I’m the only adult there, I’m the referee.

    That said, I had to pull away from a friendship with someone who (1) didn’t parent her own child and (2) took that time she was saving not parenting her own and instead tried to parent mine. Completely contradicting our house rules.

  4. Callie Says:

    I am challenged by this one as well. We live in the city, so our kids’ “backyard” is the city park where we navigate all kinds of parent-kid interactions. My 2 year old is on the shyer side so having kids bigger (and smaller) take toys away from him is a pretty common occurrence. I struggle with how much to be his advocate and how much to let him try to gain the confidence to stand up for himself.

    In the particular case of kids taking toys, more often than not parents will step in (which is great) or V will move on to something else on his own. If that doesn’t happen, then I will usually gently say to the other child that “V was playing with that. Why don’t you let him finish and then you’ll get a turn.” Then I tell V that he can play a bit longer but then he has to share. That being said, most of the time the other kid just looks at me and doesn’t give the toy back, so then I try to get V interested in something else. So…not that effective. Like I said, this is a hard one for me. It’s interesting to hear the other approaches!

  5. Ana Says:

    Ooh tough one. Honestly I’m a little afraid of saying much to strange children, who knows how their parents will take it! My B (also 2.5-ish) is extremely shy and can be passive in these situations. I’m trying to teach him that it’s OK to stand up for himself, and that it is not generally OK for others to come and take his things—I try to get him to say something “no, I was playing with that” (he does have the language for that), but when he won’t, I will say something TO HIM (yes, he should’ve asked before he took it from you) just to acknowledge that taking toys is not OK. I know it sounds passive aggressive, but its just to avoid the situation Burrito was put in—it might be scary for a small child to be negatively addressed (or addressed at all, at certain ages) by a stranger. We frequent more “little kid” playgrounds so thankfully parents are usually around and attentive & notice when their child needs redirection or admonishing.
    If the parent isn’t around or isn’t doing anything, I WILL say something to a child that is being unsafe or physically hurting another child (mine or not). Totally different scenario, to me, than learning the social mores of sharing/waiting turns.

  6. strongblonde Says:

    poor burrito! we were just on a little vacation and decided to go to the local children’s museum. while there, a group of kids were acting really rowdy, going up the slides, taking toys out of certian areas, splashing at the water table. the other parent i was with was starting to stress out about it. she didn’t want anyone to get hurt. i was definitely passive aggressive about it in speaking to M and T: “No, the rules say that we can’t take these toys to that area. I know that other kids might be doing it, but we pay attention to the rules.” I said it especially for the parents within earshot, but also for the kids. it was revealed later that these kids were with a daycare group that was there with ONE adult…who was on the phone on a bench near the front. i really wanted to give her a piece of my mind, but didn’t.

    the only time i will directly interact with another person’s child is if safety is involved. mostly that is because i don’t want to rescue/do CPR/abdominal thrusts/etc on a child…so if i see something that is unsafe, i say so. 🙂

  7. strongblonde Says:

    oh. and mostly i HATE when people try to parent my kids. if they parent like me, it seems to bother me less….but when b’s sister, for example, tries to tell my child that they may not use the potty until they say “please” or when b’s mom tells my kids that they can’t get up from the table until the “adults are done talking” i have a major problem!


  8. I’m not saying that this would apply in your situation, but my rule is thumb is ‘I dont want to parent your kids, so dont make me.” I expect my kids to behave and I watch them like a hawk so that, if they arent behaving, they get told right away. And they know the deal; they are almost 3 and they have understood for a while that Mom doesnt put up with shit and we will leave the park/playgroup/etc if they dont behave. when it is a child that I dont know and there is a problem, I tend to get to their level and in a nice voice say “I’m sorry, but we dont play like that” or whatever is appropriate. If it is a situation where a child could get hurt, I ask “is your mommy or daddy here?”.

    Recently, we were at an indoor playground and some older kids were bullying younger kids (not mine). It drives me nuts that parents leave their kids alone, but I was the only parent there and I called the older kids (maybe 10-11 years old?) on their action and one of them said “You’re not my mom.” I said “You’re right; where is your mom?” His eyes got big and he didnt want to tell me. No problem; I went out and asked “Who’s the parent of the boy in the dino shirt?” Mom stepped forward and we chatted, then I took my kids home.

    I think in, a lot of circumstances, if parents were parenting their kids, other parents wouldnt have to get involved. But I also think that ‘other parents’ have to realize that their style of parenting may not be the style everyone else is used to. Especially with young kids, gruff language scares as well as hurts feelings, and does little to teach kinder behavior. I’m sorry your little guy had his feelings hurt 😦

  9. a Says:

    I guess it depends on who’s doing what. I do not appreciate my neighbor saying things to my daughter because she talks down to kids. I try to speak to kids as I would speak to anyone else, especially when I’m cautioning them against something. In the toy-stealing department, I just figure that’s kind of the breaks and you have to learn to stick up for yourself sometime. (My girl has never been much of a toy thief, though, and I totally eagle-eye her to try and head off any behavior that I don’t like. So when she complains that someone took something from her, I’ve told her that she can go get it back if she wants to say something. Or she can find something else to play with. Once in a while, I will tell the toy stealer that she was playing with the toy and wait expectantly. The kid will usually give the thing back. I think it’s one of those “if you expect them to do the right thing, they usually will” situations. Most of the time, I will tell her that she’s had her turn and now it’s someone else’s.)

    We were at a preschool party a few weeks ago and one little boy was throwing rocks into a little stream. No big deal, but then he started liberating rocks from the man-made fountain that fed the stream. So, I told him to stop taking those rocks. He asked why and I told him that he would ruin the fountain. He found the answer reasonable and found other rocks to throw. I find that most kids are reasonable like that.

    I try not to parent other people’s kids and I try not to judge their parenting. I can’t help it sometimes, on either count. But it’s also good to know that there’s someone else who’s willing to step in and check for injuries when your kid rockets off the jungle gym before you can get to them.

  10. a Says:

    I feel for you on the assumption that your kids are older because of their size. My friend’s daughter is almost 8 and she looks like she’s probably 11 or 12. It’s hard to make others understand that age and appearance are not the same. I’ve got it easy with my little short one – everyone assumes she’s younger than she is.

  11. Lavender Luz Says:

    I’m in a different stage of parenting, one in which the kids are at my house without their parents. And I have no qualms about helping them to know and obey the house rules about our property, getting along, what’s acceptable and what’s not. I parent kid-guests much like I parent my own kids — helping them work out fights, not making a separate meal for a picky eater (I have learned to ask certain parents to send their own food) and enforcing lights out (admittedly, I don’t do that very well).

    But I try to do it all pleasantly, the way I’d like other parents to treat my children in my absence.

    B&T are delightful, btw. We all love hanging out with them 🙂

  12. Elana Kahn Says:

    Oy! I would never speak harshly to another parent’s child. Gentle guiding if I need to step in at all. Really I’ll only say something if the child is about to do something dangerous or hurt someone else, or if it is directly affecting my child (ie a toy is taken). But even in those situations I would *never* raise my voice or speak harshly. It’s not my place to do so! You never know how old that child is or if he/she has some type of disability.

  13. Sara Says:

    (No, haven’t been thinking since Thursday, been traveling!)

    In gatherings with other parents, I’ve often found that I’m by far the most relaxed. I don’t really care if my child gets dirty, I don’t really care what she puts in her mouth unless it’s something sharp or dangerous, I think for the most part kids need to learn themselves how to work things out when someone else is the one who is not sharing (if it’s my kid who’s not sharing, then I’m more likely to step in).

    However, if I saw another child about to do something dangerous or harmful, to himself or someone else, I would stop him, and I would do so in the quickest, most efficient way possible, even if that meant a sharp “No!” to try to get the child’s attention, or to pick him up and move him. I would rather err on the side of a child-not-getting-hurt than on the side of not-hurting-a-parent’s-feelings.

    But if the situation isn’t something where someone or something is in danger or harm? Not my problem, and I’m unlikely to get involved.

  14. Heather Says:

    I tend to look at the mother of the child first and see if she is noticing what’s going on. If I do say anything, I tend to be really nice and caring, “Hi sweetie, is everything OK?” stuff like that. Especially since all the kids in our family are very big for their age. For example, Phoebe is only 11 years old and she’s 5’4″. She’s always been big for her age and I’ve had lots of friends think she’s 2 years older than she really is.

  15. Nity Says:

    Ugh. It’s always so hard. Poor Burrito. I feel like this really depends on the circumstances, but that 4 year old girl was older, even though Burrito might have taken the toy, the mother should have taught the 4 year old to be gracious. That’s my take!

  16. Cat Says:

    There was a blog post or article or something a few months ago that really hit home for me on this topic. The author wrote about taking her young son to the playground inside a fast food restaurant where another child promptly decked him and then decked him again while the mother sat by and said nothing. The author said she that in the moment she was so concerned about what the other parent would think that she just addressed her own son and didn’t confront the other child or her parent about the completely inappropriate and painful behavior. She went on to say that she felt she’d completely failed her own child by not sticking up for him and instead teaching him a lesson that she doesn’t have his back. That was enough to make me decide that I’ll always defend my children because it’s more important that they know I’ll stick up for them than whether I offend some other parent or make another kid cry.

    That said, I actually feel more hesitant to speak up when it’s a child of someone I know than when it’s a stranger’s kid. I’ve never had any bad experiences, knock on wood, but I guess I worry more about making things uncomfortable with someone I’ll see again and often. What are the odds I’ll ever see that stranger again, even in our not-big town?


  17. I totally don’t instruct other children, unless they’ve been entrusted to my care or — and this is an important or — they’re family. Culturally I was just raised with the expectation that you can instruct and guide other children in your family. And though many of my family members have different philosophies than I do, I’ve been surprised by how well they intuitively pick up on my cues with my daughter and tend to watch their tone with her.

    As far as playground dynamics go, I have often found the opposite to be true. If my daughter snatches a toy from another kid — especially a boy, the other mom will quickly step in and tell him to let her have it, forcing me to step in an explain that he had it first and guide my daughter to another toy. People seem to be weirdly protective of girls, to the point of unfairness.

    My daughter’s been shoved once or twice, but in both cases the mother quickly stepped in. When it comes to parenting, it often feel that people have on a set of blinders. They really zero in on the rare case of the parent who doesn’t intercede and somehow it overshadows all the perfectly nice parents who do. In general, I feel most parents are perfectly nice and there’s no need to go ape about the rare parent who isn’t as we often have no idea what’s going on with that parent. She could be tired or depressed or on her iPhone because something really important is going on at work, but her babysitter fell through and she’s desperately trying to juggle both childcare and her job. I try to err on the side of compassion, and I’m rarely burnt. Also, it keeps my parenting stress levels down.

    My daughter goes to a preschool where all squabbles are facilitated, as opposed to stopped or judged. And from what I’ve seen it really works. The toy-snatching problem she used to have went away within the first semester and she gets along well with most other kids now. The best part is that I don’t have to intercede as much anymore because she has coping skills. She either walks away from the kid or tries to negotiate something like a shove into a physical game like falling down on the ground. Either that, or she just comes running to me for comfort, which is fine, too.

    However, I fully admit to having no idea how it is with boys. From what I’ve seen, they often get picked on and unfairly chastised on the playground. And I don’t really feel like I can speak to what I’d do if my daughter were a boy and treated roughly. But my overall conviction is that it’s more important to instruct your own kid and teach her or him coping skills for a sometimes hostile world than to bother with confronting “bad” parents and kids yourself.

  18. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    We had a similar situation recently and I think it was in part to my boys also being big/tall for their age. I handled it and other similar situations like you did. I’m a big advocate of gentle reminders and passive-aggressive parenting.


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