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.