I yelled at another person’s child. And I’d do it again.
I can imagine the tightened knuckles and the quickened breath as you read this, so let me explain how this happened.
During a park playdate including my son and some buddies from school, other kids who were there joined them. Running around, climbing on the jungle gym, hurling themselves down the slides – you get the picture – playing and laughing (and hopefully exhausting themselves for a good night’s sleep!), having the kind of afternoon they missed for months.
One boy repeatedly pushed and punched. He would take running starts to barrel head-first into the kids trying to knock them over. If his target didn’t fall, he’d try to tackle them to the ground.
Each kid asked the boy to stop.
Each kid invited him to play with them as long as he didn’t touch them.
Each kid asked him to stop hurting them.
But the boy wouldn’t stop.
After witnessing this kid bear hug my son and throw him to the ground, I sought out the boy’s grown-up. I did not want to parent another person’s child and was hoping they would step in.
We advocate for our son to use his words.
We want him to be his own problem solver. He knows to seek help from an adult. Hitting is not allowed. But, we have all let my son know he is allowed to physically defend himself if necessary.
When he was thrown to the ground after being pushed, hit, punched – and using his words telling his boy to stop – he hung his head. Tears flowed. He was frustrated and embarrassed. The other kids rallied around him and told the boy to stay away. The boy responded by trying to hit them.
I finally found the boy’s grown-up, on a bench away from the park play area.
My first choice was not to parent another person’s child. I asked her to address the situation, and tell the boy to keep his hands to himself. She reluctantly pulled her attention away from her phone long enough to say,
“Oh, they’re fine. It’s what boys do.”
It was at that moment that same boy was in full sprint, head down, heading towards my son again. I made it back to my son in time to step in front of the boy and my Mama Bear came out:
“You do not touch him.”
The boy veered off just in time to miss hitting me. That got his grown-up’s attention and we exchanged words.
“Don’t you talk to him,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have to talk to him if you did. Keep him away from my son,” I told her.
She and the boy ended up leaving the park. That didn’t have to be the solution. Other parents thanked me for saying something, as they were afraid to do so. It’s not considered “right” to correct someone else’s child, let alone a stranger’s.
I tried to communicate my concern to his grown-up first, but she did nothing to address the physical threat he posed to my son and other children there.
As cringe-y as it would be, I hope someone would let me know if my son was out of control so I could be the one to take action, not a stranger.
I still carry a tight-chested feeling when I think about that experience of parenting another person’s child. But to make sure my child and others feel safe, that their boundaries are respected, and that no one gets hurt – including the aggressor – I’ll parent another person’s child if they won’t.