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This is closely related to this question. However, that primarily deals with interactions at relatively controlled, private functions. This question is more focused on the feeding-frenzy style chaos we've encountered in more public venues.

We've recently taken my son (20 months old) to a few public attractions geared towards young children/toddlers. The idea behind these attractions is to provide an environment friendly to children, with a wide variety of interactive displays, toys, and activities ranging from floating rubber duckies and plastic boats on an interactive waterway, to simulated "grocery stores" complete with child-friendly products to put in child-sized shopping carts.

The trips were massive hits with my son. Being able to run around and explore at his own pace, coupled with the sheer variety of Really Cool Things to play with, made these destinations instant favorites.

However, what we found is that many parents there apparently either turned their kids loose and let them run around essentially unsupervised, or followed them around but just didn't care to (or weren't capable of) restraining their child when they misbehaved.

My son was probably one of the youngest there (most seemed to be in the 4-5 year old range), so was at a significant disadvantage to the larger kids. We were constantly by his side the entire time, but some of the behavior we witnessed included:

  • Children pushing my son aside to play with whatever he was playing with at the time (one mother asked her son to let my son play; when her son ignored her, she continued to ask him in increasingly politer tones to share, until he shouted "no!", at which point she gave up).
  • Children cutting in line to get at activities where each child was supposed to take turns (e.g. an air-compressor powered "rocket launcher" that fired foam projectiles across the room, with a sign saying "only two rockets per turn please"; two boys with armfuls of rockets pushed past my son and two other children to monopolize the launcher, and their parents were nowhere in sight).
  • One child of about 5 actually took a swing at my son when he came over to play in the same large play structure; the boy's mother was standing right there and did nothing.

How do you handle these situations? I found myself being less assertive with some of the other children than I would have liked to have been, largely because the site of someone pushing, bullying, or swinging at (there was no actual contact) my son provokes an instant rage-response, which is not the best position to be in when dealing with strange children. Dealing with the parents was only possible some of the time, since many times no other related adults were in sight.

Staff presence was sparse, at best, and rarely in sight of where the actual activities were taking place.

Given the haste which with people in the US call lawyers, I'm doubly reluctant to physically remove another child from a toy or activity that my son should have priority on, but if they're actively endangering my son....

I also don't want to teach my son that the appropriate response is to roll over and let other kids push him around. I want him to understand when he is in the right, and others are in the wrong, and assert himself in those situations.

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I've been in situations like this where I've intervened and subsequently had other people's children coming to me to resolve their problems too :) –  Benjol Jun 8 '12 at 7:43
    
Me too, @Benjol –  Christine Gordon Nov 15 '12 at 18:55

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I've found that children generally are deferential to adults who aren't their relatives or friends. So be friendly and don't be scared to engage with them.

I've found if children are hogging stuff, if you say: "Hey there can my kid have a go on this, it looks cool?" will usually result in them moving along to something else, or showing you and your kid how whatever you want to do works.

With low-level pushing and shoving then it you make yourself know as a presence then kids can back off. Usually I ask my son if he is okay, he'll usually complain about the kid who has pushed him. At which point we go back to asking if we can play with whatever they are shoving over.

When it comes to fighting then I always say: "Hey, cut that out!". Kid's that use violence are generally old enough and savvy enough to know they are misbehaving. And that behaviour isn't acceptable.

It's not about disciplining children, it's about making them aware of what they are doing. They should know whether that is behavior is acceptable.

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Yes, let the other kids no you are watching. Role model how a bystander should stand up to bullying, by remaining firm, and respectful. "Excuse me, it was this child's turn next." etc. Keep a firm, 'teacher' voice. The kids will back off. Even teens will. Be friendly, and definitely follow your kid around if he is that much younger than the rest. –  Christine Gordon Nov 15 '12 at 18:57

If you don't feel comfortable interfering here, either because you think you're going to rage out or because you don't see any possible positive outcome, then avoid the place altogether. Instead, I would find similar places that have more supervision, or if wherever you live has limited children's activities, go with a bunch of friends who have kids about your kid's age (or better, a kid who is 5 and would totally dig being your son's protector).

It sounds like these parents are at the ends of their ropes dealing with preschoolers. If their parents want to avoid them, I'd take the hint.

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Great answer - I would have written the exact same thing. It's not a weakness to walk away; it's the smarter choice (perhaps especially in lawyer-insane countries). –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 30 '12 at 20:01
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Sorry, but when "another place" is half-day of driving away (and according to description, it seems not like place you'd see on every corner) it isn't really good idea to leave and "punish" own kid for other's misbehavior. –  Oleg V. Volkov Jun 13 '12 at 14:00
    
While this is an excellent short term solution (sometimes you have to pick your battles, sometimes all you can do is walk away), you can't always walk away. Teach him while he's young so he'll know when he's older, sometimes you stand up to yourself, sometimes you walk away. –  Konerak Oct 9 '12 at 6:43
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I recently had to deal with a bunch of extremely bratty children who were running in a play area that they were clearly too old for. When I and some other parents asked the kids to leave, they were extremely rude, and their father told me to 'cram it sideways.' So then, the real question is-- how to deal with jerks? One method is avoidance; the other is to be confrontational. It may be difficult to teach when one or the other is appropriate when they are very young, as they haven't yet learned the nuances of human interaction. –  mmr Oct 9 '12 at 16:12

It is very hard to deal with undisciplined children, especially when they have disciplining parents. A few suggestions: Speak to the parent privately and give suggestions. Demonstrate good parenting at all times. Teach your child to remove themselves from the situation. Teach your child, and this is a big one in our family, that different children have different rules so we have to abide by ours (in other words he can't repeat the bad behavior he sees) and if someone has different rules we don't like we move away. Get the teacher involved, explain to her what you are doing at home/playdates and have her use the same words.

This has worked magic with my 3year old son who is a gentle soul and well behaved. He has learned, even at school, when children are not treating him properly or misbehaving he tells his teacher, 'I need to move stations, this one isn't working'.

good luck.

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Did you mean "when they have undisciplined parents"? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 31 '12 at 11:34
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Yes, sorry, I mean undiscipling parents (that isn't a word, but I think it makes sense) –  morah hochman May 31 '12 at 15:02
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"Speak to the parent privately and give suggestions" can be problematic though, if you find the parent is one of the perfect ones who resent you telling them how to parent! Any well-intentioned advice can be seen as criticism of their parenting style, and met with hostility. I would be very careful doing this. –  NiceOrc May 31 '12 at 21:46

I've never been shy about "helping" other parents out when what they're doing (or more often what they're not doing) isn't working. I've found that typically if you get on to another parents child, one of two things will happen:

  • The child will run off and whine to their parents about you chastising them.
  • The parent will come over, give you dirty looks, and then remove their child from the area.

As an example, I was in a local salon/barber shop, and a woman came in with two boys, one about 2, and another around 4. The younger one was sitting quietly, looking through the pictures in one of the haircut books, and the older child kept on poking him, hitting him, and just picking on him in general. The mother appeared oblivious to the behavior. When they would get loud, she would "separate" them, which worked for about 5 seconds. Finally, the younger child retaliated, and bit the older one. He immediately started bawling and crying, "He BIT me!", and the mother started to baby him. At that point, I spoke up and said, "I would have bit you, too. You're being mean to him, and he obviously doesn't like it." The mother looked at me, shocked, then kind of blushed, and actually separated the kids for a while, making sure that they stayed separated, and then made sure that they behaved - at least the rest of the time I was there.

I don't think you should have to leave (nor do I think you should) because other kids are misbehaving. You need to be willing to do what so few people are these days, and step up and take charge of the situation. You'll have to stand your ground against other parents and badly behaved children, but the parents that DO watch their kids and give a crap about them will greatly appreciate it, and the parents that don't or that try to baby their brats when they should spank them will learn to recognize you and just leave when you show up.

I've taken this approach many, many times, and it is always effective. I've had angry parents and angry kids, but it's extremely rare for them to actually say anything back if you look serious and use a stern and solid tone. You do have to be careful not to cross the line over to appearing as a threat. You'll learn to be more assertive and "ballsy" as you start doing this.

As far as leaving the place when other kids start misbehaving, I think that leaving teaches your child to run away from problems rather than fixing them. You need to show your child that you are there for them, and will defend their rights, and that they don't have to let people run them away, or run over them. This is something that will form into lessons that will carry them through school, college, and a career - stand up for yourself, stand up for others, take charge, and make the world a better place for everyone.

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I'd leave and find somewhere else and other groups of people to play with. We're lucky to have places to go where we meat other conscious and reasonable parents so we don't experience this sort of thing often, but when we do we stay close and leave as soon as we can basically. However fun it seems, it's not worth it.

A side effect of "depriving" your children of those hyper-intensive-active situations with kids running wild screaming their heads off is also that they'll know/remember how to have fun playing with a cardboard box and be ecstatic with a bouncy ball.

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