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My 2yo daughter was playing on a playground, rotating on a kind of one-person carousel. A 2.5, maybe 3yo boy approached her, obviously (to me) wanting to sit on it and use it. The boy immediately started hitting my girl on the head with open hand. Before his parent approached and stopped him, he managed to score a few hits. I didn't intervene, since there was no real danger of her being hurt and I usually try to let her resolve her own playground "trouble". They used to be toy-grabbing problems until then, however. Afterwards, she looked at me, puzzled, showing me how the boy had hit her (gently hitting herself on the head). She's one of the non-violent, passive kids. She won't hit anyone, she doesn't bite or hit when she's angry. She will sometimes try to grab other kids toys when they are using it, but most of the time she sticks to those left free.

A day after that I started thinking and reconsidering that situation.

Should I have intervened? Stopped the boy hitting her? Shown her that such "violence" should be met with appropriate reaction? Or was I right to have let her handle the situation on her own.

What impact did my lack of action have on my daughter? Will she feel "unsafe" with me because of that? Will it encourage any reaction from her in case such thing happens again?

What would you have done?

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Should I have intervened?

You did intervene, in a way. You were present, and you assessed the situation and determined your daughter wasn't in immediate danger.

Children need to be able to rely on their parents to step in to protect them when necessary to avoid harm, but it's a personal parenting decision to shield them from all possible negative interactions. Some parents will say they would never let another child lay a hand on their own if they could help it, and some will handle it just as you did.

Stopped the boy hitting her?

You could have, provided it was done merely by placing yourself between them and/or carrying your daughter away.

There's not much you could have done with the other child, since you should never physically touch another person's child without express consent or reasonably implicit consent (such as when you're supervising them), unless it's to keep them from immediate harm, in which case you're morally obligated to act.

My primary reasoning for not touching another person's child is legal liability. Parents can be quite protective of their children, and somebody else "handling" them can quickly escalate a situation.

I think the socially acceptable response to physical altercations between children is usually to physically remove your own child, or tell them to leave the situation on their own, anyway.

Shown her that such "violence" should be met with appropriate reaction? Or was I right to have let her handle the situation on her own.

I think this question is better answered on its own. There are some relevant existing questions on this topic already:

How to get 4 year old to stick up for himself but not turn into a bully?

How do you teach toddlers to defend themselves?

Teaching children how to fight back

What impact did my lack of action have on my daughter? Will she feel "unsafe" with me because of that? Will it encourage any reaction from her in case such thing happens again?

Children generally trust their parents to attend to their safety and well-being. You choosing to not take action was essentially a signal to your daughter that she wasn't in any real danger.

I'm sure she was confused by the incident, as you expressed, but that's to be expected. It's really confusing to just be thwacked in the head by a stranger.

By not making a big deal out of it, or drawing attention to it, you also communicated to your daughter that stuff like that happens sometimes and life just goes on. If you don't make it a big part of her day, then she likely won't either. Events like that are transient and not harmful overall.

As for communicating that what the other boy did was not okay, the other parent handled that. They removed the boy from the situation, which was a clear signal that what he was doing was not acceptable.

I doubt she'll feel unsafe because of that isolated incident. As you said, she wasn't really harmed. If this was a repeated pattern of behavior towards your daughter, then I'd assume she'd develop a behavioral response. As it stands, I wouldn't expect her to do anything more than possibly avoid that other boy if they run into each other again (but young children can often quickly overcome such conflict as if it never happened).

What would you have done?

Probably what you did. If the other parent hadn't stepped in then I would have probably said, "Don't hit," while walking towards my little one to remove them if necessary.

Depending on the other parent's demeanor, I might have even offered an understanding smile or comment to let them know that we didn't hold any grudges, but that those things happen.

Depending on the other child's demeanor, I may have found a way for the two kids to play something else, together. At that young age, children don't always intuitively know how to interact with one another appropriately, so we as parents can help facilitate their ability to make new friends, even if it's just a playground friend.

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    Thanks for your answer. I was worried I underreacted. Legal liability in such situations is rarely a case in Poland. I never touch a child I'm not familiar with unless it's in danger of some kind (which, so far, happened twice, when a girl's pants were caught in a swing and she couldn't get down, and another girl fell of bicycle). Anyway, afterwards I had a little chat with my girl about other kids' behavior. I think she's forgotten about the situation already anyway, she hadn't mentioned it since the day. – Dariusz Sep 7 '15 at 18:18
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    Not suggesting that it traumatized her or anything, but I would not assume she's forgotten about it, just because she hasn't mentioned it. – aliteralmind Sep 7 '15 at 18:47
  • They may not have forgotten it literally, but I doubt a young child is dwelling on it without mentioning it. Little ones have pretty good memories, but they don't process events with the same cause and effect that more developed minds do. – user11394 Sep 7 '15 at 18:52
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I would play the situation through with her, so she can start thinking about how she might process this kind of thing. Say what you would have done or thought. "Hey stop hitting me! What's wrong with you? You want a piece of me?!" Or have your spouse hit you out of nowhere and then model what you would want her to do. Be silly, with a hint of serious. Attack them with tickles or kisses, and trash talk them (age appropriate trash talk!).

Nothing wrong with laughing about it, as long as she starts to get some real ideas.

The goal should be to stay her non-violent self without becoming a pushover. Fantasizing about being an all-powerful being is probably a good thing. Eventually she'll choose how much of that she wants to make reality.

My favorite parenting book related to this is Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. Amazing book.

Good luck!

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