Dealing With Strangers (Other Parents and Kids) As A Parent and Father
October 8, 2013 4:32 AM   Subscribe

As a parent and father, how do I, or how can I or should I, deal with parents of other children whose badly behaved kids do something mean or nasty to my own kid?

So the other day my almost 2 year old son was purposefully tripped by some other persons 2 year old kid. I wasn't there at the time but my wife was and thankfully in that situation the other kids mum disciplined her child for doing what he did. But it got me thinking... what if I had been there, and the other kids mum hadn't done anything to discipline her brat?

It brought me back to a situation about a year ago when my son, just a bit over one year old, was at a kids party and happily playing with a toy, when a girl, probably about 2 years old, ran over, screamed at him that the toy was hers (it wasn't) and took it from him. I remember my son looking like he'd done something wrong. The girls parents saw but didn't say anything. I felt I should say something but didn't. Had they been people I knew I could have talked to them about it but they were strangers... friends of friends of friends. Having a chat with them about their lax parenting seemed inappropriate somehow.

Ever since then I've thought about how I should have dealt with that situation. Even now after the tripping incident I'm still no closer to an answer.

I'm fully aware that as a man the idea of me getting angry or telling off someone else's kid is possibly more fraught with peril than it might be for, say, my wife. There's the whole intimidation aspect, plus these days a lot of parents are generally just mistrustful of strange men having any interaction with their kids. So having a meaningful discussion with some strangers kid about what they did seems out of the question.

Then there's the whole thing about trying to set a good example for my son. As in, I should be showing my son that you don't deal with conflict with anger. So I know (in other words, you don't have to tell me) that I shouldn't start yelling at either the kid or his/her parents... even though in the tripping situation I probably would have wanted to had the kids mum not stepped up.

And I need to balance this all with my intense desire to stand up for my son when I feel he's being picked on or bullied. I know eventually he'll have to stand on his own two feet and kids will be kids... but right now he's barely two and he's so full of love.

So as a parent and a father, what's the best way to handle these situations? What's your best advice for dealing with other people's kids bad behavior (both kids you know and don't), and for dealing with parents (again, ones you know and ones you don't) who just don't seem to give a shit?
posted by Effigy2000 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Mothers also cannot yell at other people's kids. And two year olds will hit and take toys from each other. One and a half year olds will come up to your toddler and grab fistfuls of their hair for no reason. I remember a two and a half year old BITING my own two year old because my two year old was drinking from a water fountain in a park and the biter thought the public water fountain was hers. I was livid, but these are behaviors to be taught away, not yelled about. Toddlers are not making decisions with an adult brain.

What you can do: comfort your own kid and say "Ohhh, I know, we don't like it when people yell." Or "oh, that was upsetting, she tripped you! Tripping's not nice, is it." This can be said in front of the other kid or parent, but direct it at your own. And keep your voice calm. Don't freak your kid out more than they are. This "aggression" is going to happen more and more especially if your kid goes to day care. Kids who take it in stride but know to stand up for themselves without flipping out are at a huge advantage.
posted by third rail at 4:52 AM on October 8, 2013 [29 favorites]

From the time my kids were mobile to about age 4 something like this came up every once in a while. At 2 your son is very young and so are his playmates. They are still learning how to behave socially. However, I have found (many years ago with 4 boys) that the best thing is deal it with a smile and say something like (to the offender) "Hey little dude, can _____ share your car or whatever". Most of the times that age group will do the right thing. They still can't control their emotions well yet IMO. The important part is say or do the positive thing with a smile. Parents are funny - they may think "look at little Billy he's so assertive" when he's really a terror. You can say to your kid privately - Billy is not nice and maybe we should steer clear of him next time. Whatever you do or say in front of others should be gentle and phrased nicely that a very young kid can understand. Try not to make a huge deal about with your kid either because then IMO I think they have a hard time getting over it. Deal with it and move on.
posted by lasamana at 4:56 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Father of an eight and nearly-one year old girl and boy respectively.

Definitely remain calm. Depending upon the situation (level of violence, is it still going on etc.) you may want to put yourself in between them and your child. If your child is particularly upset, you should focus on comforting them rather than attempting to correct the actions of the other child first.

Using relatively neutral language, you should tell the other child that what they are doing is not nice and that they must stop. Do not attempt to touch or get too close to the other child. Do not follow them if they walk away from you. If their parents are present, some eye contact and an open-palm half-wave to establish communication is good, hopefully to make you appear less threatening. I am a tall and broad-shouldered man, so your mileage may vary, but this approach usually gets the desired results without landing you in handcuffs.

Ordinarily, the other child will either move and stay away from your child or become friendly - in the case of my daughter, sometimes boys will be a bit rougher and need to be told to calm down a bit. The most difficult interaction I've had so far is of a smaller boy who did not appear to have parental supervision kicking and throwing sand even after being told to stop. In this instance I moved my daughter back and asked where his parents were. None were forthcoming, but closer supervision of my daughter kept him back afterwards before he went elsewhere to play.

On preview, third rail and lasamana's comments are great advice too.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 4:56 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

It is not for you to discipline anyone else's child. It just isn't. You speak to their parent and they handle (or don't) handle it. Beyond that, you can choose to have your child no longer play with this other kid who is being inappropriate.

You can't fight your child's battles for them. But at this age, the best thing is just to remove them from the equation because they shouldn't be doing anything in a group setting that is completely unsupervised.


1. Take your child away from the dangerous situation calmly.
2. Speak with the other child's parent about what happened if they didn't see.
3. Let the other parent deal with their child.
4. Explain to your child that what happened to them wasn't right and they are not to do the same thing that happened to them to other people because it will hurt them.
posted by inturnaround at 4:58 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Anger is not the answer, particularly for a 2 year old. I mean, why yell at a kid for not understanding property rules when they probably can't understand toileting? It's counterproductive. So take that right out of the equation - never ever have 'yelling at someone else's kid' in your toolbox.

Actual things my partner and I do (he was a SAHP so he has significant experience with parenting as the lone man in groups): model good behaviour just like we do with our kid ("it wasn't your turn to play with that toy yet"), ask for help ("hey, L, your kid just whacked mine, I'm separating them"), verbal diversion ("whoa, hey, no, that's not a nice way to ask to play with that toy!"), frowning and eye contact (really, surprisingly, effective but I have intense frown lines) and talking my kid through what they can do.

These are not yelling, or discipline, or talking to people about their lax parenting (!) - it's about being a village, it's about being the change you want to see, modelling problem solving, and just being around. They may not have seen it, they may not have known.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:00 AM on October 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

I wanted to add really watch how you deal with a situation like this, I can guarantee you at some point your kid will act in a way that some other parent may find distressing and your response is very important.
posted by lasamana at 5:06 AM on October 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

Also, think of it this way. Ultimately you care about your own child; you really don't care how strangers discipline their kids and it is not your job to point out what you think of as their "lax" parenting. So don't focus on them. Focus on helping your own child cope with it.
posted by third rail at 5:34 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it depends partly on whether the interaction is over, or ongoing. A drive-by shoving-- probably makes sense just to focus on comforting your own child, like people said above, and possibly giving advice on how to avoid the other child in the future. It's not for you to make sure that justice is served on somebody else's kid.

On the other hand, if the other child is still actively doing the mean thing-- like if they grab a toy and keep playing with it, or repeatedly throw sand on your kid, or whatever-- I think it would be important to intervene. Not doing so sends the message to your kid that they need to knuckle under in social interactions, that they're not allowed to defend themselves. Instead, what I'd probably do is to model the appropriate reaction for your child, as geek anachronism said: "Please stop throwing sand, that hurts people. It's not OK." "Someone else was playing with that toy, please give it back." And then if the behavior continues, just exit the situation-- which is, after all, what you'd do if a peer was doing something annoying to you and refused to stop.

I think the key is view these situations as opportunities to teach your child about conflict resolution: your job is not to restore cosmic justice or to right your child's wrongs, it's to show them the right way to get through similar situations when they encounter them in the future. So, firm, civil tone, polite requests, exercising the option to leave when necessary.
posted by Bardolph at 5:35 AM on October 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

First, be smart from the beginning (heh). But truly, if you have already worked to help your kids establish their own agency, and given them the tools with which to deal with other kids you are a long way towards where you want to be. And it isn't just a product of my disinclination to parent someone else's kid (although that is part of it) - it's really the ultimate goal for everyone. So, help your kids to know to say, "I don't like that!" when someone fouls them, and so forth.

Of course, part of being a parent is having to deal with the edge cases, and to provide words for our kids when they don't have them, and give a verbal nudge to someone else's kid when it is absolutely necessary. My wife is excellent at this, and one of her approaches is to say things like "Do you see her face? She is very sad because she was playing with that ball first." It always feels and sounds weird coming from me, but if you have the right tone it is great because it breeds empathy in the offender (ostensibly), and keeps the focus on the wronged (thereby not inciting attention seeking behavior in the other kid.)

Also, in many kid-on-kid imbroglios, redirection for both parties is a good tactic.

But yeah. This exact dynamic is my least favorite part of the park. I feel for you.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:13 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm fully aware that as a man the idea of me getting angry or telling off someone else's kid is possibly more fraught with peril than it might be for, say, my wife.

It has nothing to do with gender. Getting angry and telling off any kid is wrong for any adult to do. You say you know kids will be kids. Well, this is kids being kids. They don't have words (you do) and they don't have experience managing conflict (you do). So talk, gently, directly to the kid just as you talk directly to your own kid. "Easy there, kid, no hitting." Model the behavior you want to see.

And it shouldn't matter to you how well you know the other kid's parents. I'm not the type to tell other people how to discipline their children, but if you are, then own it. Either you think their kid needs discipline or you don't. If you think something needs to be said beyond defusing the immediate situation, then say it.
posted by headnsouth at 6:36 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I should be showing my son that you don't deal with conflict with anger.

Sometimes anger is the appropriate response. I am going to dissent from the majority of comments stating that one should never discipline another's child or never do this or never do that. A stranger's right to discipline their child ends where their failure causes my child to be victimized.

As a father of young children, I have been where you are many times. I think there is a balance to be struck between allowing my children to handle things on their own but not allowing them to be victimized, either. Each situation requires its own response. Playground yelling is something I think my kids can handle on their own. Tripping? I'd see what happened but if my child didn't do anything and the other kid was being spiteful, I'd tell him to knock it off if their parent saw and did nothing. They pin my child and are raining down blows? You better believe I will sprint to pull him off (not to have a chat about feelings). Since your son is two, he's a bit less equipped to handle things on his own than my school-age children, so adjust accordingly.

Don't worry about what someone might think about "strange men". Are you a "strange man"? I would feel pretty bad about myself if something happened to my child because I stood by for fear of what bystanders would think.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:23 AM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I would definitely say something to the kid if they're an ongoing threat or they come back near your kid. Calmly but firmly with a little threatening tone in your voice say. "Don't trip him again." An appropriately loud "HEY" is also appropriate if you see them about to hit or whatever.

What you say to the parent who ignores their kid, "hey, your kid just tripped my kid". Then if they don't parent, give them a nasty look. Shame them, basically.

I agree that toddlers aren't making adult decisions. They still need to learn social skills. "When you trip someone, people get mad at you" is a great lesson for them to learn and I have no problem teaching that or having other people teach my kid that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:36 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

the young rope-rider: I have no problem teaching that or having other people teach my kid that.

tyr-r makes a very good point - I added bold to ask OP, how would you respond if another parent yelled at/scolded/gently corrected your kid on the playground? Your kid will sometimes be the kid whose toy is snatched away, but your kid will also sometimes be the kid who snatches the toy.
posted by headnsouth at 8:18 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

You don't have to be angry to be emphatic. And you can - it's passive aggressive when adults do it, but talking to your kid loud enough for the other kid and possibly the parents to hear while comforting him is a pretty good shaming tactic. He pushes your kid down, you help him up and comfort him and say, "It's really not nice to push, is it? I'm sure glad you don't hurt other kids like that. Come on, let's go to the slide."

I mostly agree with the people saying not to correct other people's kids, if they're strangers. One "Hey!" And a correction that pretty much everyone would agree with ("Don't hit!") is about as far as it should go; anything else, you just deal with your kid, comfort them and affirm that what happened sucks and you're sorry, and let's go do something else. If it's a kid who does it all the time, stay away from him.
posted by lemniskate at 8:30 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My son is 15 now, so playground situations are a bit behind me now. But in situations like this, I would take him away, hug him and tell him basically: you did nothing wrong, people can be assholes, deal with it. Like young rope-rider said, I would also warn the other kid, not to do it again, please. The only parent playground regrets I have are the two or three times that confronted the other kid directly.
posted by ouke at 8:32 AM on October 8, 2013

I go up to the offending child and softly say "Why are you doing that?" Other parents have never become angry.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:47 AM on October 8, 2013

At this age, you only need to deal with your own kid. If the other kid is older (say 6+) and does something particularly egregious that endangers your kids or other kids, I think you can tell them forcefully to knock it off. That's it. (Though their parents may come after you yelling, but fuck them.)

Also, I would drop the word "brat" from your vocabulary.

People are (rightfully, IMO) paranoid about unknown men hanging around children. However, having a happy and well-cared kid of your own should nullify any reasonable person's concern.
posted by gentian at 8:48 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is an area where reasonable people have vastly different responses, that seem to come from a deep emotional place. My response (like everyone's) comes from my own way of seeing myself in the world, and how I respond when people wrong me. I try to be aware of that part of it, so I can make a conscious (instead of unconscious) decision in these situations.

For me, when another kid was mean to my kid, I saw it primarily as a moment for my kid to learn how to negotiate those situations throughout her life. In other words, my job was not to teach that other kid anything, nor was it to enact any kind of justice. The point for me was, "what do I want my kid to learn from this?"

In our family, the message that I thought was most important was to build empathy and curiosity. "Why is this kid tripping me?" I found (and still find) myself saying things like, "He seems really mad." I always encouraged the kids to dialog directly. I'd do things like taking my kid by the hand (so she felt supported and brave) and saying, "Let's go talk to him." and then I'd really make her talk to the other kid herself. I'd give her some simple scripts to work from, teaching her to say things like, "I don't want you to push me", etc.

I'd also model some simple limit setting. If a kid threw sand on her or something, I might just directly say to the kid, "Sand stays on the ground." But I'd often try to get my kid to engage the kid in some other, more productive way. Being mean is usually a way that a kid is reaching out for connection - however dysfunctional - and I want my kid to understand that.

I'm not sure what the "right" answer is, but I've never seen my primary job as being the person who protects her from mean kids. I mean, obviously I protect her: from cars, fires, dangerous people, etc. But the most important thing in my view is to build her skills to protect herself.

This is a such an ugly, mean world. She needs the ability to negotiate that ugliness and meanness. IN my family, we really value meeting some of that ugliness with compassion and empathy - within reason of course.

I guess what I hope she'll learn is to avoid truly dangerous situations, to have compassion and empathy even when people are harsh or mean, to have confidence that she is a worthwhile person, but to have curiosity and a willingness to engage with difference.

I guess for you the task is to identify what you really want your kid to learn about conflict, and then to do the thing that will best help them learn that.
posted by latkes at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ok, first of all, you're taking a bizarrely antagonistic approach to children's behavior, and that's kind of appalling. Two year olds are TWO. Two!!! Children at that age are inherently going to be buttheads to one another and if you go on a crusade to right that wrong any time some kid directs their two-year-old-ness on your kid you're going to have a lot of problems on your hands because you're not thinking about this logically at all. That you would even call other children brats just because one of them hurt your kid either accidentally or on purpose shows me that you need to take many steps back and do some hard thinking about why you're making disciplining other people's children a priority when it is none of your business.

Focus on setting a good example for your child. You will do more harm to your son by antagonizing his school mates and working to "correct" their bad behavior than you will if you model respect, compassion, and good behavior at all times.

Don't become a bully to children who are still learning how to be people, no matter how hard your hackles get raised.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:31 AM on October 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

The only thing I might say to someone else's child directly is something very generic and gentle like "Let's be nice to each other" or "Let's share" or "Let's not hit", with the word "Let's" keeping it from feeling too directly aimed at that child. It's usually not appropriate to do more than that. The other thing I personally might do under certain special circumstances that really need parental attention is say something to the other parent like "Just in case you didn't notice, Little Johnny just did such-and-such". But I wouldn't do that frequently because imperfect behaviors are the reality and there is no way to avoid your child experiencing those in other children from time to time. And I'm not even sure it would be optimal for those to be totally avoided even if they could be since it's probably good for children to learn that there are a range of behaviors in the world and things are not and cannot always be perfect. I know it's annoying or unpleasant when those things happened, but I don't think you need to be too worried that your child will be harmed or negatively influenced.
posted by Dansaman at 10:47 AM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Look, the fact that they're little doesn't mean they can't make another kid's life miserable. My son is big and active for his age, and likes to do things like "hug" babies in such a way that they fall over. This is really unpleasant and upsetting for them and could even injure someone. I do my best to keep him from doing this and he's learning, but in the meantime, another adult scolding him isn't going to crush his little toddler spirit, nor would it make that adult a bully.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:07 AM on October 8, 2013

I have a 2.5 year old who has been in daycare since he was 6 months old. This stuff happens *all* the time when toddlers get together. It concerns a lot of parents, so you are not alone. Anticipating this concern, the daycare teachers have given us a couple of formal presentations explaining to us how they handle these situations and why. What they said made a lot of sense, so I will share it with you as best I can.

The brain of a two year old is still a work in progress. In particular, their frontal lobes are nowhere close to being fully developed, which makes it extremely difficult for them to control impulses, like taking toys. (Interestingly, full development of the frontal lobe doesn't take place until a person's twenties, which also explains some of the crazy behavior of teenagers.)

Please consider that you may be overlaying adult motivations on a still-developing child brain. For example, I have never seen a one year old look like they thought they were doing something wrong. This is an extraordinarily advanced concept for that age.

Toy grabbing, hitting, and even biting are fairly common behaviors among toddlers.

When someone grabs your kid's toy, watch to see how *your* child responds. This is what you're really interested in, right? Does he automatically look to you to rescue him from the situation? Is that what you want? Maybe let him work it out for himself. You can see it as one of a hundred thousand social interactions he must go through to learn how to navigate society. You can encourage him to tell the other child that he didn't like what they did to him. He can learn to wait to get a toy back. He can learn to deal with disappointment that he can't get it back. When you interfere, you rob him of these learning experiences and teach him that he is a victim that needs someone to rescue him from what are really very common interactions among toddlers. I

On the other hand, if someone is physically hurting your child, you should obviously stop it. However, you don't need the help or cooperation of the other 2 year old to do this! So what is the real purpose in scolding the other child? You won't change anyone's behavior by parenting them for 10 seconds. In this case, I would first protect my child from harm. Then I would ask my kid if *they* have anything they want to say to the other kid. The last time this happened, (and it happens a *lot* in day care), my kid told the other kid "I don't like that! I'm angry!" really loudly. Then he skipped away. This is really working for us. The other day, he got mad at *me*. He didn't scream or cry. He actually told me that he wanted to talk to me, and he told me he was angry, and together we came up with a compromise about how to make things better. I really credit his approach to the way his teachers have given him the space to learn from conflict at school. (I am personally not very good at conflict, and my own kid schools me in this regard.)

Different parents have different ideas about discipline. Some people think it's appropriate to hit a child to discipline him. Would you be ok with another parent disciplining your child that way, because they can see that you aren't doing it? Among the suggestions above were shaming and speaking threateningly. Do you want a strange adult shaming your child or speaking threateningly to him? I am just one data point, but the answer for me in all these cases is a resounding no.

Good luck. Hope it gets easier for you!
posted by pizzazz at 1:29 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

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