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Over time, I’ve learned how to successfully navigate the treacherous doldrums of the social milieu.

Drunken relatives, flashers, pukers, puking flashers, men with sinister moustaches, people who address me in pidgin Leprechaun: I’ve stared down them all and emerged from each encounter with – variously – enhanced awareness, self-restraint and/or lexicon of expletives.

Then I had a baby and was introduced to a whole new, entirely foreign social protocol.

Basically the problem is: parents.

Or more specifically that, as a parent, you are directly and fully responsible for an irrational, arbitrary, vicious, Hulk-smash werebeast in miniature.*

7/6/13 - Going mountain biking

7/6/13 – Going mountain biking

I mean: what do you do when someone’s child gouges another’s eye out with a sawn-off spoon? Or reverses repeatedly over some baby’s head in a tonka-truck? Or dismembers a teddy bear with a chainsaw?

I can handle the situation when Finn is the aggressor. What do you mean, HOW? I – ah – right. Yes – well – er – the key – I think – is anticipation and prevention. On the occasions Finn slips past my vigilant defence and robs some kid’s toy with a rugby-style high-tackle, I – ah – assess the severity of the transgression allied with the degree of damage to person and/or property. After separating the children and confiscating unlawfully relocated possessions and stanching any blood, I apologise profusely to the associated parent in between expressing how terribly embarrassed I am and I SWEAR HE TAKES AFTER HIS FATHER.

Yes, I think that about covers it.

And as long as Finn’s still breathing, I’m ok when he’s attacked by someone’s child and his/her parent swoops in to apologise profusely and express how terribly embarrassed they are and I SWEAR THEY TAKE AFTER THEIR FATHER. I mean, these things happen. Kids will be kids. Life is full of hard knocks.

But I’ve been – let’s say – taken aback by the number of parents who appear not to notice their lovable little scamps staging a violent coup in the north annex of the playcentre. (I’ve noticed the lack of interest appears closely correlated to their number of progeny.)

Under such circumstances, I’m not sure what acceptable procedure is. I’m particularly uncomfortable disciplining someone else’s child, allied with a primal terror of offending people. But where is the line between my cultural heritage and my duty of care towards Finn? And what message do I give him by standing by and letting him getting hurt? And how much am I being over-protective as a first-time mother? After all, the majority of other children are still in possession of most of their limbs and they can always be sewn back on . . . so perhaps I’m being melodramatic. It wouldn’t be the first time, you might agree.

The other day, I took Finn to a playcentre for children ranging from newborn to age seven or eight. There are two distinct play areas: a room with a playpen for the babies and an adjoining gym with slides and trampolines and cars for the older kids.

Finn has been able to blast his way out of any industrial-strength playpen for several months now, so although he’s a little too small for the gym that’s where he spends most of his time.

When we arrived, a three-year old girl took an interest in Finn – perhaps because he was precisely 50% of her body mass. If Finn had a toy, Katy wanted it. Then she started pushing him.

The third time she did so – with no evidence of any supervision or parental intervention – I crouched down in front of her and said, ‘Ah, now. Would you mind awfully – er – not doing that please? It’s not – um – very nice. Ok? Good girl.’

The look she gave me was so chillingly disdainful I actually felt a piece of my soul shrivel and die. Then, while I peeled my weeping son off the floor, she sauntered off to temporarily terrorise some other child.

Everyone was standing around gathering up coats and bags when I noticed Katy stalking Finn again. Unfortunately, it was too late to alter the course of fate. Thrusting both her hands squarely in his chest, she hurled him into a chair.

I was standing slightly behind her out of her line of vision, so I suppose from her perspective it was something of an ambush when I pounced on her. However, I was gentle but firm. In other words, I stuck my face in hers and barked, ‘NO! PLAY NICELY! NO PUSHING OTHER CHILDREN!’

Look, at least I didn’t call her nasty names.

As she stared tremulously into my slightly bulging eyes, her shocked face quailed and her little bottom lip quivered. Then she burst into noisy tears.

And it was like a stack of dominoes, detonating an explosive chain reaction of wailing. Finn’s friend** Max was so overcome with misery he flung himself on the floor and sobbed inconsolably.

Imagine your worst visualization of Hell, only about ten times noisier.

Next time I’ll ensure there are no witnesses.

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

13/5/13 Big brown eyes

* Before you ask: not only do I include Finn in the assessment above, he was in fact my primary case-study in formulating and refining this theory (I’m in NO POSITION to discriminate here).

** I love his mother and Max doesn’t routinely fire Finn into furniture, so at this stage that’s a BFF as far as I’m concerned.


Comments on: "I made a little girl cry but that three-year-old was so totally asking for it" (3)

  1. Speaking as a parent of several months’ seniority to you, I completely endorse the abovedescribed actions.

    My only advice would be: when you want to rebuke a child other than Finn, keep it short. In the scenario you describe, I would have said no more than “Oi! Don’t do that!” Aim for an inflection of disappointment and/or disgust. Don’t dignify them with anger.

    Keeping it short serves many purposes:
    1. It’s a safe, all-purpose battle cry, which spares you from having to work out what exactly they did wrong. That helps you to exercise the correct sort of unthinking partisanship.
    2. It’s less likely to panic the kid. Shorter = less words to parse, and briefer duration
    3. It attracts less adult attention to you. Most adults take at least 1.3 seconds to disengage their eyes from whatever they’re currently trying to ignore. (Significantly longer for sleep-deprived adults, which is a category that you can safely assume includes most parents.) By the time they’ve done that, you’ll have finished, so no-one else will be entirely sure what you said, or even that it was you who said it.
    4. Saves breath. You’ll need that in case you want to make yourself heard above the ensuing din.

  2. deadlyjelly said:

    That is most excellent advice, thanks! Short and bitter: got it. Don’t attract attention: makes sense. Do I have to say ‘oi’ – is that a key word?

    What intrigues me suspect the parents who practice active indifference would be those most offended by others reprimanding their crotchfruit x

  3. My kid goes to daycare. He’s been the target of ‘sharing’ – when a more capable tot takes something away. My considered action has been to stand up for the victimised child. I anticipated the Capable’s actions and gripped his wrist, saying firmly, “You didn’t ask. InsertNameHere isn’t ready to share.”

    When it’s my kid doing the ‘sharing’, I talk to him too.

    One of the best things I did was to teach my kid to stand up for himself, “Mine!”

    Perhaps too effectively, as he’d take my stuff and say, “Mine!”

    Back on-topic about physical actions, I have nothing to offer. I haven’t been there yet. I do agree with Vet that a 3yo is much better disciplined with clear concise instructions – better if you can make it a positive instruction. “Play nicely” is a good instruction. “Oi!” is needed, to alert the tot that Something is going to happen.

    “No” is a negative word, and that could be why the kid burst. When I’m thinking, I try to use “Stop” instead, as it is also an instruction without the emotional baggage. I’m not sure, but I think my kiddo has begun to say, “stop that Daddy” when teasing gets too much. (Which is more informative than “No” which is used on a regular basis for refusing yoghurt, demanding yoghurt, demanding slippers, demanding the other slippers, demanding no slippers at all.)

    [caveat: my parenting style is all about me, and my experiences as child, and parent, and reader and scoffer of parenting books. It may not be suitable to apply outside of my life.]

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