Dear Kerry,

I sometimes take my 2 year old daughter to a local park to play. When we’re there, we often encounter kids whose behavior is questionable. Grabbing, pushing, saying “Mine!” etc. The parents often smile at me as if to say “Oh, you know how kids can be!” rather than addressing and correcting the situation. What can I do?

Dealing with Other Parents’ Parenting

Dear Dealing,

Consider dealing with those children like you would when you take your daughter to a petting zoo. At a petting zoo, you don’t know if the goat is going to chew on the hood of her coat or if the goose is going to flap its wings and scare her.  So what do you do there?  The younger she is, the closer you stick… ready to shoo away a pushy animal or pick her up to keep her safe.  It might be a lot of effort but animals are animals, after all, so it’s hard to predict how they’ll act and which ones are safe.  Same with other peoples’ kids. Same with other parents. Sure, you might want to give those inattentive or overly tolerant parents a schooling but the last time I checked, not many people go to playgrounds to gather parenting wisdom and advice from strangers in the park.

One strategy I’ve found useful is to treat other kids like you might if you were supervising a group of children on a field trip.

That means speaking up to the kids about manners and behavior in a polite, respectful way.  I think it’s important to talk to them as kindly and respectfully as you would want a stranger to speak to your child.  This approach goes with the notion of “It Takes a Village” to raise a child and that all adults have a responsibility to help guide and teach the children around us.  If we take this approach, it means we interact warmly and positively during good behavior and bad toward the toddlers playing around us.  It gives us a chance to model good manners in front of our own children if we are saying, “Please” and “Thank You” and letting others go first.

Lastly, if you absolutely feel like you need to address a situation with another parent, try to remember these three tips:

  1. Introduce yourself like you would to a new friend.
  2. Say something positive, whether it’s about their child, the day, a compliment, etc.
  3. Be curious.  It might sound like, “I’m wondering if you saw your daughter push my daughter and it really upset her. I’m wondering if it would be ok with you for me to say something to her about it.”  Or even, “If your daughter was pushing another little girl on the playground, would you want to know about it?”

If you assume that the parent is basically a good human who wants his/her daughter to treat others well, you’re more likely to get a positive response than if you take the stance that this is a negligent, lazy parent who doesn’t care.  If you are dealing with someone with a chip on their shoulder, no amount of politeness or kindness is likely to make a difference so don’t take their lack of caring personally.  Who knows what they might be struggling with today?