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The other day I was in line with my twin 3/yo boys and another boy, who was probably 4 or 5, leaped forward and roared in one of their faces. On the way out, they also said he touched their hair. (I had my back turned most of the time)

I didn't catch the hair part, but I did see the roar out of the corner of my eye. At the time all I managed to do was give the parents a brief "WTF?" look. They didn't seem to care. (Which is maybe why their child is a little monster.) The boys and I talked about how that wasn't very nice on the walk back to the car.

Days later, I'm still a bit bothered. Maybe not so much by the child, but by not knowing how to respond. I'm sure some parents would get aggressive and confrontational, but that's not my temperament. Plus the other party could just double-down, and it'd get ugly from there.

Perhaps a firm "Excuse me, I know you're probably just having fun, but it's not very nice to be mean to little kids."? Regardless of the result, I'm hoping it'd show my boys it's important to at least try to speak up.

Open to wiser ways to handle a situation with "bullies" / inconsiderate people.

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    Waoh, 4 or 5? Just my view though as a parent. I wouldn't react to this unless the child in a certain way did something which was dangerous. By roaring I'm assuming the little boy wanted to play, boys tend to playful. Many are times that big kids want to play with my boy do all kinds of funny stuff and since I consider them to be kids I smile back genuinely to the parents and say it's okay. But that's my opinion though. So don't be quick to call the little harmless kid a monster. I quote from your statement here "(Which is maybe why their child is a little monster.) " – user22314 Jun 30 '16 at 16:36
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    @SyombuaMuthoka I do agree that maybe a response isn't required; you certainly don't want to react to everything. This situation felt more like bullying than rambunctious play, though. Innocent or not, if one of my kids was doing this to someone and a parent called him out, I'd be ok with that. It's not ok for my kid's fun to overstep someone else's personal boundaries. I also want my kids to feel secure sticking up for themselves and not accept whatever people are doing to them. Me being quiet makes it seem like this kind of thing is ok. – Anthony Jun 30 '16 at 19:08
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    I have no objection and it's okay to be over protective when it comes to your kid's, however in my view point I don't think a 4 or 5 yr old would bully - unless I'm wrong. Most of it I view it as playing unless the kid starts getting physical where in your case he didnt. Now as you explained I'd view the roar as a pika boo from adults. But then again you know the situation better. I'm also the kind who avoid confrontations so I would have let it pass. :) @Anthony I will actually read on this if 4 or 5 yrs can bully and if they know it, I admit I have no idea. – user22314 Jun 30 '16 at 19:20
  • I found this, but this is when it gets physical. And actually my argument would be based on is the child fully aware of wrong and right. ahaparenting.com/ask-the-doctor-1/4-year-old-is-a-bully-help – user22314 Jun 30 '16 at 19:37
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    Some of this is culture based - for instance in Europe what is called offensive and bullying isn't the same as in the United States. Even what is in the United States in some areas is hyper sensitive to what might have been acceptable 20 years ago. – Adam Heeg Jul 1 '16 at 16:19
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Our job as parents is to equip our children to succeed as an adult. By shielding your child from those situations and talking to the parents, you are doing your child a disservice. Instead, talk to your little ones and help them process the emotions of the moment when that happened. Ask them things like, "was that surprising", "what did you feel when he did that", "was that OK for you?", "If you did not like that, what can you say to him to let him know you did not like it?"

Helping your child process their emotions is incredibly important. Doing the above will help them to process what just happened, as well as show them tools to communicate with other people.

Here is one little article that touches the subject nicely. Do a little more research on your own if you can.

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  • I would vote this as the answer. The way to 'solve' the problem is to empower your own children to be able to speak for themselves. Now of course they are only 3 and are only just starting to expand their communication skills. However you (OP) may be able to use this situation of a big obvious example to teach them to say; "No thank you" or "Please don't touch me" or whatever you want them to learn. – user7678 Jul 2 '16 at 12:35
  • I think there is a lot of great feedback on this thread, and there not a single "right answer". My wife, who is a pre-k teacher, would probably get down on their level and have a great way to address it, while I'd probably just come off creepy. :) That said, this particular answer feels like the right one for me. I'd rather give them the tools to handle themselves than intervene, unless it's unsafe or getting out of hand. For every conflict I see, there's going to be 10 I don't. I want them to be confident and not be shell-shocked when someone does something 'not nice' to them. Thanks! – Anthony Jul 2 '16 at 20:32
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"Little monster" seems a bit harsh. You don't yet know for sure that your children might not pass through an unfortunate or aggressive phase in a year or two. (My son was very aggressive around that age, and it wasn't because we thought it was OK, or because we weren't taking steps to address the issue.)

With that said, I think it's entirely appropriate to model a gentle but firm refusal with a child who is actually touching your children in an unwanted way, and to direct it towards the parents if (and only if) the behavior does not then stop. I'm guessing they (the parents) weren't actually hostile, or that they were glad to see their son scare your kids, but just that they were hoping it would resolve itself before they had to intervene. While there are some actually crazy parents out there, most of them are just trying the best they can with whatever their own particular challenges are (just like you).

Your kids need to know they can stick up for themselves in a low-conflict manner if their private space is being invaded. With that said, it sounds like it might actually have been more bothering to you than to them. A certain level of conflict with other children is part of the growing up process.

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I only complain to other parents if the kids are really small < 4 or the kids don't speak my language. Kids aren't pet dogs, they are able to communicate.

They usually like being respected as independent persons and it is more unusual getting an advice from a foreigner than from their own parents.

I try to get into a friendly dialogue with the kid. "Now he is afraid of you, if you would like to play with him, first ask him. " or similar.

That way I am also distracting the kid from what he was doing.

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After seeing a few of these answers, I'm developing "steps" that I would take in these situations. See what you think.

  1. Assess the situation. Try to figure out exactly what is prompting the actions of the child in question. Get the whole story. A lot of times, a child will just live in a family where rambunctious play is a part of everyday life and he wouldn't think twice about it, even though it's not OK with everyone. If the child isn't behaving aggressively or in a way that could cause physical harm to himself or other children, either leave it be or (if it really bothers your child) ask you child to steer clear of this boy. If the child is invading the personal space of your child and keeps following him, you may start a conversation with the child and, as has been said previously, ask him who his parents are, what his name is, etc. Ask him if he wants to play with your children, and tell him that the way he's interacting with them makes them uncomfortable. Don't be aggressive unless there is an actual dangerous problem.

  2. Address the situation. If you decide that what the child is doing is putting himself or others in immediate danger, don't waste any time. You can use a stern tone, and/or take dangerous items out of his hands, but be very careful to not do anything that could be possible construed as physically aggressive towards the child (i.e. touching him in any way while addressing him, getting too close to him or even using gestures in a way that might cause him to be concerned and step back). Remember, your job as a supervising adult is to prevent calamities, not discipline children who aren't yours. If the child does not comply or is rude, do everything you can to get the parent involved. If the parent simply nods her head and says, "Oh, thank you for telling me..." don't simply walk off; make it clear that she needs to address this now in any fashion that suits her (her kids, her style of raising them, but she can't shrug something dangerous off like that.)

Simply remember that you have no parental authority over this child, and any disciplinary actions need to be done by the actual parent in the way that she decides. If the situation is actively dangerous, make it stop. If it makes your child uncomfortable but doesn't seem to actually be an aggressive or dangerous behavior, just "dance around it" as described in point one.

Point one is important, because it is often easy to misjudge a situation (especially with kids who aren't yours) and react incorrectly. Point two is also important, because you may be the first line of defense in preventing a child from getting injured or emotionally scarred.

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Your protective instincts and concerns about modeling for your boys are right on-the-money, I'd say. As are your concerns about over-reacting. But there is a lot of middle ground here. All the wordiness starting with "Excuse me, ... but..." is not going to mean anything to this age group though (think adult-speak in Charlie Brown specials: wahhh wahh, wahhh wah). I think it has got to be a lot of body language and short sharp words: 1) crouch right down to his eye-level, 2) speak directly at him with eye contact, 3) "No! Do not try to scare my boys like that", 4) point or gesture for him to "get back" if you want, 5) don't seek other parents' permission first, but be ready to de-escalate if necessary ("sorry about that, but I instinctively react to protect my kids"). Modify as necessary to fit your personality and instincts.

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    I feel like that may be a bit too extreme. Remember, while children ought to respect their elders, you technically have no authority over this child and his parents have not explicitly given you permission to act in this way towards him. Keep in mind, the idea isn't to scare the child away, it's to address the problem and maybe even help the parent address the problem. – General Nuisance Jul 1 '16 at 4:28
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    As implied in my answer, I don't think permission needs given where defending and modeling for my children is concerned, yes even with a 5-year-old when personal space is invaded. It's not even about respecting elders, it's basic social norms about violation of personal space. – Jeff Y Jul 1 '16 at 15:11
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    If this were actually bullying or some kind of confrontation between an older kid and a three year old, this isn't actually bad advice. I've very recently had to tell an older (6, maybe 7 yo) to stop throwing sand in my kid's (age 4) eyes after he tried to tell the kid to stop and the mom did nothing when it continued. Spot on about the nit talking so much and getting down on their level. I couldn't care less if another parent is upset. As soon as a parent fails to discipline their own kid to the detriment of another that parent creates an opportunity for someone else to step in. – Jax Jul 2 '16 at 3:38
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    I will add tho, like others have stated, that the op's account of what happened doesn't seem like bullying as much as rambunctious boy behavior. Especially if the kids weren't upset. It's easy to tell if a kid that age is bothered. If nobody started crying or physically retaliating, it probably was more upsetting to the parent's grown-up civility than to a 3 yo's barely civilized nature, so I see why this answer was down voted. I don't think it's bad advice based on the request for advice on how to deal with bullies, but maybe is a little much for "inconsiderate" people. – Jax Jul 2 '16 at 3:48
  • @Jax Re: 3 yo's barely civilized nature. That's precisely where the "modeling" aspect comes in. The OP's angst about inaction seems to stem partly from "failure to help civilize my own boys". – Jeff Y Jul 2 '16 at 12:51
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The only time you should address a stranger's child with complaints is if they are doing something that poses an immediate danger to themselves or others. If they are pestering your children, the best thing to do is remove your children and yourself from their vicinity. If that isn't reasonable, you should approach whoever is in charge of the child and only approach the child when you cannot determine who it is who is in charge of him/her.

When approaching the child you should smile and be very polite and ask who/where the child's parents are. At this point any attentive parent will already be en route directly to you. Take any complaints to the parent (or whoever it is that's in charge of the child) and never directly to the child unless they are posing a danger or are physically harassing your kids.

You letting the siruation get to you days later is your fault for not acting and at least voicing the complaint to the other childs parents. Based on what you've said, you can't possibly know that the kid's parents would take things badly and you're only reinforcing the idea by dwelling on it for days. Making it that much more likely to reoccur.

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  • Actually, I feel like this is the answer that I would have posted. I need to add that roaring and touching hair could be considered bullying, but may also be symptoms of autism or some other issue (even loneliness) and, of course, the child's parent may be better at handling this. You never know. Always get the parent involved. – General Nuisance Jul 1 '16 at 4:30
  • Shielding a child is not the way to go. We need to equip children to handle situations as an adult. – Jeff.Clark Jul 1 '16 at 18:15

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