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Someone Else's Kids
February 13, 2012

If you're a parent, I'm sure you've been in this situation: you're somewhere with your kid(s) and someone else's kids are mean to yours. Their parents aren't in hearing (or even visual) range, so you have to deal with parenting someone else's kids.

I've been in that situation several times now. The first few times, I chickened out and just removed Bug from the situation; took him to some other part of the park or playground. I hoped the other parents would clue in. (They usually didn't.) On one particular occasion, I was so shocked and angry, I gave into a display of parental passive-aggression.

Bug was playing by himself on the steps of an empty play structure and three older boys -- probably about 4 years old -- came running through. As they went up the stairs, Bug looked up and smiled at them welcomingly. He held up his hand to say hi. The older boys stared him down and finally one yelled "MOVE!" at Bug. Stunned, Bug looked over at me, his face crumpled, and he started to cry. Shaking, all I could do was walk over and bring him down from the steps. I didn't say anything to the other kids. "Conrad, don't yell," called one of the mothers languidly before turning back to her gossip.

What did I do? I held Bug as he sobbed and made a bit of a production comforting him, which had zero effect, of course, because the mothers were too involved with one another to care.

Today, in a similar situation, two little girls -- one of which had actually been playing happily with Bug before her friends showed up -- blocked Bug from climbing up to a slide and told him he wasn't allowed up because he was a boy. The mothers of these two were far enough away to be completely out of earshot and visual range. This time, I walked up to Bug and told the girls that everyone was allowed on the structure. I encouraged Bug to keep going. One little girl told me, "No, he's not allowed." I disagreed and suggested maybe we go ask her mother what she thought. The girls stepped aside. A little bit later, one of the girls yelled, "Get away!" as Bug once again tried to go up to the same slide. And once again, I stepped in and told her that wasn't nice behavior.

I don't like doing this. It's uncomfortable and it feels like I'm overstepping boundaries and even as I write this, I'm as shaky as if I had gotten in a screaming fight with someone my own age. And, look, I know this is how kids act and that one day Bug will probably do that to another, smaller kid and he will be told -- by me or another parent -- that's inappropriate behavior.

I also know that eventually he will have to toughen up, shrug things off, and fight his own battles. As a mom, I know that I, too, will need to toughen up, shrug things off, and let him fight his own battles. However, at 2.5, that time is not now.

Maybe it's unrealistic to think that a day won't come where I will let Bug run around a playground on his own, out of earshot and eyeshot from me, while I sit off in the distance involved with friends and not him. I don't know. I certainly don't intend to hover but I do intend to be aware. I don't intend to let him bully or be mean to other kids. Not on my watch.

There's an age when kids don't know any better and there's an age when they do, but until they move out of the house, kids still need to be guided in their behavior. You don't just ignore it and figure that "one day they'll learn," because how will that happen, exactly? By osmosis?

I remember an occasion when my mom dropped off girls from my older sister's Girl Scout Troop. Something had gone down at the meeting -- I can't remember what -- and the girls in question were silent and sullen on the way home. The first one got out of the car without a word of thanks for the ride. Mom rolled down the window, "YOU'RE WELCOME!" she sang out. The girl turned around astonished, her jaw gaping as we drove off. Clearly, by the time the other sullen Scout was dropped off she had learned by example. "Thankew," she muttered as she got out. "You're welcome," my mom said, matter-of-factly.

I'm glad I finally had the guts to say something back to these children since their parents weren't there to do it. I'm glad I defended Bug and, because I've seen just how quickly kids pick up all kinds of behaviors even after a single exposure. I'm glad was there to explain to him that wasn't a nice way to behave to anyone.

Still I wish I could be more like my friend Kristen who in similar situations has maintained a very sweet tone and friendly composure as she talks to the other kids. Or like my friend Katie, a teacher, who puts on her strong, no nonsense teacher voice. The best I could do was remain neutral in tone and attitude as I explained the facts of the situation.

I don't want to parent someone else's kids. It's hard enough parenting my own.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Copyright © 2002-2012
Stephanie Vander Weide Lucianovic