In Which I Carefully Handle Helicopter Parents

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I have a love/hate relationship with one of the local parenting listservs, as I may have mentioned. In part, I love the crazy ideas I get from crazy people on it. I used to get crazy involved, but I’ve sort of stopped that because it got me so worked up. But sometimes…sometimes I still get involved.
 
Recently, someone was asking for advice on how to “handle” other people’s children on the playground. Now, anyone who is not completely A) narcissistic, or B) insane knows that the answer is, unless someone is in real physical danger, you DON’T. You don’t. Ever.
 
Except…people do. And after my initial response, which was as follows:
 
I actually handle it pretty much identically to what Haidee just described (which was, basically, hands-off). Unless there is actual physical danger (in which case, by all means I’d physically move my child out of the situation!), I usually let the kids work it out themselves. If a child takes a toy from my child and he/she objects, I say something like “There are LOTS of toys. Let’s go find another one!” or “Why don’t we find something else to do? There’s a slide!”. (Of course, if I witness my child take someone else’s toy, I DO intervene and tell them not to do so!)
Personally, I feel like handling situations this way gives my children the tools to navigate social interactions on their own instead of feeling they need to expect authority figures to intervene on their behalf for all real or imagined slights. I’m a little horrified on the rare occasions that I do encounter someone attempting to discipline someone else’s child, especially for something minor like a toy squabble (and have watched people make fools of themselves for attempting to do so wrongly more than once–yikes!).
 
This was met by a flurry of people interjecting how they think it is SO IMPORTANT to teach their kids to be “assertive”, so they ALWAYS help with playground interactions. And they have to teach them NOW NOW NOW to be “assertive” because they need to KNOW! And no one will teach them but THEM! Of course, all these responders had children who were 2 or under. Figures. I rolled my eyes with great effort and composed yet another reply, which I will probably come to regret. But whatever, it’s good fodder for my blog.
 
I have to confess, I always think it’s funny when people explain that they (unlike me) make it a habit to interfere with their children’s playground interactions in order to teach them to be “assertive”, because I’m actually quite an assertive person (as are my children, the apples not having fallen far from the tree, ha!). But at playtime, I personally go in another direction. I don’t think it’s necessary to approach social interactions between small children from the standpoint that other people are out to get one over on your child and you therefore must teach him/her to be “assertive” to ensure this doesn’t happen. No one is trying to take advantage of anyone else–these are just small children who still primarily think with that reptilian “I want” part of the brain, and that’s cool–we’ll get them socialized eventually and there are probably plenty of things around that they “want”. We live in this rich western country where our kids don’t have to burst into inconsolable tears when someone takes the toy they were using because, chances are, there’s always going to be another toy they can play with, instead. This isn’t soviet Russia, that other child didn’t just run off with the last potato…KWIM? 
We all have to approach things with our kids the way we feel is best, and best for OUR particular child, and I think that’s awesome. But when I see people step in again and again and again to facilitate their child’s every social interaction, I feel like the child is coming to expect that s/he’ll always and forever get a “fair” turn with everything, and that’s just not realistic. While every kid is obviously different, I have found that just setting the expectation for my own child’s behavior (“You cannot just take that toy away. Ask if he is finished, or if he would like to trade…”) eventually led to him speaking up himself (“Hey, I was still using that, want to use this airplane instead?”). YMMV, of course, and obviously a little, “You have to tell him you were still using that toy if you were still using it.” isn’t unfounded–but I personally try to always focus on what MY child can do in the situation, because that is all s/he will ever have control of in life, right?
But I also think, when it’s your first child and he or she is still very young, like toddler age; there’s a tendency to feel like s/he is being unfairly taken advantage of by “much bigger” kids. As your child gets older, you learn that really, while there are obviously degrees of youth/inexperience/babyness; ALL those kids on the playground are still very young children who are still learning to properly express their needs, the same as your child. (And probably, the lion’s share of them have parents who are horrified by their occasional reptilian-brain behavior!)
 
I choose my words so carefully, I do. Parents who feel the need to intervene every. single. time. they feel like their kid’s “turn-taking rights” have been violated are a Very Special Pet Peeve of mine. 
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