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POLITICS OF PARENTING

Now that my son is definitely a toddler and no longer a baby, I am learning about the fine politics of parenting. Nobody tells you about this oh-so-delicate part of being a parent when you are pregnant; you're too busy reading Fit Pregnancy and enamored with the little bean in your belly. When they are babies, you're so in love with this human being you've created and too busy trying to keep them alive. Then all of a sudden they are toddlers and BAM! What the...? Who IS this creature and how is he so unbelievably lovely and fun and yet crazy and uncontrollable at the same time? Now he is actually playing and not just parallel playing. Now you not only have to deal with your own kid, but the actions and words of the kids they now play with--and their parents.

I posted about my own parenting style on my From Maternity to Madness blog, but now everytime we go anywhere, I have to deal with the parenting styles of others, much like Monica did recently at Washington Park. This is along the same vein, because I'm not quite sure what to do, whether it's my kid or another. Ethan used to be fine with kids taking toys away from his hands in public play spaces, but now he gets mad and puts a death grip on the toys he's playing with. Sometimes he throws something when another kid has either taken away a toy he was playing with or pushes him out of the way to play in the space he was playing in. When it's obviously his fault, I will intervene. When it's another kid, sometimes the other parent intervenes and makes the kid apologize, talks about sharing, etc. Sometimes there is no other parent in sight.

How do you handle situations when another kid is biting, kicking, pushing, hoarding or taking toys away from your kid in a public play space? Do you say anything to the kid? Do you wait a bit to see if the parent will come and talk with his/her child? Sometimes it's the parent who (unbelievably to me) takes your kid off one toy to place his/her own kid on it. What do you do then?

I'm new to the whole politics of parenting thing, and I know that our kids are all still learning about how to deal with their wants and needs and how to react appropriately, which makes flare ups inevitable. Any advice on how to handle situations when it's your child acting up or another kid being the bully? What is appropriate playground behavior and what is not? What is appropriate parent reaction, and what is not?

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Ooh, this is a tough one.

I will never forget the time we were in the old Peanut Butter & Ellie's and I looked up to see that a bunch of mothers were giving me the hairy eyeball. Seemed my (sweet, really!) 2yo had just thrown a train across the play area, narrowly missing someone. I talked to him, he did it again; we left.

But you know, I wish one of those mothers had said something to him first, instead of silently glaring at me. I don't have any kind of problem with another grownup issuing a firm, "trains aren't for throwing" toward my kid. In fact, I like it. It introduces him to the idea that, hey, it isn't just my mama who has these bizarre notions about keeping the train on the track.

So yeah, I don't have a problem with talking to other kids in these situations. Especially now that the ones my kids are interacting with are of an age where they don't need to be followed around at the playground, and the parent might not be right on the scene. And I don't have a problem with another parent telling my kid not to climb up the slide when her kid's coming down it, or whatever it may be.

I'm with Kate--I don't have a problem with other parents intervening, as long as they aren't yelling or hitting, of course. And I try to be as non-threatening as possible when I have to issue some direction to a kid that's not mine. I don't have a whole lot of experience with this issue yet, though. The situations I've been in I've tried to give Clara tools to deal with it herself. I was in one situation a few weeks ago where an older girl--maybe around 5--kept asking my Clara--almost 2 1/2--if she was a baby or a big girl, with a little disdain in her tone, for whatever reason. I couldn't tell why it really mattered to this girl (would she ignore Clara if she was deemed a baby?) and Clara was really confused, too, partly because she's not sure right now :) When the girl decided that Clara was a baby, and Clara didn't like that, she turned to me and I told her to tell the girl that she was a big girl. She did, though in barely a whisper. I'm not sure what happened right after that, but the next thing I knew they were all racing around and having fun together. So, in this case, I chose to give Clara the tools to deal with it herself, since this was a pretty low-risk situation, and Clara looked ready to deal with it.

We were at OMSI one day, and there was a knot of kids using the air-jet-coming-through-a-construction-cone toy. Lots of balls flying up and hitting the ground, and tots chasing after them. One little girl's mama was sitting there and watched her daughter not make it to a ball first (honestly I don't know whether it was my ball-obsessed son who 'won' that one or not). Anyway the mama said "Get in there and stand up for yourself, honey!"

I'm really not sure how I feel about that.

On the one hand, it's a good approach, of course, to teach our kids to be assertive and stand up for themselves (perhaps especially girls) if someone is being unkind or hurtful.

On the other hand, racing for a ball doesn't count as being unkind in that sense to me, especially since it was the case that day that most of the kids were too little to understand sharing (whereas this little girl was, I think, old enough to get it) and wouldn't be grabbing a ball to be mean spirited.

I think in that situation, where no one is being hurtful (deliberately or not), what's more appropriate is trying to encourage sharing on all sides, rather than assertiveness.

If you think someone is behaving badly and it's impacting your child and others, I think it's ok (to a point) to gently remonstrate with the other child if Mom or Dad isn't around or aware. If you focus only on your child's behavior/reaction to that behavior, you miss a chance to be part of the 'village' so to speak where as the previous poster said, you could help another child learn that ALL mamas want kiddos to share.

All that said, most of the time so far when that kind of stuff has happened, I've just steered my son to another activity - he can't understand sharing (though I do try to explain it) to know when he's not being treated well or when he's being grabby.

And all THAT said, I don't have a good sense of when it will be time to stop intervening at all - I refuse to end up the kind of parent who fights all my kids' battles for them.

If the parent isn't around (or in range), I intervene in a firm, friendly way, and offer another toy or alternative. Takes a village, and all that, you know?

You'll all be pleased to know that the parental policing doesn't end when the kids get bigger; it just takes on new forms (my kids are now 12 and 7.) Just wait until you're on the sidelines of a soccer game some sunny fall morning listening to parents scream at your kid to 'kick the ball already'...!

I've found that saying something directly to a child who is not your own works well, as long as you use short, non-judgmental sentences focused on safety issues, for example. ('You will get hurt when someone slides down into your face' instead of the 'you're hogging the slide when you insist on climbing up when there's a line of kids waiting to come down....!')

That way, when a parent pops up and takes offense at *your* nerve reprimanding *their* child (yes, it's happened to me), you have the 'was concerned about kids' safety' angle to fall back on - instead of a judgement about their precious child who would *never* do anything to hurt anyone else, cough cough...

(In the soccer example above, the issue was nicely solved by a coach, who asked that parents not yell out directions or instructions to kids while on the sidelines, as it confused them and/or contradicted his efforts...)

I am definitely all for the "village" concept, and I don't have a problem with others helping kids sort out the problem especially when it means that a child will end up getting hurt. At the same time, I am also of the mindset to try to have kids sort it out themselves, between the two or more of them. It's a hard and perhaps unpopular concept, but if I'm around like minded parents that I'm close to, then we do try to let things play out a bit before intervening. If we are always jumping up the instant two children have their hands on the same toy, I wonder if there will always be that expectation that mom or dad will be there to negotiate.

When another child snatches a toy out of my daughter's hand, I'll see if/how she can address it. I'm not always going to be there when that happens, so I think it's good for her to figure out how she thinks she can handle it. Most often, she has a generally noncholant attitude; she just walks away and finds something else. The hoarding and taking toys away isn't as big of a deal as the physical stuff - biting, hitting or pushing. When that happens, intervening in a firm and objective and nonjudgmental way would be my choice.

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