I’m the mother of a toddler, and as such, I am embarking upon the world of playgrounds, mall play places, open gyms, and library story hours. All are places where my child interacts with a myriad of kids, some older, some younger, some timid, some aggressive, some with attentive parents, some with parents who use these settings as a time to take a breather. As my daughter, V moves into the social world, I find myself struggling with how to best help her navigate this new landscape, and agonize as I analyze how to best address the different social situations we encounter.
Two approximately, four year old boys running amok on a playground while their supervising adults gab at a picnic table across the way, yelling “Ew, you’re a girl, you can’t play with us.” at my then 18 month old daughter. And then making additional rude, gender discriminating comments. I, stupefied, and waiting for said adults to say something along the lines of “No, that’s not nice, we treat girls with respect not mean words,” say nothing. Leave feeling like I’ve taught nothing to my daughter or to the kids. Feel like the worst feminist ever. Then feel like a dolt for expecting anything else from 4 year olds. But expect more from the adults…
Witnessed: a dad sitting mutely, as his much larger kid, picks up and shakes two children, strangers to them, repeatedly, at the mall play place. Finally, the father of the kids snaps, saying “Why are you picking up my kid!” to the child. The father of the aggressor finally stands up, saying “No, (insert child’s name) come here.” Eventually, after failed attempts to control his child without the dad moving a muscle, they leave.
We just put V on a teeter-totter. She is so excited. Two girls about 5 years old approach having seen her just get on. “Can she get off of here?” “No”, I reply, “she just got on and it’s her turn.” I feel like a jerk.
After frustration mounts as over 7+ year olds nearly stampede my 22 month old during so-called toddler (under 7 years) time during the open gym program at the local rec center, patience is waning. Older child (probably over 7) comes up and grabs climbing rope from my daughter V’s hand. No adult in sight. I say, “That was very rude. She was playing with that. You can have a turn in just a minute.” Feel I’ve overstepped some boundary. Child smiles, lets V have a turn, and chats away with me. Hmm.
Friend’s child visits on a playdate. He swats at V over a toy. Mother is too far away to reach him in time to stop hitting. I gently catch his hand before impact, saying “No, no, we don’t hit.” Wonder if mother hates me, although I’d want her to do the same if V was going to hit.
V is on biting frenzy. It happens when her little friends take toys from her. Wanting to prevent biting issues, I intervene more than I’d like in sharing struggles. Feel like other parents must label me as “helicopter parent.” This alternates with giving a darn, after all, I’m protecting their kid from the biting. Argh.
Lately, it seems like there is nothing like the interaction between my kid and another to make me feel off kilter. I have my bearings as her parent, but am still learning my role as an adult around other people’s kids when they are interacting with my daughter. I am constantly deciding between:
letting V work out her social struggles
modeling the appropriate behavior so she has some resources and tips to use
leaving discipline to the other kid’s parent
protecting the physical well-being of my child and sticking up for her when she doesn’t yet have the skills to do so herself
I know there are many factors that contribute to difficult social situations involving any two kids. I have been the mom who intervenes and the mom who is distracted at the crucial moment. I know some children’s behavioral challenges come along with clinical issues and that it is sometimes difficult to discern when those are coming into play. I also want to teach my daughter how to stand up for herself by modeling behavior and for standing up for her when she cannot. I know with time, she will develop additional skills and resources and I will have to let her flail from time to time in order for her to learn and grow. I know I will always intervene when physical aggression is coming into play; that’s just something I cannot accept. I know parents teach their kids in different ways, coming from different value systems, and that I cannot expect everyone to see every potential disciplinary situation with the same lens. But it still is hard being a parent on a playground. You never know where the mines are located, which buttons will make another parent explode when pushed. So I try to tread carefully, and I hope others will forgive me as I occasionally stumble. I’m working to give them the benefit of the doubt, myself.