I don’t know what you would call my parenting style, but it’s not helicopter. I believe in giving kids freedom, letting them figure things out on their own, and encouraging them to explore the world. You could say I’m pretty laid back- which isn’t always a good thing (see: When My Baby Escaped). But while this generally works well for our family, it sometimes presents a problem at playgroups.
Have you ever watched young kids “play” together? There’s a lot of toy stealing, and screaming, sometimes hitting or biting, usually a few tears, and if you’re lucky one toddler ends up laying on the floor kicking and pounding the ground in frustration. None of these things happen because the kids are bad- they’re just kids. They’re not adults. They’re still learning what’s acceptable and what’s going to make people like them vs. want to stay far away from them.
Way too often at playgroups, a kid will steal Wiggles’ toy and Wiggles will scream. That parent will step in, make the kid apologize, and then give Wiggles the toy back. Their intentions are good- they want to make sure their kid is not being a bully. But the outcome is that later when Wiggles steals that kid’s toy, I feel like I have to step in and make Wiggles apologize and give it back. The kids don’t learn how to deal with their own problems. And the other outcome is that the entire playdate becomes a never ending series of parental intervention and I walk away sad that I didn’t get to catch up with my friend. With one kid my social life is already pretty lame, and with 4 kids it’s going to be seriously lame, so when I spend a playdate redirecting toddlers instead of catching up on gossip, I walk away seriously bummed.
So can we all just make a pact to let the kids do their own thing?!
We were at a birthday party recently. I was across the room and the husband was by Wiggles and some other kids. I looked over and saw a kid who was bigger than Wiggles going straight for Wiggle’s finger with his teeth. I knew my kid was about to get bit; things seemed to be moving in slow motion. Sure enough, this kid chomped down and Wiggles started crying his eyes out. I went over to comfort him and scolded the husband for not stopping the situation. The husband said “Did you see what happened right before the bite?” I hadn’t. Turns out Wiggles pushed the other kid to the ground. In the husband’s words, “he deserved to be bit.”
And he did. Push a kid down, get your finger bit. That’s how the world works, kids.
I’m not advocating standing by silently if your kid is truly being a bully. Sometimes it is necessary to step in. But not for every toy steal, scream, gentle push, or tear.
So this is a passive aggressive PSA to all the parents of kids mine play with- if your kid steals my kid’s toy, invoking a fit of screaming hysteria, it’s okay. Really. He’ll get over it, I promise.
And if Wiggles commits the offense first, and I do nothing about it, please don’t think I’m being a lazy parent. I mean, I am, but it’s all for a calculated reason. Know that I will try my darndest to raise all my kids to be kind, compassionate, caring teenagers and adults, ones who never steal toys or scream at their friends. Know that I believe natural consequences are more effective than forced apologies, and if you disagree- that’s fine. Step in when your kid commits the offense and I’ll do the same from there on out.
But seriously, wouldn’t you rather be talking about The Bachelor?