Mr. Dr. BabyShrink, introduced here, is the playground expert. So I'm letting him handle the following question, sent in by reader Ben: Dear BabyShrink, I have a 3-year-old son who gets pushed around on the playground. He is active but friendly. At the playground, my wife gets involved and tries to work out the disagreements that occur between our son and other children. She becomes too protective, and I think I can be the same way. When do we let our son take care of his own battles, and when do we step in?
Ben in LA
Here's What Not To Do When our daughter was about the same age, she was pushed flat on the ground by a little girl on the playground. I immediately went into “kick ass mode”, and yelled “Hey you, little girl” at the top of my lungs. I immediately saw that I had scared both girls. I tried to collect myself as the other parents gawked, and I realized I was over-reacting. I walked up to the girl who did the pushing and said, “Honey, we do not push at the playground. We wait our turn. When she's done, it will be your turn”. I could see that both girls didn't hear one word I said. My daughter was still startled and frightened by my tone, and the other little girl was just staring at this big man who had yelled at her.
After talking with our daughter later, she was able to say that she was most upset about me, and not the altercation with the other girl. I had to apologize for my over-the-top reaction, instead of helping her figure out how to handle other kids' pushing on the playground.
Here's What I Should Have Done In the future I will let my BabyShrink wife handle playground skirmishes. But in all seriousness, it would have been better to have stayed quiet, and allowed my daughter to handle it herself first. She was not in any real danger, and I was right there if she needed help. I think it’s natural for parents to over-protect and over-react in these kinds of situations. However, reacting this way, we are conveying the message that the little one cannot handle their own affairs. Parents get in the way and become the focus of the problem, instead of allowing the child to learn to resolve the situation on their own. Children develop incredible social skills by handling difficult situations on their own, as long as safety is not an issue.
Help Them Think It Through, For The Next Time After a parent witnesses “a situation”, it is helpful to talk to your child about the way she handled it, and help to brainstorm other ways of dealing with it in the future. We need to put our Neanderthal instincts in check as much as possible. Our kids will stop bringing these situations to us if they know we will over-react. Children will lie to please their parents, instead of discussing the difficult situation.
When parents become too emotionally charged, it usually does not lead to a good outcome. This is one of the most difficult aspects of being a parent: keeping your emotions in check. How do you do that? Take a deep breath and think about how your response will be heard by your child. "Good enough parenting" takes thought and sensitivity. Show understanding, and confirm the facts. Don’t make a scene. Children do get bruises on the playground - don’t have a coniption about it. Calmly teach your child how to verbally defend herself. And if that doesn't work, have her ask a parent or teacher for help.
I want to thank my friend Jeff for helping me edit this post. Jeff is the stay-at-home Dad to four kids, ages six and under!