Pernicious Playground Politics

See if this scenario is familiar.

You’re at the park or playground with your young child; there are many other children present. Some parents are following their children closely, making sure they are safe; others are making sure their child doesn’t terrorize the rest of the bunch.

Your child is playing on and around one of the playground apparatuses, having a good old time. Another child is eager to play in the same spot and does not seem eager to share. The other child begins pushing, shoving, kicking, or hitting your child out of anger and frustration.

You look around. That child’s parent is not in the immediate vicinity (in my little scenario, we’ll be gracious to that parent and presume she’s with another of her children and not texting her “bff” about the sale on handbags at Bloomingdales).

You say to the child in a friendly, calming voice, “Hey, we don’t hit, OK?” That doesn’t do the job; the aggression becomes more pronounced.

You’re left with a few choices:

1. Get your child out of the way, allowing the aggressive child to temporarily have his/her way.

2. Not wanting to cross any boundaries with another parent’s child, you fervently search for the child’s parent so you can enlist his/her help.

3. Protect your child in the least restrictive manner, but using whatever verbal and/or physical means necessary.

If you chose option 1, you’re emphasis is maintaining peace über alles. I understand the impulse, but this is not the healthiest choice for you, your child, or the other child and parent. Your child needs to see that you will protect him and seek justice whenever possible. In this situation, it is possible.

If you chose option 2, good for you. At least you want someone to stop the aggressor. The problem with this option is that while you look for Rocky’s Mom or Dad, your child is getting pummeled. That’s no good.

The best option is option 3. It is your job to protect your child. While it is not your job to discipline other children unless you are expressly invited to do so by another parent, it should be understood that in a playground area, parents will protect their children and will intervene by stopping another child from doing harm. If a parent cannot monitor their child, that parent implicitly leaves their child with other parents.

If you need to physically stop a child from hurting your child—or another child, of course—or you need to be verbally firm with a child, do not apologize to the child’s parent if they are offended or angry. Simply say, “When I witness a child being aggressive with my child, it is my duty to protect him. If kind, soft words work, I will use them. If not, I will yell or physically intervene. I do not apologize for protecting my child.”

Sometimes, this will result in a big huff or mean words. Most likely, the absent parent will be projecting guilt onto you; many parents are embarrassed at their children’s behavior but can’t tolerate this, so they project the blame onto you. Don’t take it personally. Just be proud that you protect your child. You will find plenty of allies who agree with your position; most parents will be grateful for your willingness to intervene and be a Parent in Charge.

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