Chitty Chitty Free-Range

Hi Readers: An interesting note. Do we celebrate community or automatically distrust it? — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: It has occurred to me that Mr. Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang  is the ultimate Free-Range parent, openly supporting his children’s truancy, letting them run amok around town, coming up with imaginative adventures, etc.

A few weeks ago when I took my boys (7, 5, and 3) to see the Chitty Chitty performed by our community theater, I saw just how “crazy” parents find this lovely story these days.

The show was in the gym of a local elementary school. They had cordoned off an area in front of the stage where children could sit on the floor. My two little guys wanted to sit there and I thought nothing of leaving them there while I took my seat near the back of the gym with my oldest. At intermission, when we went up to retrieve my younger sons, the children’s area had emptied out and everyone was  in the foyer, buying concessions and chatting. I couldn’t find my boys, but I waited in the hall near the bathrooms and eventually they found me. My 3-year-old had been a little nervous and teary, but his 5-year-old brother held onto his hand and told him they’d find me soon. We bought some snacks and went on our merry way, only to be stopped by an older woman who chastised me for leaving them alone. “Your little son was crying and lost!” she chided me.

How was he lost? I knew he was in one of two big rooms, and he was with his brother who is a very independent, level-headed guy.

My boys went back to their seats for the final act, as did I.  Now, if you remember the movie, you know that Mr. Potts and Truly Scrumptious left the kids alone and they were tempted and captured by the Child Catcher. (Every parent’s worst nightmare, right? Even Free-Range parents have to admit that the Child Catcher is super creepy!) But guess who saved them? All the hidden urchin kids! Kids allowed to be independent and capable!

At any rate, the Child Catcher, here wonderfully played by a local teenager, was TRULY creepy and at one point came out into the crowd,  getting down into the faces of the little ones on the floor in the kids’ section. Most people laughed, but unbeknownst to me, my littlest guy was terrified!  Luckily, an older boy (maybe 9 or 10) sitting nearby gathered him onto his lap and comforted him through the rest of the show. When the lights came up, that boy’s dad stayed there with them until I made my way up to them. I was so grateful to them for doing a wonderful, neighborly thing: Being kind to a small kid who was frightened. I gave them my appreciation and we walked out.

I cannot tell you the number of parents who stopped me to lament how “scary” the show had been, how “awful” it was that my son had been crying and unable to find me, and how “terrible” it was that the production had allowed the kids to sit “alone” in front.

All I can say is, my child was fine, as evidenced by the fact that the first thing he said when we returned home to my husband was: “It was AWESOME, Dad!” Let’s give kids, and community kindness, a little credit. — Carrie

148 Responses

  1. Hooray for you, Carrie, for allowing your little on some freedom! Imagine keeping him in a bubble until adulthood. Adulthood is very stressful and scary. A few tears now are going to save him a lot later.

  2. I don’t actually believe in giving my kids more distance than they’re ready for. It’s not “freedom” if they are unhappy because they want to be with their parent, and it sounds like that happened twice during this event. A big deal that caused any long-term harm, no. But not a great example of free-range parenting, which should factor in kids’ developmental needs.

  3. I’m starting to think that you’re doing something wrong as a parent if you’re not called irresponsible on a regular basis.
    I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of these remarks and I won’t pretend they don’t upset me – being a very shy person they do, a lot. But I can’t bring myself to treat my children aged 9 and 5 like tiny infants, which is actually the only way to avoid such comments.

  4. Sarah Rain, I agree that if the child is mostly unhappy being separated from his parent, maybe he needs to work out some things before being separated again. However, an occasional moment of discomfort, followed by the relief and pride of figuring out how to fix the problem, is a recipe for happiness and confidence in the long run. A three-year-old crying isn’t necessarily an indication that he’s in over his head. My kids cried plenty when they were 3 over things they were more than mature enough to handle. Adults cry too – that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to handle what life throws at them. It just means they have a way to release their tension while they work things out.

  5. I was at religious store the other day getting supplies for church. My 2 1/2 year-old saw a lady from our church and ran over to say hi. Then the lady turned to me and we had this conversation:
    Her: She’s pretty fearless, isn’t she?
    Me, proudly: Yep, she’s definitely not shy!
    Her: Doesn’t that SCARE you?!

    I had no idea that my daughter recognizing someone from church was a scary thing. Ugh.

  6. Yesterday my 4-year-olds brought home a paper from “Stretch & Grow.” It said that they had been told that they must never talk to or go with strangers, among other things.

    I told my kids that I disagreed that they must never talk to strangers. If they are out and about and someone we don’t know greets them, I want them to respond politely. I agreed that they must never “go with” a stranger, i.e., not follow them anywhere where others can’t see them, not hold their hand, not get in their car, etc. That if a stranger tries to talk them into that or offer them something for coming close, they are to say “no thank you, I have to go home / back to my mom now.”

    I explained that while I usually agree with their teachers, sometimes the school has different rules than I have. That they must follow the school’s rules while at school, and my rules everywhere else. And my rule is that you are polite to your neighbors and people who greet you nicely, and that includes speaking to them.

  7. It’s all about perspective sometimes, isn’t it? My daughter got separated from us on the beach when she was much smaller, and while I won’t say it wasn’t a moment of panic, ultimately, I was so comforted to know that actually, the world worked exactly as it should, the lifeguards found her quickly, and returned her to us totally unscathed. So to me the story isn’t When My Kid Got Lost, it’s When My Kid Got Found.

  8. @SKL, I agree with Sara Rain. The 3 year old didn’t “work anything out”. His 5 year old brother did when they couldn’t find mom at intermission, and the older child did when the 3 year old was terrified during the show. I’m not really sure the example of the 3 year old in this story is something we want to hold up as free-ranging. But we should give kudos to the 5 year old and 9 or 10 year old kids who stepped in when the little one was clearly in over his head.

  9. @Sara Rain and Elissa – SKL is right, the 3 year old DID work it out, with the help of older kids around him (the 5 year old brother, the 9/10 year old kid). If he had not worked it out, he would not have been going on about how AWESOME it was later. This was a fantastic free-range experience. Not only did the 3 year old ultimately have a great time, two other kids got the satisfaction of being the ones to help him do so. My boys are in a Montessori school, and I can attest that one of the things the kids find most rewarding is the permission and the opportunity to help other kids.

  10. The one thing everyone needs to remember about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: the happy ending was when Miss Truly Scrumptious came into the children’s lives, giving them a bit of order, cleanliness and stability. And Elissa and Sara Rain? Of course the 3 year old worked something out…he worked out that he doesn’t always need Mommy…sometimes big brother and other kind older boys are good resources when you’re feeling scared and out of your element.

  11. This story and some of the comments reminded me of some things from my childhood.

    1. My Dad’s boss had a wagon in the grand opening of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. During the week they filled it with adult customers. On the weekends they used cusomers kids.Sis and I understood we weren’t allowed to ride, but we went down with Dad to see all the horses.

    One time they were short kids so the boss told Dad to put us in. When we got back and unloaded – the driver told boss that he wasn’t driving any more with just kids. Either the parents had to go or sis and I had to go.

    Sis and I had gone into older cousin mode. Sis had calmed down a child that decided to scream at the top of her lungs and I had wrangled a kid that kept trying to climb over the driver to pet the horses from the wagon. Sis took riding lessons. I didn’t but I had be raised to respect horses, knew the basic safety rules, and was reasonably competent on the odd trail ride.

    2. My parents once told me that they regretted not teaching me to be more defiant of adults. I was bullied by an awful teacher in 3rd grade – and didn’t tell my parents. The bullying actually aggravated some fine motor skill problems and triggered my LD becoming full blown.

  12. The important thing to teach kids IMO is the difference between a stranger who approaches them, and a stranger they approach. If someone approaches you, you need to be on guard. You don’t really know anything about them, unless you’re introduced by a 3rd party you trust. Even someone wearing a uniform might be ‘bad’, so don’t go away with them.
    But if you need help, it’s good to ask strangers for help. Use your judgement as to which stranger to ask, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  13. Also, Elissa and Sarah Rain, this isn’t about a 3-year-old being left wandering alone. Pairing a tot with an older child is a perfectly fine way of helping them transition to greater independence. It was the way of the world when I was growing up.

  14. I disagree. In my opinion, which I am entitled to, just as you are entitled to yours, the 3 year old didn’t work it out. He turned to older children for comfort and to work it out for him.

    I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this point.

  15. To those saying this wasn’t a good experience for the 3-year-old: Children learn by example. By seeing how the 5-year-old dealt with the intermission problem, he’ll have a better idea next time it comes up. And when the show got scary, he learned from the 9-year-old (and other kids nearby no doubt) it wasn’t that scary after all.

  16. @SKL – The point that Sara Rain and I were agreeing on is that perhaps the 3 year old wasn’t ready for the freedom given by mom. I agree that paring a tot with an older child is a good way to help a child transition to greater independence. However, I’m just not convinced that the 3 year old was ready for such independence, and don’t feel that the 3 year olds story in this scenario is a good example of the free range philosophy.

  17. Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazon’s series of books are wonderful tales of free-range kids, or normal life in Victorian England, depending on how you want to look at things.

  18. I wonder how many people know that:

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by Ian Fleming
    — creator of James Bond — for his son Caspar.

  19. @Elissa – The truth of a child’s free-range experience is NOT how a parent (or other adult) feels about it, but how the child ultimately reacts to it. Were the 3 year old not ready for that level of “independence” (he was with his older sibling, not alone), he would have been going on and on to his dad about how he “got lost” and cried and “got scared” and cried (can you tell I have two 3 years old boys?). Instead, the first words out of his mouth were “that was AWESOME!”.

  20. I like how the 3 year old handled it. Any time a kid is happy about an event that caused a scare, something went right with the scare, and they’ll probably cope better next time. I would consider it to be too much if the child were still sobbing about it in the car later.

  21. To be honest, I’m such a baby that I *still* cry a little if I’m lost or if something troubling happens (even if it’s on telly). I don’t think my parents would very much like the interpretation that I’m not “ready” to be separated from them! 🙂

    The fact is, from the little bit of story we’ve got, we can’t know what the three year old was feeling. If he’s a weepy kid like I was, then he’s almost certainly fine and dandy. If not, then maybe it was too much too soon. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to his mother, who hopefully knows her own child enough to be able to read the signs.

  22. Perhaps I should say sobbing or otherwise unhappy about it later.

  23. Nice story and fantastic that the mother had the courage to do what was right for the kids and not be bullied by the “wellmeaners” .

    Her younger son was allowed to manage his anxiety (even without the benefit of yoga), her middle son was given the opportunity to problem solve, and good fortune gave a tween, that they didn’t know beforehand, the chance to nurture, which, if my own dear memories inform rightly, he cherished. Only small mindedness would want to rob these children of those experiences.

  24. 1.) Should a child never be permitted to do something until he/she will not be scared or upset?

    2.) Does a good parent prevent a child from learning to walk or ride a bike until he can do it without falling?

    3.) Should a good parent hold a child back from
    learning how to do something until the child can do it without making a mistake – so he won’t be upset?

    4.) Are FEAR and other forms of distress so terrible we must not allow children to experience them?

  25. Somehow, as a culture we’ve gone from ‘having a kid die’ is a tragedy to ‘having a kid cry, even for a few minutes’ is a tragedy.

  26. I took my son (9) to a local art and food market that my neighborhood has once a month. He immediately found a friend and began playing football on the blocked off side street while I went around to the booths and chatted with friends. When I was ready to go, I went back to where the boys were playing only there were no boys. He ended up at the booth belonging to the parents of the boy he was playing with. I never freaked or worried, and neither were the other parents concerned that my son had been left alone (especially since theirs had, too). It was such a normal, natural child moment. What an incredibly great feeling that was as a kid when you could just be somewhere with your friend! I hate that that is unnatural now.

    Re: Lenore’s post – what’s funny is that it was an *older* woman who first expressed concern. How much do you want to bet that she didn’t exhibit that kind of vigilance when her kids were young?

    Re: whether the younger kid was ready. My son is 9 and there are times he *still* clings to me (fortunately not at the market). While you do have to play it by ear and provide comfort and contact when needed, sometimes kids need a little push, especially when the payoff is big. Surely it was better for the kids to see the play up front than to be in the back row with mom. An interactive immersive experience will hold a kid’s attention much more so than sitting far away. And with “awesome” as the result – it worked.

  27. A s.o. else telling my child not to talk to strangers story.

    My daughter’s friend’s mother, a very gregarious woman, the wife of a pastor, the mother of four children, whose own daughter is most definitely more free-range than not, told my daughter not to talk to strangers. This being Germany, and this being that particular woman, I was really surprised and shocked. And then really annoyed.

    I told my daughter that it was completely silly to listen to that advice. We talk to strangers all the time, strangers give us directions, tell us the time of day, chat with us in the tram, even help us when we’re in trouble. And how about if they need information or help from us? We’d have to talk to them to help them, and not helping people when you can isn’t very kind. The important thing to remember is — never go off with a stranger.

    I had a good mind to give that other mother a talking to, in a nice way, of course, with the intention of enlightening her (she’s actually a really lovely woman) or, failing that, just to request she please not think it okay to tell my daughter how to function in public spaces (I was somewhat miffed).

    But I realized it’d be entering helicoptering territory to do so. I can’t control what other people tell my daughter. If the woman had said it in front of me, that would have been a different story, naturally. But since she didn’t, I can only give my child good advice to counter other, and hope she follows it. And of course she will. Because my advice is in agreement with the world as one observes and lives it, and the other advice (funny enough!) isn’t.

  28. @ Sara Rain and Elissa – You are acting like the mother FORCED her 3 year old to go sit away from her when he didn’t want to go there. Ever tried to keep a 3 year old from going to sit with his two older brothers? It ain’t happening without a fight. And it’s not a fight that I believe that parents should get into. If the 3 year old WANTS to go sit with his older brothers and the older brothers are willing to be somewhat responsible for him, why get into a battle that is going to ruin the show for everyone in the theater? The 3 year old learned either (a) that he would rather sit with his mother than his older brothers, or (b) that he’s okay being away from his mother and that his brothers and other kids will help him if needed. Either way, he learned something and it was done without ruining everyone else’s good time or making the entire family leave the theatre and not see the play.

  29. As a matter of fact, the writer specifically stated that the two youngest WANTED to go sit in the front. She did not force him to go there. She did not dump him in front, telling him he had to stay there. He was not ripped off of her lap against his will. He wanted to do something and she allowed him to do it because there was no reason not to. If he had been so shaken up after the intermission, he could have chosen to stay with his mother and oldest brother. He didn’t. He CHOSE to go back to the front of the theatre.

  30. I am not as cavalier as you. Disney World has a similar set up at the Turtle Talk with Crush where the kids sit alone up front. One son did not want to do it so he sat with us. The other son (my special needs son who cannot talk and maybe has hearing problems) wanted to sit up there. I let him but I was a nervous wreck the entire time. Mostly because I knew when they dismissed everyone that it would be a mad crowd and I might lose him. He has no qualms about wondering off on his own and he is small for his age and fast so he gets lost quickly.

    When they dismissed us I was acting like a football player running a play dodging and elbowing people out of the way to catch him. I actually leaped over a bench to get to him. I would not do it over again by letting him up there alone if I had to do it over again. Not at that point with his very limited verbal skills. He is stil small and fast but he at least can talk a little more. I just think it is too risky. I let him do what he wanted and I know he enjoyed it and felt big but I didn’t like having to be rude and about tackle people to get up there to him before he ran off. He was 3 and 4 months at the time.

    It is all about each individual child. My other twin could have been trusted up there since he does not run off and can talk very well. So you just have to use your judgement.

    I don’t think I fault the other people for being concerned about the child crying and not being able to find you.That would concern me too. I often am the nice lady trying to console the lost child or upset child whose parent is no where to be found and it upsets me because I have no idea what is going on if the parent is missing or nearby or what to do. It is also not a great idea to put a 5 year old in charge of a sibling just because 5 year olds cannot be responsible for 3 year olds. If the 3 year old ran off there is not much a 5 year old could do to stop it so why put them in that situation?

  31. What a fabulous story of overcoming fears and brotherly bonding and all that. It’s so great the 5yo didn’t get upset or panic when he couldn’t find mom right away. He kept his younger brother calm and found his mom and life went on.
    And then the older boy that jumped in to reassure the little one. Awesome. I could see my 9yo son doing that. He has such a caring, big heart and loves little kids (he’s got 3 younger siblings). He would have sat right there and told the little one that it wasn’t real and to hold his hand if he was scared and all that. He’s friends with just about everyone in the neighborhood from the little 6 and 7 year old girls up to the 11yo boys and girls. In our old neighborhood he was friends with the little boy next door who was 3-4 years old, being a big brother to him.

    My kids would have loved to sit up front even at those tender young ages. They were always responsible for their younger sister (when she was 3 they were 6, 7 and 8). Of course, at 3 she knew not to run away from her siblings and to always hold their hands. They used to take her to the bathroom on their own across a busy restaurant. Now she’s the 5yo and she takes good care of her baby brother (9 months). I have no problem leaving them alone while I’m in another room for an extended time. She watches out for him as well as any one.

  32. Dolly, you’re comparing Disney World to “the gym of a local elementary school”?

    I agree that a large, unfamiliar place a thousand miles from home filled with thousands of people may not be the best place for a three year old to be separated from Mom with hundreds of people in between.

    But this wasn’t like that. The kid was mildly upset at losing track of Mom, was cared for by his older sibling, and *was in a setting that was so small that he could not have been lost for any length of time.* At Disney World, a fairly serious situation of a very small child being separated from Mom for a good amount of time and difficulty finding him could have arisen. In the gym and bathroom area of a local elementary school, I can’t see how the “crisis” could have lasted more than 60 seconds — the upshot of which was that the kid found the evening “awesome.”

  33. @spacefall I can’t help but get misty every time I read “Knuffle Bunny Free”

  34. Actually depending on this gym the Turtle Talk with Crush might have had less people. It is a small auditorium with maybe 100 people or so inside it. So really the gym could have been way bigger and had more people. I am not criticizing what she did. It was the right decision for her family. I just don’t think I can do that again and I told the reason why because the one time I did it, I was about to have a panic attack. Even then I let him do it but hated myself for literally knocking people out of the way to get to him afterwards. I am not a crowd person myself so the crowds already make me nervous enough as it is. Even a smaller auditorium in off season at DW is too much for me.

    Mostly there were older kids up front so they probably meant it for older kids and my son did not really need to be up there anyway. I think he was the youngest but since he is fearless sometimes he wants to do stuff like that and I let him but his special needs makes it potentially dangerous for him.

    I disagree with Jen about older siblings being good at watching younger siblings. Pediatricians and child psychologists actually are not in favor of it and for good reason. I don’t think its a scare tactic since older siblings have caused deaths of younger siblings accidentally, intentionally or just it happened on their watch.

    True story: My uncle back in the good old days the 50s almost bashed in his little brother’s head with a hammer. On purpose. He was 5 and he hated all the attention the new baby boy was getting. He was fine with his sister that was 4. Not the new baby though. My grandmother caught him with the hammer raised about the baby’s skull. If she was a second later, I would be short one uncle. They say it is never safe to leave older siblings alone with younger siblings unless you are pretty damn sure nothing is going to happen. My grandmother had no idea he felt that jealous. My uncle even admits to this day he meant to kill him and wanted to kill him at that moment.

    I feel as the parent it is YOUR job to watch YOUR kid. Not your other kids’ jobs. They can watch out for each other and stuff but in the end the responsibility goes on the parent. A 14 year old babysitting a 2 year old is fine. A 5 year old watching out for a 3 year old, not so much.

  35. I ask my 4-year-olds to watch out for each other all the time. If anything happens, at least one can run and tell me.

    I babysat my siblings a lot when I was little – not at age 5, but certainly by age 9 – and I will say it was a very good experience for me (I also loved it). I don’t know where people got the idea that helping with another child somehow robs the older child. I strongly believe that the opposite is true.

  36. My boys (8 and 10) have been “watching” each other since they were in kindergarten and preschool (wanting to use the mens room). They may have issues with each other (what siblings don’t) but they also are fiercely protective of each other.

    Free Range is about letting them experience childhood as the independent capable individuals they are and want to be; it is not about the protecting them from the things we are afraid of.

  37. I don’t know what to say to that post. Except, I wish I was there to bitch slap all those hysterical parents back to their senses. If you can’t be positive, mind your own business and keep your thoughts to yourself I always say.

    But kudos to the poster for standing her ground and not getting too caught up with those ignorant parents. All the while letting her children experience life.

    By the way, I enjoyed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a kid, as well as Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang.

  38. Okay Dolly, I see your point. Sorry if I came on too strong.

  39. I’m really surprised by some of the comments on here. I completely agree with those who’ve said if it was a bad experience the child wouldn’t have reported it as being “awesome.” Even sitting in the very back, rather than towards the back or an elementary school gym the mom was pretty close by. A big pat on the back to Carrie, way to help your kids grow.

  40. The 5 year old was NOT responsible for his brother. MOM was responsible for BOTH children. The idea that somehow mom was abdicating her parenting responsibilities and foisting her parenting off on a 5 year old because she sat a few feet away in the same room is exactly the helicopter mentality that this blog seeks to get away from. We don’t have to be within arms length of our children at all times to be a proper parent.

    I happen to believe that allowing older children to hang out with, and even corral, younger children is a good thing. We are not talking about leaving a 5 year old home to babysit a 3 year old. It was an elementary school gym with mom a short distance away. This is no different than leaving the children in the living room alone to entertain each other while you do something else. I would have made sure to tell them that they were to stay in the children’s area until I came to get them to avoid the wandering out on their own part, but it’s not a big deal.

    5 year old and 3 year old siblings have been hanging out with each other while mom did other things since the dawn of man. There have been very few sibling murders in the preschool set. Sorry, Dolly but a 5 year old who would take a hammer to the head of a baby with the INTENT of killing him has some serious mental issues beyond normal sibling rivalry.

  41. How nice that your son was able to experience the kindness of a total stranger. We rob our kids of those experiences sometimes when we are so quick to come to their aid. Instead of growing up thinking the world is a scary place that he needs protection from, your son may come to know that wherever he goes and whatever he faces, there will be kind people willing to help.

  42. Donna: My uncle is not the sanest person in the world, but he has zero criminal record. Is a tax paying functioning member of society. Is married. Has held jobs successfully. Pretty much did not turn out a psycho which is what you are implying. Young children don’t always understand consequences or realize that what they are doing could be permanent or what kind of damage it could do. That is why you don’t leave young children alone with babies especially but in general just why the parent should be the one supervising and in control and not trusting other siblings to do it.

    I think since the mom and other adults were nearby that she was fine doing what she did at the theater. More power to her for being so brave. I told my story about how I was a wimp and freaked out in a similar situation so I give her kudos. I don’t know if I would do that again.

    I just don’t get the meanness towards the other adults who were just concerned about the little boy crying. I always am the one left consoling little kids on playgrounds or random places when they get lost or their mom won’t get off the phone to help them climb down when they got stuck on the moneky bars. Does that make me a bad person? Am I just supposed to ignore the kids? I try to help out and it is not from judgment. It is just to help out and because I don’t like seeing upset kids (except my own kids, if they have it coming, I won’t flinch when they boo hoo LOL).

    Heck just today this little boy stood there by the baby swing while I pushed my friend’s little girl on the baby swing and he just kept looking at me all pitiful like. So finally after no parent showed up to put him in the swing after 10 minutes, I asked if he wanted to get in and put him in and pushed him. Was I overstepping? Next thing I knew his older brother was asking me to push him too. So I did. If they were crying darn right I would have gone to them and asked if they were okay and tried to help them.

  43. Donna: Your suggestion about telling them to stay there till the parent came and fetched them is a good idea. That would probably solve the kids getting swept up in crowds situation.

  44. 1) Why was the 3-year-old left in the care of the 5-year-old instead of the 7-year-old? I would have sent the 7-year-old with the younger two to take care of them both.

    2) I do not feel that 5-year-old children should be made to take care of toddlers. Toddlers are a handful (especially if upset or frightened) and 5-year-olds simply do not have the tools and capacity to deal with that (imagine trying to care for a toddler the size of a 12-year-old… that’s the size differential between 5 and 3).

    3) The 5-year-old was not ready for the resopnsibity, as evidenced by the fact that he left the children’s area without waiting for mum and hence got separated and lost for a short period of time – upsetting the 3-year-old. He was also unable to solve the problem of the frightened 3-year-old later on and an older boy had to intervene.

    4) Finally, on the part of the people directing the play, they should not have had the actor in the villain role get down “into the faces of” the small children. For christ’s sake, they’re toddlers. Toddlers and small children have not yet developed their disconnect from reality that older children and adults have for dealing with stories, movies, plays and video games. A 10-year-old can just say “Hah, this is just part of the play.”. A toddler cannot. A toddler is frightened by the scary man in the play coming to get him – and separated from his parents in this particular setup. What if he panics and screams the place down? Or bolts? Honestly, this was not properly thought through.

    This is not an example of good free-ranging, in my opinion. This is an example of a lapse in good judgement. It is evident that the 5-year-old was ready to be separated from mum, but the 3-year-old wasn’t, and hence a situation was engineered where the 3-year-old was, understandably, frightened and upset for a period of time. No, the children were never in anything you could call danger, and no, it wasn’t a long period of emotional duress, but it was totally unnecessary nonetheless.

    Please do not confuse leaving a toddler out in the cold, as it were, with free-range parenting. There is very little difference between you at 24 and you at 26, but there is a massive difference between a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. Read this:

    This does not describe a creature I’d willingly leave in the care of a 5-year-old. 3-year-olds still need close supervision of an adult in many cases – being in a strange place full of strange people that gets loud and busy at intermission counts as one of those cases.

    Most young children are ready to start becoming independant in whichever ways you see fit – a toddler of three years old is not.

  45. There is an entire educational system developed around 5 year olds taking the lead of three year olds. Montessoti’s success proves that it does in fact work .

  46. Sera, a three-year old is NOT a toddler.

    While that link you provided does give some good ideas about what to expect in general from that age group, the developmental differences from one child to another are huge at that age. The best course of action is for each parent to make a judgment call for their child, based on what they think their child can handle. Is the parent going to guess correctly every time? Nope. But clearly, the three-year-old in this story came through the experience in a positive way (“that was awesome!”), so I’d say the mom made the right call.

    Knowing your child’s personality and limitations is key. Lumping all three-year olds into one mass and expecting them all to react in the same way is insane. Referring to them as toddlers is infantilizing in the worst way. Unless your three year old just learned to walk, they are past the toddler stage.

  47. Katie A – Well, maybe not quite literally a toddler in the learning-to-walk sense, but I’d certainly put three year olds in the same category rather than the next category up from toddler, which is small child.

  48. I’m also surprised by some of the comments. Especially Dolly’s about not leaving siblings alone together in case one hammers the others head in (!). It’s quite a stretch to take that one incident and use it to say all kids can’t be alone with siblings. Indeed, these types of killings/maimings are SO rare, it’s surely not worth denying kids the fun of playing alone with siblings!!! .(and good for her for letting her son try independence!)

    More OT, Im so surprised because this was a school gym, with other parents and kids! And the parents were in attendance. It may have been crowded, but so what? Its not like the kids went off all alone, to a Broadway show and wandered into a peep show full of child rapists.

    Seriously, what could have happened, realistically? Even if the kid was actually scared in a harmful way (don’t think this was the case at all), a little normal fear never killed anyone. Children are not such delicate creatures that die or are permanently deranged anytime they feel anything but happy and safe.

    I guess I just don’t get this trend towards keeping our kids feeling good all of the time, as if fear, confusion or sadness is pathological. As if other (normal, but not always positive) emotions are not allowed because they are too dangerous. As if kids’ constant contentedness is our responsibility; love, reasonable safety and security are our responsibility to our kids, but keeping kids from every negative emotion through interference IS NOT.

    One thing I know is that if kids don’t learn how to deal with these emotions while young, with supportive people around, they will be at a huge disadvantage when they get older. The older you get, the more likely you are to have less support, and the more opportunity you have to use substances or behaviors as unhealthy coping tools. Becoming an emotionally stable adult is a process that entails a range of emotions and chances to deal with them. They don’t wake up at 18 knowing how to deal with the complexities of emotion and social interaction.

    I hate to be a broken record, but kids WORK and are responsible for siblings full time, at 5, in other countries right now, I think one American kid can sit with their brother in a school play! Not saying it’s good for a 5 yr old to have to shoulder such responsibilities, just pointing out kids are much more capable and resilient than many modern parents give them credit for.

    I also don’t think anyone here is hostile to parents consoling the kid- several OP’s mentioned how it was a good show of community. What I DONT like are parents who then go on to chastise the other parent because they disagree with their choices. Unless it’s a serious situation with risk of imminent harm, keep your mouth shut about other peoples parenting!

  49. Staceyjw – Of course children will feel negative emotions, however, at that age, they need a mature person around to help them cope and guide them into using and learning from these emotions. A three-year-old is not going to learn much from being in emotional freefall, and, moreover, an overly excited, uncomfortable or afraid three-year-old is not likely to deal with these emotions in ways that are necessarily acceptable, wise, or even safe.

    When these situations arise, a FIVE-year-old is not going to be able to cope with it and help the three-year-old out. At five you can expect them to have a far better handle on their OWN emotions, but someone else’s? No.

    True story: When I was about 7, my parents took a very long trip (2 months?) around Australia and took me and my little brother (~3) with. I absolutely hated the constant moving around, the having to get up early all the time, the very long car trips (12 hours a day), the fact that we ate most of our meals off picnic tables at rest stops (from an esky, no proper refrigeration), that I had no toys… I spent most of the trip misbehaving, crying, and begging to go home. Finally, one night when we were driving through Sydney, I annoyed my parents so much they dumped me out of the car and drove off… only for about 50 meters or so. When they did that it twigged to me that my parents were perfectly capable of simply leaving my life if they chose to – and consequently I spent the next five years or so terrified that one day I’d wake up and they’d be gone, or that one day when they left me home alone they’d simply never come back.

    So, no, you can’t really say that events that seem like “no big deal” to you as an adult are actually no big deal to the child – and that gets more true the younger the child is. Nobody can guess how a three-year-old is going to interpret any given situation, or how and what he will learn from it with no adult guidance.

    One of the major roles of parents is to teach children how to react to their own emotions in appropriate ways. At three, the child simply does not have enough practice at this to be able to do it properly without the parent to help guide them. Hence, putting him in a situation where he is likely to get scared and not have a parent to turn to is, while not damaging or dangerous, not an ideal scenario.

  50. The situation at the play reminds me of the town where I used to live in Germany. It was a small town of about 6,000 people. Every day the street in my neighborhood was full of kids out playing. They ranged in age from about 3 to young teenagers. The older kids were very good about watching out for the younger ones. When a car was approaching, someone would shout, “Auto!” and the kids would move to the side of the street to let the car pass. Even kids as young as 5 or 6 would warn the even younger ones about cars and show them where to stand so the car could pass safely.

    Contrary to what the US self-esteem movement preaches about needing to be happy all the time, I believe that self-esteem comes from mastery of a physical or emotional challenge. The younger brother may have been unhappy and scared for a short time, but he learned that he can get support from his older brother. He also learned how to deal with a scary situation. The next time a similar situation comes up, he can draw on that experience to help him cope with it. The 5-year-old got a self-esteem boost from helping his younger brother, as did the older boy from comforting the 3-year-old.

    As some posters said before, the 3-year-old wasn’t forced to sit in the front. Even after the intermission, he wanted to sit up front even though he just had a “scary” experience. He obviously wasn’t damaged by it, since the first thing that he told his father was that the show was awesome.

    One more thing…I think it was great about kids being able to sit alone in the front. That’s much better than the kids having to sit in the back and not being able to see anything because a tall adult is sitting in front of them. The parents were just a few meters back in the same room. It’s not like the kids were sitting in one area and the parents were taken to an undisclosed location.

  51. So it seems even in the Free Range group we cannot agree on when something is a good free range story or not.

    I see more positive out of this than negative. Should a 5 year old babysit the 3 year old? Of course NOT. But the five year old wasn’t ALONE. Sure they didn’t stay put but they also didn’t leave the area either.

    It does sound like the 3 year olds limits where tested and that the 3 year old took from the experience positive thoughts and emotions. The parents most likely should follow through with asking questions to see what the kid says in a day or two. I’m betting that he’s going to say the show was Assume and have no memory of the tears.

    Should talk to the 5 year old too and just check in to make sure he’s good.

    I strongly believe that siblings should care for each other with a parent near by. That doesn’t mean we’ll always be in site. I’d never get anything done.

    Almost a year ago now I took my younger three to a Festival and since I’m in a chair and FAR Slower than they are also I was having a hard time getting through the crowd they went ahead looking together. We picked a spot to eat lunch. I turned my back for a second to set up and well we lost the youngest.

    So I sent the other two looking for her. We also after a few minutes let security know and the booths around us.

    You know the little rascal upon looking up from following the puppy she wanted to pet and seeing she’d lost us. She slowly wandered her way back to where we started enjoying herself along the way. When she got there and didn’t see us. She walked up to a booth and asked the person if she could please help find her Lost mom and sisters. She wasn’t lost SHE knew where she was.

    In the mean time I’d moved over to the security office and my other two wandered the booths in that area. The person behind the booth walked my daughter to the security as she refused to get in the cart. When she saw me, she smiled and ran to me.

    To listen to my little imp tell the story you’d think I got lost all the time. At the time she was 4. I’m pretty sure her older sisters where far more traumatized than she was. I was scared because I had no idea what my almost non-vocal to strangers child would do and we hadn’t talked about what to do if we got parted.

    Each family, each child has to decide for themselves what they are comfortable with. I allow my children responsibility and freedom. Not by age but by each step in the road. Sometimes they run ahead a little before they are ready other times I hold a child back longer than necessary. It is NOT the same for each of my children.

  52. I really don’t find it an imposition if I have to look out for other people’s children. In fact I feel it is my responsibility and indeed my pleasure to do so.

    As parents we are all in this together and children will get away from time to time from even the most vigilant parents. Once upon a time that was accepted.
    However, too many people today make a song and dance about having to come to the rescue of another person’s children or can’t resist having a little dig such as “your child was really upset” or “you should hold on to him”. The last one is actually breath-takingly rude.

  53. […] a culture we seem to be slowly losing the battle against panic and irrational fear, and it’s unfortunate. This entry was posted in Saturday Links. […]

  54. Great real time example!

  55. OK, we seem to have some people who are confused about the facts.

    The 3-year-old was NOT alone. The 3- and 5-year-olds were not together alone. They were in the same room as their mother, surrounded by other people who would have noticed and stepped in if anything went amiss. If she’d sent the two alone on a hike through an unfamiliar wood, or left them home alone as she ran her errands, that would be a different story.

    The kids wandered off temporarily. Newsflash: this happens to almost everyone, even moms who are closely attending their single child (like when you’re shopping and you turn your head for a moment). The fact that kids wander off and are found is not really problematic. It is a normal part of growing up.

    Finally, I can understand why the mom was irritated by those who chided her. I’ve been in that situation with my kid when she was 3. Thanks for being helpful, but don’t criticize my parenting choice and DO NOT get in my face when I’m disciplining / comforting my child. Just because my kid is crying, that does not mean she is helpless. If you have children, you’ve had a child cry while perfectly able to cope. (PS, crying IS a coping mechanism.)

    Next thing you know, they’ll make it illegal to allow your kid to cry.

  56. And as for preschoolers being able to comfort each other, of course they can. My girls have been doing so at least since they were 3. They are much nicer to each other when adults are not around to interfere. Mom comfort is only necessary for the big stuff.

  57. SK- LOVE your story. I have a newly 7 year old who is like the mayor of munchkin city. He has gotten separated from me, my husband, my sitter, my mother and he has on every occasion gone to ask for help or worked it out.

    We live in NYC, when he was 4 he was riding his scooter with an older child (who was maybe 8 and at the park alone) in the playground around the corner from our building. My daughter fell and scraped her knee and while my sitter was bandaging her knee, he LEFT the gated park with the other child. She realized and began to look for him in a panic, finding the other boy about two blocks away. The older boy said my son told him, “I can’t cross the street without my babysitter”….and then my son, apparently just missing the sitter when reentering the gate WENT HOME (where he could get to without crossing the street) and asked my doorman to call me or my sitter. He also said, “Where were you guys?”

    2 years later, at a HUGE Hershey park hotel he ran ahead and got separated. He went to the concierge desk (at 6) and said, “I am going to dinner with my parents in the hotel but I’m not sure which one”….When he got separated from my husband at the beach (same summer), he approached a couple (because he saw the woman was talking on the phone) and asked if he could use her phone to call me when she was done talking because he couldn’t find his family. (This one actually scared me b/c I was not at the beach with them). While on the phone, my daughter and husband came along. My daughter was hysterical and my husband was just relieved (that now I wouldn’t kill him)…in both situations, instead of berating me, the helpful adults commented on how smart and confident he was (knowing my phone number, asking for help). THAT made a world of difference for me, and for him.

    I have also frequently been the “nice lady” comforting a small child who has been separated from a parent. When the parent and child are reunited, I would NEVER, make a comment suggesting the parent’s skills were lacking for the sake of the child as well as the parent. Making a comment (even if the child is hysterical) about the competence of the child, and how everything is fine, can make a world of difference in how the child perceives the situation.

  58. “So, no, you can’t really say that events that seem like “no big deal” to you as an adult are actually no big deal to the child – and that gets more true the younger the child is. Nobody can guess how a three-year-old is going to interpret any given situation, or how and what he will learn from it with no adult guidance.”

    Actually, YES we can say that it was no big deal to this child and that he interpreted it just fine. He CHOSE to go back up front after being lost for a few minutes. He didn’t get whiny or clingy. He happily made the CHOICE to again go to the front, even with the experience of being lost for a few minutes the last time. When he got home, he told his dad he had an AWESOME time, even after being lost and frightened by the play. Absent some belief that Carrie makes her children suppress their emotions and put on a happy face all the time, the 3 year had a great time. End of story. Anything else the adults on this board are imparting on a child who didn’t actually feel those emotions at all and are based on their emotions and experiences and not this child’s.

    A 3 year old is also NOT a toddler. It’s a preschooler. A toddler is a child just learning to walk (generally 1-2). While all children develop differently, my child at 3 was worlds away in development from my child at 2. There is not as big a developmental difference between my child at 3 and my child at 5. That whole potty-training thing seems to mark a HUGE developmental milestone in early childhood. Yes, she has better coordination so can do more on her own and can communicate better but isn’t any more independent or complacent. She just argues now instead of tantruming when she’s not getting what she wants but it’s really the same (and equally as annoying).

    Dolly, I don’t think your uncle is a psycho at all. I actually realize that the human memory is EXTREMELY unreliable and easily influenced, although we all think it’s infallible. I highly doubt, unless your uncle is Dexter, that the story as you relayed it is what truly occurred 50 years ago. I believe that is what your family BELIEVES occurred based on their collective memories all influencing each other but I imagine that the story truly happened differently.

    That said, 5 year olds do not commit intentional murder (what you described) on even a rare basis. Accidental murder (i.e. accidently shoot someone while playing with a gun found somewhere) is a very rare occurrence. Intentional murder involving preschool children as the perpetrator is almost nonexistent in human history.

    Some here seem to have idealized notions of parenting in previous generations. Studies have shown that today’s working mothers actually spend more time interacting with their children than in any “stay-at-home” generation prior. For starters, most mothers were not truly stay-at-home until the 50’s or so. Even those who did not work, either outside the home or in the fields, were not dedicated childcare providers. They also had to cook (from scratch, not processed), clean, sew, knit, fix things, run errands. Many had to grow the food, pick the food, kill the chickens, milk the cows and tend the animals. And what was happening with the kids while mom was doing all these things? They were entertaining and watching over each other until old enough to help or work themselves. And yet, sibling preschool murder and children unable to function in society were not large-scale problems. We probably have MORE issues now even with all the one-on-one “quality” time parents give their children.

    I think it was great that this child got scared and got comfort from people other than his mother. In 2 short years, if he’s not in preschool already, this child will go off to school and mom’s roll in his life begins to dwindle. He WILL get scared. He WILL get lost. He will be in a much better position if he’s already established that, while mommy is best, other people CAN and WILL actually help him when he’s frightened and lost.

  59. Donna, can you point me in the direction of the studies re. your statement?:
    Studies have shown that today’s working mothers actually spend more time interacting with their children than in any “stay-at-home” generation prior.
    Thx in advance.

  60. Dolly, the issue is not the father who stayed with child (or the mother who puts my kid on the swing). The problem is the people who stopped this woman to say that the play was too scary or that it was tragic when he couldn’t find his mother or that it was horrible that kids were made to sit up front (not true as evidenced by the fact that the 7 year old didn’t).

    I do, however, frequently have a problem with parents who put my child in swings or take my child down from the monkey bars and yes, you are often overstepping. I am very aware of what is going on with my child at the playground. If she’s not in the swings, it’s because I’ve told her that she’s not going in the swings. If I’m not helping her down from the monkey bars, it’s because she is capable of getting down on her own and she is not going to hurt herself if she “falls off.” If I am not comforting her after a spill or fall, it’s because she’s an incredible drama queen and I try not to feed into that. If I’m not getting out the neosporin and band-aids, it’s because my child is allergic to band-aids and I hate the notion that kids need band-aids for every scrape (real or imagined). The fact is that my child, although she looks about 3, is actually a VERY capable, coordinated 5.5 year old and I know what she can handle and what she can’t and don’t want others undermining her abilities because they believe her to be younger than her age or less capable than she is.

  61. Donna, can you point me in the direction of that info re. your statement?:
    Studies have shown that today’s working mothers actually spend more time interacting with their children than in any “stay-at-home” generation prior.

    Find that interesting.

  62. Tuppence, I’ll look for the studies if I can find them online. It was several years ago that I read the article about it. I also misspoke or was not clear. It is not actually that they spend more time interacting. Of course, the spent all day interacting on some level. It was that we spend more time playing with our children and have more one-on-one, undistracted time today than in previous generations. Even without studies, do you really think that pioneer women were spending their days playing peek-a-boo? That’s not even realistic.

  63. @Donna — No, no. You misunderstand my interest. I believe what you wrote right away. Would just love to actually get the science to back-up the hypothesis.

    But in your other response, I’m gonna have to call “helicoptering” on ya. I find it a bit much to say another adult — whose intention is kind, no less — is “overstepping” by pushing your child on a swing or helping her on the monkey bars.

    In a public place, people will tend to do nutty stuff like interact with one another. How can another person know your daughter is a drama queen? Your beef needs to be with your daughter: If you don’t want her being put on the swing by another adult, or helped off the monkey bars, you need to tell her that. You can’t expect an adult to ignore her if she’s asking/or looking like she needs help. And isn’t the fact that they take it upon themselves to do so, rather than look around for, and ask permission of, the parent first, just the kind of community “instinct” this post was referring to in the first place?

  64. The issue about other people helping kids at the playground – I agree it’s an interesting line to walk. I don’t want my kids thinking it’s OK to bug other parents in order to get what I won’t do for them. In my opinion for my own family, I find passive swinging to be a waste of time for both me and my kids. My kids are capable of pumping, and if they don’t feel like doing that, they can go do something more active on other equipment. So I have a rule – I will give you 3 underducks. After that, you’re on your own. It works for us.

    But if they think they can get some other “nice lady” to push them, that would make me very uncomfortable. It wouldn’t seem right for me to continue my walk around the park perimeter while someone else is doing the BORING work of pushing my brat on a swing, all the while probably wondering, where is this poor neglected child’s mother?

    So far I’ve only encountered this type of issue a few times, and when it has happened, I have told my kids that’s not appropriate. That I’m not doing something for them because they’re supposed to do things for themselves. That the other parents need to attend to their own kids. It seems to be working so far. Pretty soon, my kids will be too big for this issue to arise (I hope).

  65. This is off-topic, but I saw a helicopter dad with his two daughters today. In the space of about 100 meters he found all sorts of perils that I never knew existed. Since I have problems with people who come up to me and criticize my parenting, I didn’t say anything to him. This man obviously believed in keeping his daughters very close and protecting them from the dangers of the world. As someone said above, we’re losing the battle against panic and irrational fear.

  66. I gotta concur with people complaining about other folks “helping” their kids when they don’t need help. Helping my nieces off the monkey bars? Dude, my rule is that if you can’t get down, you shouldn’t go up. I don’t help them not because I’m neglectful or mean, but because they need to know they have to work their own way down. THIS keeps them from climbing unsafely high… or, at least, it helps. Push my nieces on the swing? I want them to learn to pump the swing themselves. Help them climb up somewhere? I’ve seen kids who were “helped” climb up things – they lean backwards when they climb, and are unsteady. No, thank you!

    Stop hindering other people’s kids so much, okay?

  67. Donna: Your story about how mothers were very busy milking cows and other chores is accurate. I would not call it a better thing though. My grandmother lost a sibling that way. Her mother was busy doing the multitude of things she had to do and the kids were off playing alone. Her little brother tried to climb on a woodpile and it toppled onto him, crushing him to death. Very tragic but in those days not actually uncommon.

    Talk to your grandparents or great grandparents-they all will have stories about how some kid got killed some crazy way. It was not a given you would make it to adulthood in those days. My greatgrandmother was not a bad mom. She was just doing the best she could with all she had to do and unfortunately a fatal accident occured.

    No child gates or pack n plays back then. Honestly I am happy we live in the era we live in. Kids are safer overall. Yet, as parents we probably worry more than parents in those days worried. Go figure.

    I am going to continue to help other kids that ask for it because that is the kind of person I am. Kids flock to me and while sometimes it gets annoying for the most part I don’t mind helping other kids. While I was pushing my friend’s little girl on the baby swings (she is a baby so appropriate for her) and then helping those boys, my boys were off on the structure playing and sliding alone in sight of me but doing their own thing.

  68. I think there needs to be a balance when it comes to helping other people’s kids. If a child is in obvious distress, or directly asks for help with something like shoe-tying, I will assist them. But I won’t help kids climb higher or get down from heights (unless they are seriously freaking out) for the reasons others mention above.

    The thing that bugs me most of all are the people who will rush to assist my children when they don’t need help! I have had numerous situations where one of my kids has fallen during play where another parent has jumped in to comfort them BEFORE they even react (my boys’ typical reaction to a bump is to cry for a split second, then look at me, I ask “are you ok?” and they say “yes” and continue playing). What is that?

  69. I don’t interact with other kids or help them unless they ask for it. If they ask me directly or if they are just in general yelling “HELP!” then I step in and help if the parents aren’t. I don’t want to hear the whining or crying either.

    I guess if you are that worried about another parent helping your kid, then you probably need to stay with your kid so other parents don’t have to step in for you. Otherwise who cares if another parent helps them? I really don’t care if someone helps my children. Actually if they need help and I am not there, I would appreciate the help. Also maybe tell you kid to tell other parents “NO thanks I don’t need help”.

    I am so used to being around kids and helping other people’s kids it is just second nature for me to assist other kids especially when they ask for it.

  70. One thing I do is if a kid seems to need help, I ask first. “Do you need help?” I got that idea from some horror story where someone got accused or sued for doing what s/he thought was a good thing, that happened to involve touching a child.

    If someone else’s child asks me to push them on the swing or whatever, I’m not about to refuse (unless I really need to leave). So I would certainly not blame another adult for obliging my kid if asked. I just don’t want my kid to get into the habit – and being the opportunistic creatures that kids are, I have to tell my kids off if they start trending in that direction. I generally don’t voice my aggravation at the other adult who just thought she was being nice.

    I did once get a little agitated when some adults were not allowing my kids to drop from a climbing apparatus that they wanted to drop from. They were “saving” them as I was watching from a distance. I went over there and told them that they didn’t need help, they could jump down. The adults might have been a bit miffed and left soon afterward. I wished I’d thought of a nicer way to say “back off,” but the last thing I need is for other adults to teach my kids they are helpless.

    It’s sad that sometimes I need to “helicopter” my kids to make sure other parents don’t “save” them from themselves.

  71. Interesting all the replies. I THOUGHT they would be more about the scary dude in the play, and a few were. But really, leaving the kid up front who wants to be there? I did that with my kids when my youngest was about 3 also. He knew where I was, and he was fine.

    Now, I have had a few times when we didn’t arrange a meeting place, like the 1 mile race that had about 500 kids. My 8 year old just wandered around. I helped a couple of other kids find their parents (because they hadn’t arranged a meeting place either,) and eventually our whole family was reunited. Would I have faulted the parents of the crying kids (ages 6 and 5) for not arranging a place to meet? No way! I forgot too! It happens. Not the sign of a bad parent. Distracted, maybe. Not bad.

    And what age do we finally let/tell the kids do things, even if it is scary? I had a friend whose parents were atheists. But they wanted their 10 year old son to know about religions, and had him come to church with my family. The minister had a section of the sermon where he invited the kids up front to sit on the floor while he sat in front of them and did a special little bit for them. My friend cried the whole time. He was very shy, this was new. He NEEDED to do some new things. And guess what, he came back with us the next week, because he wanted to.

    My daughter, almost 11 did the same thing last fall. We signed up for a low key soccer group. At the last minute she said she didn’t want to do it, she cried, she tantrumed. She threw at fit at the park. I was angry – I wanted her to just try it for two days. The other kids comforted her, telling her it was ok. And, it was. The next week she was the first one dressed and ready to go. She has been loving it since then and is getting pretty good. Yes, I forced her to try something she didn’t want to do, which is totally different from what this mother did. But the results were the same.

    Oh, and yes, my daughter can be a bit of a drama queen. I got the evil eye from some moms when she was 4. We were at the park, and she fell, and twisted her ankle. Before I could get to her, some older girls (4th grade or so) came over, got her up, wiped her tears, and gave her some candy. She was fine almost instantly – as good as the kiss I was going to give. Then about 10 minutes later she fell and started crying again, near the girls. Only this time, it wasn’t a real fall or real tears of pain. (Yes, I can tell the difference.) The moms I was sitting with asked if I was going to go get her, because she was hurt. I told them she wasn’t hurt, she just wanted candy. That is when I got the evil eye. But, two minutes later she was up and running without a limp. One of the mom’s said “I guess you were right.” Yup, I know my kids. As did the mom in this post.

  72. Tuppence, I’m fairly computer illiterate so I don’t know how to post a link. One of the most recent articles I found is from NY Times “Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown” by Tara Parker-Pope. It talks about a couple studies and how they were done.

    And I don’t consider it helicopter at all to want my child to actually do things that they can do for themselves. Personally, I think you need to walk a fine line with “helping” other people’s children. Helping a kid who is clearly in trouble is certainly something I would do. Unless the child was in imminent danger, I would ask the child if he or she wanted help first. Actually putting a child into a swing or on monkey bars is not your place, however. That parent may have told her kid that swings were off limits for some reason, as I frequently did when mine was younger and would monopolize the 2 swings at the park for HOURS if allowed. It would frustrate me to no end to tell my child swing time was done and to do something else only to find my 3 year old back in the swing after I turned my back for a second. And, yes, she knew she was going to get into trouble but she was 3 and wanted to swing.

    A sense of community should not require that I police adults in the park to avoid them completely undermining everything I’m trying to teach my child. If a child is in clear danger and a parent is not around, help. Otherwise, don’t interfere. That is not limiting to stranger/child interaction. I’m perfectly fine with my child talking to adults, playing games with adults and otherwise interacting with adults at the park. I don’t want to have to follow her around a playground to make sure that other adults are not completely undoing what I just told her.

  73. I don’t want to hear the whining or crying either.

    Well, then, don’t spend so much time near kids. A lot of kids whine and cry a little to get attention or to get their way. The best way to deal with that is to ignore it unless it really is serious.

    I guess if you are that worried about another parent helping your kid, then you probably need to stay with your kid so other parents don’t have to step in for you.

    Or you can stop “helping” kids who are just fine.

    Otherwise who cares if another parent helps them?

    Well, again, your definition of “help” may not be the same as ours. When people “help” my nieces get down from high places, what they’re doing is keeping them from learning how to get down on their own. When people “help” them on the swings, they’re making it harder for them to entertain themselves. (And I, too, have been known to limit swing time because the nieces will monopolize them. Maybe I have a really good reason for not wanting them on the swings. Maybe I don’t want them to hang around people “looking pitiful” until they get what they want.)

  74. Hopefully parents who put other people’s children in swings are just trying to help out another parent in a spirit of support and solidarity which is definitely to be encouraged. That said, on the few times I have done this I have always at least tried to catch the eye of the other parent to see if it is OK.

    I’m not so keen on people, however well intentioned, who insist on warning my children to “be careful” when they are happily playing (about things that aren’t particularly dangerous) as I don’t think it’s good for children to be constantly told to “be careful” and “it’s dangerous”.

  75. I should note that not every kid ought to be pushed in a swing. My eldest has some sensory issues, and when she was 1-2, she could not abide being swung or spun. At 2 she got herself on the swing and moved it to the extent she was comfortable, eventually learning to pump it herself. Once an older child started to push her on the swing, and I had to rush over there before she freaked out.

    And a more general comment:

    Anyone here ever heard of “learned helplessness”? To me, that’s the biggest reason adults should back off at the playground. Especially when it comes to “getting kids out of danger.” There’s danger and then there’s “what looks scary to me or my kid.” Recognize the difference and act accordingly.

  76. There is also just plain laziness not to be encouraged. My child is a master of working real hard to learn something and then, once the skill is mastered, deciding that it’s easier to just have someone do it for her. For example, she knows how to pump the swings; she’d simply prefer not to do it if she can con someone into pushing her. I refuse to push her most of the time but she’ll ask any stranger nearby to do it. Same with getting down from places. She loves to climb up because it’s fun but climbing down is just work. So she’ll go up trees or other climbing structures and then ask someone to help her down because it’s easier than doing it herself and the adventure is in getting up.

  77. Donna, thanks very much for “putting me on the scent” — appreciate it!

    The situations you have described remind me of “helicoptering” in so far that the extent of control a parent wants to have over their child, depends on the significant altercation of other people’s public behavior. People are not “given permission” to act naturally (which, in truth, may be interchanged with “thoughtlessly” — in that they just act/interact and don’t double-think it all the time). Also, my observations lead me to believe that such folk desire, one could say – assume the right – to be a constant monitor and gatekeeper between the child and his/her environment.

    But I will let up on the labeling. I guess it just comes down to perception: You perceive such gestures by strangers to be undermining your parental authority, I would see it as clueless at worst: How could these people know the specific situation here, e.g., child could actually do it herself, has been told not to, or that I want my child to learn something?

    My perception of the strangers’ intention would be it’s well meant: People like to take the chance to make kids happy.

  78. Why is it okay to assume that kids can’t do things on their own or that their parents are oblivious as to what they want or what they are doing, instead of assuming that kids are capable and parents know what their kids are up to and are ignoring them for a reason? Because those are the assumptions that you must make to interfere. I don’t expect someone to KNOW I don’t want my child on the swings but there is some level of determination that I’m neglecting my child’s needs as opposed to thinking maybe I don’t want her on the swings for some reason.

    It is one thing to see a harried parent chasing a few kids around the playground and offer to push the baby so they can help the toddler or vice versa. Or see that a parent is distracted and help out. It’s another to take it upon yourself to “make a child (that’s not yours) happy” apparently without caring what the parents want. You certainly wouldn’t like it if I took it upon myself to make your peanut allergic child happy by giving him a stickers bar.

  79. That’s another symptom of the screwed up judgemental child-rearing culture we’re living through: if someone does something for our children straight away it feels like a slight, we feel judged for not doing it ourselves.

  80. Myriam, I agree, but I have seen moms having snarky conversations about how “I had to help her kid because she wasn’t doing it.”

    I am guilty of assuming judgment when someone interferes. Perhaps I shouldn’t. But, I’ve been told off by people who thought I was not parenting my child (in front of my child, of course). It is a very upsetting experience, and left me a bit skittish. I suppose it’s time I got over it.

  81. Hey, maybe I should buy my kids a fake gymnastics uniform. Then people would just assume they were practicing for the junior olympics and back off. Ha!

  82. I do think there is a level of judgment in doing something for other children much of the time. Afterall, the comment that started this conversation was something about having to help kids while their mothers were too busy talking on cellphones. I also think it shows a lack if consideration for other parents. You have all the consideration in the world for the child (commendable on a certain level) but don’t stop and think that maybe there is a purpose to what the parent is doing that you are completely messing up.

  83. Oh I absolutely agree SKL. I’m the same. Parental trench warfare has left me a bit paranoid, I’m the first to admit it.

  84. Dolly my problem with other adults helping my niece, nephew, and young cousins is either they are telling they can’t do something they are allowed to do – or they are helping them do something they aren’t ready for.

    Example my older niece (17) and I taught my younger niece (5 yo) to “skin the cat” on a pull up bar. She was having great fun till some woman went and grabbed her pulling her down off the bar. Cue younger niece screaming bloody murder. Older niece grabbing nephew (3) as we both ran over to where younger niece was.

    In the meantime younger niece head butted the woman, giving her a bloody nose. The woman kept going on and on about how we should be grateful that she rescued younger niece.

    When I told her niece was fine till you touched her – she switched to the “She could have been kidnapped” tactic. At which point I I said you are the one with a bloody nose from her defending herself. Then I suggested calling the village cops to see what they thought about her grabbing and picking up a child who did not know her. (I know the village cops they would have put the fear of god into this woman). She backed off then.

    Later she told my sister that she shouldn’t let me or older niece babysit because we are so neglectful. Sis laughed in her face.

  85. Often times I am grateful to the other adults who will push my youngest on the swing. The stuff under most swings in the name of safety sucks for getting my chair to a place where I can push her. On the other hand if my daughter wants to swing she’ll put herself in a swing and ASK for help.

    I have made it pretty clear to other parents that if my daughter can climb and get herself someplace then she can be that high and can get herself down. If she can’t get herself up she doesn’t need to be there.

    If my youngest gets hurt most of the time she brushes herself off and goes back to playing. Sometimes she’ll go wash out the scrap or come over for help or a hug.

    The one that I wish people would keep calm over is bloody noses. She gets them far to often most often while she’s sitting still if she notices before someone else she’ll calmly walk over to me and ask for a rag. If someone else notices first it almost always ends up in screaming fits since they tend to freak out about blood.

    More often than not when my youngest freaks out it is because someone else has given her permission to by their own actions or response to what is going on.

  86. “The situations you have described remind me of “helicoptering” in so far that the extent of control a parent wants to have over their child, depends on the significant altercation of other people’s public behavior.”

    How, pray tell, is wanting someone to leave my child be causing a significant alteration of their behavior? Do people have some unalienable right to push children on swings that I’m not aware of? Life, liberty and the right to swing? Clearly, if I insisted that they remove all swings from the park because my child can’t handle swinging, I would be impacting others. But I simply fail to see how expecting that people will not do things with my child that I don’t want done is impacting THEIR behavior significantly.

    I find it interesting that it’s okay to get upset with a neighbor who insists on walking your child home when he is perfectly capable of walking by himself (a common complaint from many on this board), but it’s not okay for me to not want someone to push my child who is perfectly capable of swinging herself on a swing.

    And we’re supposed to encourage thoughtlessness simply because it was possibly well intentioned? Again, I go back to the scenario of if you had a child deathly allergic to peanuts are you thinking I’m well intentioned when you are on your way to the ER with a barely breathing child that I just gave a piece of Snickers? I mean the child wanted a piece and I can’t be expected to know he’s allergic to peanuts. I’m sure I have the same unalienable right to feed strange children as I do to put strange children in swings and not feeding a child that I want to “help” is the same substantial alteration of MY behavior as not putting him in a swing.

    “Also, my observations lead me to believe that such folk desire, one could say – assume the right – to be a constant monitor and gatekeeper between the child and his/her environment.”

    Actually, I want to be the gatekeeper of MY ease in parenting. You are doing me NO favors whatsoever by putting my child on a swing after I just spent 10 minutes explaining that swing time is over and listening to her whine and possibly cry because she isn’t ready to get off the swing. I now just get to do that all over again. Thanks a bunch!!! You are not doing me any favors when you get done pushing my child long before her insatiable interest in swings runs out and now I have to either push her on the swing or deal with her tantrum. Again, thanks for making my life “easier!” You are not doing me any favors if you intervene with my perfectly capable kid and she ends up falling. You are not doing me any favors when you freak out over my child falling so that she turns on the Drama Queen and I now have to console her, instead of her just hopping up and going right back to playing. Yes, all these things have happened at playgrounds.

    That said, I don’t assume to be “a constant monitor and gatekeeper between the child and his/her environment.” I do, however, kinda expect to be the person in control of my child when I am present. Afterall, I’m the one who is going to have to deal with any fallout of whatever you choose to do with my child. I don’t really appreciate someone putting my child in the swing after I just told her “no” for whatever reason. I don’t think that is helicopter parenting. It’s simply parenting.

    The difference is that if you asked me to push my child in the swing and I told you “sure.” A helicopter parent would tell you how to push her to make sure you are doing it correctly. If you’re willing to push my child (and I haven’t already deemed the swings off limits), I don’t care how you do it. I’d prefer it not to result in broken bones or a concussion but otherwise I’m good. I do, however, think that I have the final say as to whether she is allowed in the swing to start with. And I shouldn’t have to follow my child around the playground to ensure that I’m there to shoo you off so I get the final say. Nor should I have to give up my right to have the final say because YOU think my child needs to swing. I don’t like to make my child miserable for no reason so there are usually very good reasons (to me) that I’m saying “no.”

  87. We are not talking about an adult insisting on walking a child home nor about an adult giving an allergic child a piece of candy with peanuts in it. We are talking about an adult in a playground giving a child who asks (or hangs around and look like she’d like to till someone suggests it) assistance. Obviously, this is the public behavior of adults — you yourself assert that, it’s what’s upsetting you.

    Part of the whole madness of the over-parenting age,
    and, in fact, what the original post here is about, is the attitude, or even, the insistence, that the parent ALONE has responsibility for the child. As if each family runs around the world in their own little protective bubble. (Makes things a lot easier when that inevitable court case comes up to settle matters quickly and efficiently.) Sorry, but it cheers me a little to learn that people just do this for your daughter and don’t go running after you to get your permission to do so.

    I don’t know you or your child personally, of course. But even very young children can differentiate between what the adults in their lives expect of them. ( In pre-school we do this, at home we do this. and at Molly’s house, the mommy doesn’t like it when we x, y and z, but I can do that at home.) I personally don’t think other adults doing something for your child undermines what you teach her.

    Your daughter sounds like a clever little monkey. Seems she figured out being cute and a little charm gets you far in this world. Yea, it might hit her a little harder than others later when she learns the truism: The bigger they get, the cuter they ain’t. But in the meantime, she showing a not-to-be-completely -unadmired mastery over her world. This is not to say that it’s okay she doesn’t listen to you when you tell her not to go on the swings. It definitely is not. My guess is you would indeed have to follow her around the park to enforce her not swinging, if getting others to help her is her m.o. Maybe next tell her the two of you will have to leave the park if she does it again, and follow through? That’s something you have control over, whereas control over all the other adults in the park is gonna be a tough one.

  88. Donna: If you are that insistent on people not helping your child then you really do need to teach her to tell other adults “No” if they ask if she wants help. Otherwise how is it the adult’s fault for helping when they asked them to help them? I know I have never just grabbed some kid and starting swinging them. I let the child make the call. That is actually a very free range idea that a child can speak for themselves and handle the interaction.

    With the peanut example you gave actually my son is peanut allergic. I have taught HIM to be responsible to say “NO” to strange foods and anything that mommy does not give to him. And he does. He won’t take strange food and he asks if things have peanuts and tells people “Peanuts make me sick”. Sometimes even I have to work to convince him that something is okay.

    I taught him to say no. I made myself and him responsible for his safety. I don’t expect other parents to know or take care of that. He is only 3 and he has had a handle on this since about 2. Before that I just did not let him leave my side so the peanut thing did not happen. Now he handles it himself.

    You should do the same with your child. Teach her to say No and everyone wins.

  89. I also want to add that there are some bad parents out there. That is just the way it is. There are some parents who are too busy running their mouths on the phone or to their friends to care to push their child on the swing. Its just the facts of life. That is why I try to reach out and help other kids. They shouldn’t get to miss out because their parents are not engaging.

    I have worked daycare and worked in child development and childcare a long time. I have seen some damn good parents and some damn sorry parents and some in between.

  90. Isn’t it a bit strong to call someone who is talking to their friends instead of interacting with their children on a particular occasion a bad parent? People also seem so quick to assume the worst about parents these days based on a single incident.
    The assumption is that because a person is not interacting with the child on that occasion then they regularly ignore the child. That may not be true.

  91. Tuppence said: In a public place, people will tend to do nutty stuff like interact with one another. How can another person know your daughter is a drama queen? Your beef needs to be with your daughter: If you don’t want her being put on the swing by another adult, or helped off the monkey bars, you need to tell her that. You can’t expect an adult to ignore her if she’s asking/or looking like she needs help. And isn’t the fact that they take it upon themselves to do so, rather than look around for, and ask permission of, the parent first, just the kind of community “instinct” this post was referring to in the first place?

    Totally agree. The glorification in the original post was all about how we don’t need to have our own eyes on our kids 24/7 because there’s a village to help. So when that same village chooses to help at the park – well, how is it that’s a crime? We can’t have it both ways. We can’t ask people to butt in sometimes and butt out others. I understand the issue that these people at the playground (side note: I am often bemused because, really, where do some of you play that you find these people pulling your children off equipment?) were interfering with the free-ranging, but there’s just not that decisive a line between that and then an adult helping a child TRULY in need, is there? I’m saying, let’s take a deep breath and appreciate people who are trying to look out for one another, even if sometimes it’s misguided.

  92. Sure, there are some bad parents. Do bad parents regularly attend the playgrounds you frequent, so much that you know them on sight?

    Dolly, the real problem here is not that you occasionally push a kid on the swings or spot them as they get down from the monkey bars. The problem is that you repeatedly talk about how kids “love you” and about how those “other” people are just bad parents. This has been the thread of your comments this whole time. If THEY cared about THEIR kids the way YOU do, they’d help them! Or they’d be there so you wouldn’t have to! Because you’re so awesome!

    It’s annoying, and it’s almost certainly factually wrong.

  93. Uly, take it easy. It’s more pleasant for everyone if we remain respectful here.

  94. Not the case Uly. I am sure everyone on this board are great parents because they care enough about their kids to even talk about them. If all parents were great CPS wouldn’t exist. Sure sounds likes CPS might sometimes abuse their power, but yes, some parents are crappy. Even parents who take their kids to the playground. Like the mom that drops her kid off at the playground so she can go smoke crack. God forbid, I push her child on the swings while she is off smoking crack. That would be wrong of me.

    I am not saying all parents are bad or even that I can make the call on which ones or bad or not. I don’t. I just help a child when they ask because I have no idea of what that child’s circumstances are and I assume if they ask for help, they need help and want help.

    If you think that fact that I play with my kids on the playground makes me stuck up or full of myself, then you can think that. I can’t help that I actually ENJOY playing with my kids on the playground. Sure it can get boring or I can be tired and not want to do it sometimes, just like every other parent. But most of the time I love it and that is probably why the other kids come around.

    I am not always worrying someone is criticizing my parenting so I don’t get offended really easily like some people on this board seem to do. I know I am a great parent and I don’t need anyone validating that to feel good about myself.

  95. All that being said I have a raging case of double pink eye and I am still very contagious so if one of you guys wants to come get my kids and take them to the playground that would be just great. You can even push them on the swings. LOL. 😛

  96. I don’t see what’s so wonderful about passive swinging that other adults need to push my kids when I’m being a “bad parent” by not pushing them myself.

    Maybe I don’t like pushing kids on swings! Just like I don’t like watching Dora and so my kids are deprived of that also. (AND I DON’T WANT YOU DOING IT WITH THEM EITHER!) The also are not allowed to repeat the same inane phrase or noise more than 3 times in a row. (That, you can invite them to do as long as I am far away.)

    I think I’d better stop typing now, CPS may be monitoring this site.

    OK, back to serious stuff. What if a child is not getting pushed on the swings and can’t /won’t pump himself? What does he usually do? He usually goes and find something to do that actively engages his body and/or mind! How is that a bad thing? How does it make me a bad mom if that’s what I prefer my kid to do?

    Please STOP FEELING SORRY FOR MY POOR DEPRIVED CHILDREN! All it is doing is making you feel good about yourself.

  97. Sera, no one is suggesting that in the old days, dangers were not posed by the fact that parents had less time and energy to directly supervise young children in an more dangerous environment. Ben Franklin himself lost a toddler sibling who drowned himself in their father’s soap-making workshop.

    But that is NOT the same thing as saying that under-5’s pose a direct and deliberate threat to one another. And since an elementary school gym/bathroom area with dozens of adults present is NOT an unsupervised woodpile or soap-making worship or iron forge or lumbering operation, and crying for thirty seconds because you’re farther from your mom than you expected to be is *not* life-threatening (and could even be considered a good learning experience, provided the kid isn’t suffering neglect so that he’s feeling this kind of thing every day) those things have *no relevance* to this situation.

    *When these situations arise, a FIVE-year-old is not going to be able to cope with it and help the three-year-old out.*

    The only problem with this entirely reasonable statement is that in the situation described, the five year old *did* cope with it and *did* help the three year old out. So where does that leave your theory?

    “What if he panics and screams the place down? Or bolts? Honestly, this was not properly thought through.”

    Okay, let’s explore that. What if he does that? Mom comes and gets him, takes him out, and everyone is fine. Remember, even if he “screams and bolts,” this is a public building full of adults, not the South American jungle. A panicked three year old is not going to get far before Mom can come get him.

    So maybe it *was* thought through, and the “what if” was something that did not have world-ending consequences, so it was allowed to proceed.

  98. What’s wrong with people doing things to feel good about themselves? Of course when people do things to help others it makes them feel good about themselves. The accusation of that “crime” is strange indeed.

  99. PS, my kids are 4 and I tell them that I do not play children’s games. That they should play with other children. Why? Because that is healthier for them! Sure, I will take time to teach them a new game, but then they play it with their peers.

    When they were 3, I took them to the park most fine days, allowed their max of 3 underducks each, and then took a walk (where I could still see them) while they played. I explained that I needed to take care of my health too, and if they needed me they could always call or come and get me. There were very few times when they actually had any need or desire for adult intervention.

    The whole point of taking my kids to the park is for them to be active. Why in the world would I go out of my way to pack a picnic and drive them somewhere just to have them sit on a swing?

    I’m honestly shocked that some people think that not swinging my lazy child back and forth and back and forth makes me a bad mom.

  100. Tuppence, it’s this quote from Dolly that got me unhinged. You tell me why I should be happy with this.

    “I also want to add that there are some bad parents out there. … There are some parents who are too busy … to care to push their child on the swing. … That is why I try to reach out and help other kids. They shouldn’t get to miss out because their parents are not engaging.”

    Gimme a break. I am not pushing my kid’s swing at this moment, therefore I don’t CARE, therefore she needs to HELP my kids because they shouldn’t MISS OUT because I suck.

    That’s what she tells herself to make herself feel good.

    Not a crime, but not exactly a kindness either!

  101. I agree that parents who think that children who aren’t getting pushed, or helped down, or whatever, are deprived are off-base and not really being helpful.

    That said, I’m simply not going to get worked up over other people’s good intentions, providing it is not doing actual harm to my child. And pushing my kid on the swing *one time* does not do actual harm. (Okay, they’re all past that point, but thinking back….) That’s the problem I have with this — the sense of proportion. Nothing other parents do in a one-off situation “undermines my parenting” or “ruins my kids’ independence.” I could wish they wouldn’t do those things, but as someone else pointed out, kids understand the distinction between what they can get other people to do, and what their parents will do/permit from pretty young ages. And I’m the one in charge of them most of the time. I doubt their response to the world is going to be formed by some lady at the park.

    I think Dean and Tuppence make a good point — if we want our kids to be treated as community members, then some community members won’t always “toe the line” with our conceptions of parenting. That’s fine — *they’re not our kids’ parents* and our kids actually know that. I might find specific instances annoying and undesirable, but I’m not going to get worked up about it — it’s my job to raise my kids, not everyone else’s job to go along with how I do it, except to the extent of not actually meddling by insisting on certain things or involving authorities for no real reason.

    If you don’t like other people pushing your kids on the swings, 1) tell your kids not to let them 2) appropriately discipline your kids if they disobey 3) nicely explain to the other parents that you’re teaching your kids to do it themselves 4) leave the park for the day if either the kids, or the adults, remain impervious to your wishes.

    But please don’t hate on people who are trying to be nice community members. And if they’re not just doing that, and actually acting like they’re trying to show you up as a bad parent, then just chalk them up to being among the lots of people you encounter in daily life who aren’t as smart or as wise as you wish they were. But please don’t worry too much about what other people are thinking about you.

  102. I do not mind the occasional action to be friendly to my kid, whether it’s a push on the swing or whatever. I agree that what I do in the long term is what matters most.

    What I’m fighting is:

    1) The attitude that my parenting choice equals neglecting my child (clearly shown here and elsewhere); and

    2) The widespread assumption of helplessness (or ignorance of inividual differences) that means my kids are not likely to be helped or urged to “be more careful” just once here and there, but too often.

  103. SKL, Dolly did not say that any parent who doesn’t push a kid on a swing for whatever reason is a bad parent.

    She said there are some obviously neglectful, bad parents who, among other things, don’t push their kids on a swing, and those kids do look like maybe they should get some attention. I’d be hesitant about interfering in a situation like that myself as I could be misjudging, but I could never say that such situations don’t occur and don’t make themselves fairly apparent. Clues might include the parent never putting down the cellphone, telling the kids to shut up when they interrupt for any reason, and so forth.

    If you can’t tell the difference between a parent who pays a decent amount of attention to their kids but chooses not to engage in certain activities with them, and a “tuned out” parent who makes it fairly evident that their not doing something is a result of being disengaged and uncaring, then I think you’re fortunate in what you haven’t encountered. If you wish to do some research, try visiting a Walmart on the seedy side of some town sometime. 😉

  104. Pentamom, it seems to me that a mom who has taken her kid to the park and let him play has done one of the best things she could do for him. What difference does it make what SHE is doing while her able-bodied preschool/school child is playing at the park? Seriously, I do not understand.

  105. PS, I’ve seen the “seedy” side. The mom whose 1-year-old was climbing up a high structure with openings she could have easily fallen from, while the mom was a distance away shamelessly flirting with some guy. I’m not talking about 1-year-olds. I don’t think Dolly is, either.

  106. Yes, and many people seem to have lost the ability to make a clear distinction between the situation you describe SKL and something that really won’t make any difference to the child’s well-being in the long or even short term. Talking on the phone to your friends or leaving your child alone to go off and smoke crack is not part of a continuum of neglect from extremely mild to severe. They are completely different things.

    That’s why parents feel under pressure these days to be seen and to make a show of being actively involved or risk being labelled a bad parent.

  107. SKL, I can remember when my daughter was younger, what a pain it was to have to constantly stand there and push her on the swing. I sheepishly admit, would use all wiles at my disposal to steer her away from swing-sets in any given park. My mother, pro that she was by the time I (number 7) came around, managed with little fanfare to have me believing that it was nothing less than genius on my part that I could pump myself: I was so proud, I still remember it! Somehow wasn’t able to do and/or maintain same results with own kid. So, yeah, I remember the “(oh no – swings!) Okay, I’ll give you three pushes, then you have to pump yourself” days.

    And, there’d be those parents who are standing there pushing their own kid anyway, and your kid might ask them to do same for him/her. Let ’em. I say. They know the deal. Some people really like to just stand there and day dream, and push a swing for a while. If they don’t, well, it’s for them to say so.

    Let the interaction between those adults and your child develop on it’s own in situations as innocuous as this, sez I. (Advice easier said then done when you suspect someone’s giving you the “you rotten parent” stink eye — I know.)

    Mom’s advice is still best: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Them thinking (even saying to a friend next to them) that you’re a bad mother (for lame-a** stuff like this, no less!) means NOTHING.

    I’ll leave you with this tip I always found helpful — if you don’t look in their direction, you might not see the stink eye in the first place!

  108. I don’t get why everyone feels so judged or worked up. All that says to me is that you have self esteem problems about your parenting. No where did I say anyone here was a bad parent. I said the opposite. I did say that yes, occasionally I meet a tuned out or absent parent.

    Did I say I confronted said parent? Nope. I don’t say a word. Most of the time I don’t even know what the situation is. I just don’t see a parent and so if the kids asks for help, I give it. I have no idea if the parent is in the bathroom or at the mall. Either way, at that moment they aren’t there so I offer my assistance. I would want another parent to do the same for my kids and I would not be worrying about what they are thinking about me.

    On the contrary, I have twins. So MANY times in my life I have not been there for one of them because I was chasing after his brother! LOL. They go opposite directions sometimes and especially when they were little. Most parents chuckled about it and would help out and smile. I never felt judged. I don’t get why anyone would.

    I will say that if some mom ran up to me and mouthed off to me with attitude because I put her child in the swing when she was no where nearby when her child asked me to do so, she would get mouthed off right back to. Other than that, if they were nice about it or whatever, there would be no problem.

    SKL: I am talking about all ages. If a kids asks for my help or I see a kid about to fall or whatever, I try to help. Would you rather a parent stand there and let a child fall right in front of them and not move to catch them? Good Lord, in that case my instinct kicks in and I save them without even thinking about it. I once ran into a street to throw myself in front of a car for some random little boy. His brother threw his airplane into the busy street and the little one ran after it. I just acted. I screamed “STOP!!!” and ran after him and thank God he stopped so neither of us had to be hurt that day. His mother went inside to get more napkins. She was just gone a second. That is another reason why a slightly older sibling is not the best person to watch your child. He almost got his brother run over.

    I was not even a parent yet in the above story. Just out with my Little Sister from the Big Brother/Big Sister program. That’s right I was a Big. You can’t tell me that bad parents don’t exist. Come on, that little girl was hungry every time I picked her up and she straight up told me they would eat all the food before she could get any. She was skinny as a rail while her family was obese so I tended to believe her. They also just left when I was supposed to drop her off so that there was no one home. I have seen neglect firsthand and its not pretty.

  109. “Pentamom, it seems to me that a mom who has taken her kid to the park and let him play has done one of the best things she could do for him. What difference does it make what SHE is doing while her able-bodied preschool/school child is playing at the park? Seriously, I do not understand.”

    Maybe it doesn’t make any difference to you. But maybe the kid would like to be pushed, and maybe “just taking them to the park” is less than what the children would want from an adult who happens to be handy, and maybe there’s no “principled” reason they aren’t pushing their kids, but only a tuned-out one, so where’s the HARM in pushing the kid?

    Anyway, my real point was that observing that some kids are left on their own because their parents are disengaged is not equal to assuming that the reason every parent, including you, is not engaging in *a particular activity* is because you’re a bad parent. That it would be wrong, using reasonable observational skills, to assess your parenting as neglectful or at least engaged to merely the bare minimum, does not mean that using reasonable observational skills, it might be wrong to assess another situation that way.

  110. Oh dear, well, I may have been that mother with the one year old (only I was talking, with both moms and dads whom I always assume are just as happy in their relationships as I am in mine, and not flirting.)

    When my son learned to walk at 9 months, he was running and climbing a week later. He was one who would climb up the big slide (with the gaps between the steps) and then would dance around at the top where the opening was about 8 feet off the ground. If I went around to the other side, he would come down the slide. BUT, if I stayed, or another adult engaged him in conversation, he would be right at the edge. I thus decided it was SAFER for him, if I did not give him attention for what he was doing, and only praised him when he actually came down the slide. Yes, I had to tell parents to please wait to talk to him until he came down. When they saw that what I said worked, they would do as I asked.

    But, while it may have appeared that I was not paying attention, I usually was very aware of where my kids were. My youngest especially, is very aware of his body and where he is in space. He was the only kid in the neighborhood to not fall between the steps on that slide (including much older kids.) He has never gotten hurt with his climbing, and has never fallen off of anything that he did not jump from. My other kids are more cautious. I don’t make them do things that they are not ready for because they actually might get hurt. But my youngest, he does fine, and is less likely to show off (like standing at the top of the vertical ladder structure and taking both hands off to wave at the other mom) if people do NOT pay attention to his antics. I do have some rules for him, not climbing on roofs, stay near the trunk of the tree when climbing, hook you feet under the bar when hanging upside down on the monkey bars, wear your bike helmet every time you are on the bike, don’t ride your bike down the dirt road until the car is past the barn, because he wiped out on the bumps one time and the neighbor thought he went under the car. (He did wait for the car to pass, just not long enough for him to not catch up.)

  111. I don’t get why everyone feels so judged or worked up. All that says to me is that you have self esteem problems about your parenting

    Dolly, you are now being incredibly rude. WHEN somebody tells you that you are offending them, it is disrespectful (yes, Tuppence, disrespectful!) to then say that it’s THEIR fault that THEY are offended. When multiple people, after patiently talking to you for a while, tell you that you sound like you’re judging others – it’s probably not because they’re insecure. If you feel that we’re not hearing what you’re saying, the problem isn’t that we’re “easily offended”, it’s that you’re either offensive or very bad at communicating.

    Comments that you’re not “cavalier” like the OP, and that you’re often the “nice lady”, that other people are “mean” and you’re only helping to “stop them from crying” and “looking pitiful”, that kids “flock to you” because you “always help them”, that those of us who don’t particularly want your brand of help should “stay with” our various kidlets – this is coming off to me (and judging from responses, I doubt I’m the only one) as boastful and judgmental.

    Proceeding to go from there into a random discussion of bad parents who are “too busy talking on the phone” to push their kids on the swings (as though that’s the definition of a bad parent, some meanie who doesn’t push their kids on the swings! Nobody has a valid reason for being on the phone at a playground, after all)… well, honestly, and it took me a while to learn this, but when you say that, even if you swear up and down that you didn’t mean the people you’re talking to, most people are going to take it as a condemnation of them, else why would you mention it? Why would you bring it up if you didn’t think talking on the phone instead of pushing your kid is bad parenting? You may not think you meant to imply that, but it’s not reasonable to expect nobody will take it that way.

    And then you bring up people who smoke crack at the playground and CPS. Load of bull. Nobody said that those people are good parents. Nobody said… well, not on this thread anyway – that there’s no reason whatsoever for CPS. Neither of those topics has ANYthing to do with what we were actually discussing, which is whether or not you, personally, should make a habit of pushing other people’s kids on the swings and patting yourself on the back for being oh so great with kids.

    And for the record, if I saw somebody smoking crack at the playground, I wouldn’t push their kids on the swing either. I’d call the cops and I’d call child services. Because I actually *do* care about the welfare of those kids, and not just whether or not they can push themselves on the swings.

  112. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the appropriate role of the parent of a preschool/school child at the park. Personally I don’t take my kids to the park for any reason other than to exercise and interact with people they do NOT see at home. And unless my kid has an emotional problem, I don’t care if she would happen to prefer that I was at her beck and call during that time. I am the parent and I decide what is developmentally approprate for my kids. If it was midnight and they wanted me in their bedroom, I’d say no to that as well. There’s a time and a place for mom & kid interaction, and in general, for my family, the park playground isn’t it. (We do have a picnic together before they go off to play.)

    I don’t think I need to produce the long list of things I DO work individually with my kids on, in order to reassure the Dollys of the world that I do in fact “care” and my kids are not “missing out.” Nobody should have to. While I agree there are bad parents in the world, it is wrong to assume that every instance of “I wouldn’t do that” equals some degree of child neglect. And that is what Dolly seems to be doing when she mixes her “nice to the children” style with the judgment she feels for other parents.

  113. Good Lord, I am not judging anyone! You may think that, but that is not it at all. I feel like I am being judged for actually playing with my kids and other kids that come up. So you know, I guess we are going to have to agree to disagree.


  114. Just because I maybe over-react to comments from strangers about my “parenting” does not mean that I am not confident that I am a good parent. I am a very confident parent. I was not always like that and then I stopped buying into the idea that every little thing I did or didn’t do would have a lasting effect on my children’s welfare and the way they turned out.

    Another reason I react to comments (sometimes over-react) is because I think parents (OK mothers) tend to be too docile in the face of this rudeness and that this is encouraging behaviour that is, when it comes down to it, bullying. And the reason that parents are docile is that they are paralysed with self doubt that they are doing the right thing because they too have bought into the idea that they can make or break their children’s future with one false move. That anxiety also undermines their ability to have authority over their children.

  115. I won’t agree to be friends when I barely know you, but I’ll agree to drop the subject after one last comment.

    Whether or not you’re judging people is probably irrelevant (and at this point we’ve all of us escalated this beyond sense). However, none of us is making it up that you *sound*, in some of your comments, like you are. If it were just one person, you could disregard that person. Two is the start of a trend – and if you’d been here longer, you’d know that SKL and I are often arguing with each other! Even when we’re on the same side, it’s with caveats. And judging from other responses, I wouldn’t be surprised if other people felt the same way but weren’t as open about it.

    If you’re not judging people, or if you are and don’t want people to know (reasonable enough – I think we all judge others SOME of the time, but it’s not always polite to say so), you need to work more on making sure you don’t sound judgmental. I wish I could tell you how to do that, but it’s something I’m still learning myself.

    I do feel kinda bad for you, this is like the third post you’ve had a bit of a negative response in, and I don’t think you’re trying for that negative response either. I can tell you what happened there and how to mitigate that effect in the future, but you’re not going to like the advice. (I’m so sure you’re not that I’m not going to hand it out unsolicited. It’s sure to be taken the wrong way, I have no idea how to phrase it the right way, and it’s not very helpful to you *right now* anyway.)

  116. Pentamom, you ask what’s “wrong” with another mom thinking my kid “should” be passively swinging when I haven’t made that judgment.

    Well, would you think it wrong if I put someone else’s walking child in a stroller to get from point A to point B?

    Would you think it wrong if I put someone’s potty-trained tot in a pull-up? I mean what’s it “hurting,” right?

    What if I removed a kid from his two-wheel bike and put him on a trike instead?

    I see all of these the same way. I’ve worked with my kid to rise to a certain standard of ability and independence, and I’ve set exercise goals for each one that they may not even be aware of.

    Like I said, I totally sympathize with an adult who is asked by a child for “help.” That comes from the child, not from the adult’s assumption that the child must want or need help. I would rather my kid didn’t ask, but that’s between me and my kid.

    Dolly, I think you are sincere when you say you don’t mean to insult anyone here. The problem is, your comments imply that if you did happen to see the way I interact with my kids at the playground, you would feel sorry for my kids. You have not acknowledged that my way might be a valid parenting choice. Therefore I can only believe that you think otherwise, and that you’d judge my parenting if we crossed paths someday. Maybe the issue is in how you worded some of your comments, or maybe you really feel that way – I don’t know which it is. But if you could look back and admit (at least to yourself) there is a reason for rections such as mine, that would be a step in the right direction.

  117. Okay, if a person is standing around at a playground, and sees a kid who seems to want to be pushed on a swing, and does it, and the parents are either nowhere to be seen or obviously preoccupied, I just don’t consider that a reasonable equation with putting someone else’s kid in a pull-up, scooping him into a stroller, or taking away his bike.

    The fact that you could consider those reasonably analogous probably explains the communication difficulties that are going on here.

    I agree with you that barging in and taking over because you think someone isn’t “parenting right” is inappropriate. However, there are situations that fall somewhere in between, and you seem to be regarding every such occasion as judgmental and overweening and interfering, as opposed to maybe just unnecessary. You also don’t seem to be allowing for the fact that people really, visibly, actually do take their kids to the park and ignore them for reasons other than wanting to promote their independence, like “not caring.” I’m not asking everyone to go around assessing everyone else’s parenting, I’m saying that it is just *barely* possible that a kid with an uninterested parent could be benefited by some attention from someone who’s actually making a *fair* assessment that they need it. I’m not suggesting that it’s legitimate to assume that every kid on a swing whose parents aren’t pushing is being ignored and “needs help”, that’s not remotely reasonable, but I am asking that people chill a bit when someone does do that, because people *will* do things you don’t like and life is too short to find reasons to resent other people.

  118. “Personally I don’t take my kids to the park for any reason other than to exercise and interact with people they do NOT see at home.”

    Like maybe a nice lady who wants to give them a push on a swing? 😉

    Here’s where we’re disconnecting, I think — I agree with you that assuming that a kid whose parent isn’t dome particular thing with them “needs help” is definitely wrong. I don’t agree that every person who offers to give your kid a push is doing that, rather than, well, offering to give your kid a push! If another child did it, would you be upset?

    I understand the dynamics here — way too many people go around meddling and acting like they need to take over for other parents who aren’t helicoptering enough. I don’t like that either. I’m just concerned that in our zeal to avoid and discourage that kind of thing, we start resenting people showing friendliness to our kids that we wouldn’t resent them showing to us, or that we wouldn’t resent other kids showing, because we’ve decided that all offers to give a kid a hand are meant as substitutes for our own parenting. That’s not the way to live in a community. Somewhere we have to find the balance in giving our kids the kind of independence we believe is good and right without being trampled by busybodies, while still leaving room for other people to interact with our kids even when we don’t find their efforts to be perfectly conceived as to method. Otherwise we’re just creating a different kind of “perfection bubble” around our parenting from the ones the helicopter parents construct, but it’s still perfectionist and still a bubble.

  119. Pentamom, I know I’ve posted too many times here, so I can understand why I’m being misunderstood. I did say that I totally understand an adult taking sympathy on a child who asks for a push. I also understand that occasional smothering by other adults is not going to ruin my kid. BUT what I am objecting to is the attitude behind some of it. (Not all of it.) The attitude that has been clearly stated here to the effect that:

    1) Kids whose parents don’t push them on the swings are “missing out” because their parents don’t care enough about them. (Dolly’s opinion.)

    2) Whether a child is OK “on his own” at the park depends on WHY his mom is giving him the independence, not on whether he is developmentally ready to benefit from it. (Your opinion.)

    3) That a stranger to the child has the ability to assess whether his mother cares about him or interacts with him enough throughout the day. (Your and Dolly’s opinion.) Specifically, that if you don’t spot me when my kid is at the playground, or if I’m on my cell phone at that moment, my kid is probably in need of additional nurturing, poor thing.

    I maintain that any normal preschooler or school child should be assumed to be ready for independent play at the park / playground. That this is true without regard to what kind of parenting he receives. And that you can’t tell by looking at me and my kid whether or not my kid gets enough attention throughout the day.

    PS, I would like to know how you know whether a kid’s parent is “around”? My kids and I don’t wear matching t-shirts, nor do we look even remotely similar, so . . . .

  120. “2) Whether a child is OK “on his own” at the park depends on WHY his mom is giving him the independence, not on whether he is developmentally ready to benefit from it. (Your opinion.)”

    Um, no, it depends on whether the mom appears to be giving him independence, or whether the mom doesn’t appear to give a rip about him based on clear signals (see next point.)

    “3) That a stranger to the child has the ability to assess whether his mother cares about him or interacts with him enough throughout the day. (Your and Dolly’s opinion.) Specifically, that if you don’t spot me when my kid is at the playground, or if I’m on my cell phone at that moment, my kid is probably in need of additional nurturing, poor thing.”

    I don’t think a stranger has an ability to assess subtle things. I do think a stranger has an ability to assess blatant things. I’m not talking about “talking on a cell phone,” I’m talking about talking on a cell phone and yelling “shut up!” when the kid runs toward the mom to ask for something. I’m not talking about pursuing your own interests while at the park, I’m talking about not giving any appearance whatsoever that you would surrender your own interests for 15 seconds unless an ambulance showed up.

    I’m talking about extremes, I’m not talking about making judgments based on subtle differences between what you’d do and what I’d do. If you think you can’t go out in public and see kids whose parents are evidently not giving a rip in unambiguous ways, well, I think you’re giving the benefit of the doubt where there’s little doubt.

  121. If struggling parents are going to be judged for not “appearing” to be attending to their child as others think they should, then perhaps it would be better to keep the kids in the house where nobody can see them. And we know that many challenged parents do exactly that.

    I myself found it very difficult initially to return to a park where I’d been attacked over my parenting choice. (I know pushing my kid on the swing is NOT an attack.) Every time I saw two moms talking softly to each other, I wondered if one was saying “that was the woman who ….” But since that happens to be the nicest park around, I “manned up” and returned there until I got over the “judged” feeling. Then again, I had a lot going for me in case anyone decided to “turn me in” or whatever.

    Thing is, I’d rather see kids hanging out at a park and getting some exercise and fresh air, regardless of what kind of parents they have. I think the park should be a safe haven for kids and their moms to just be who they are (of course, to the extent it is legal).

    Keep in mind that the more a parent lacks parenting skills, the more defensive she’s going to be about that. The more defensive a challenged parent feels, the more likley she is to take it out on her kid in one way or another. So I would say, think twice and thrice before you interfere to save a “poor child” from a parenting choice that is not actually dangerous. Like the choice to let a kid play alone at the park.

  122. But why is this conversation even about deprived children needing a swing – no child NEEDS a swing. Why isn’t just about one parent helping another parent because maybe one is feeling lazy at that moment (so what?) Or is with another child? If a child has truly neglectful parents then having a nice lady put them in a swing is hardly going to make any difference.

  123. You know what kind of parent at the park gets my goat? The ones that allow their kids to tear branches off the trees, leave half eaten food in sand box or allow their kids to mark up the playground with stones or pens. Those kinds of things really get my blood pressure up because it is disrespectful of the park and the neighborhood. Are they good parents? Most of the parents I have seen are actively watching their kids do this stuff but they say nothings. (They also tended to be only weekend visitors, not actual residents of the neighborhood.)

    Since some of the discussion here has been about parents not paying attention to their kids, some, well I wish that they would actually DO something while watching their kids! (And yes, I do make a distinction if the parent is actually engaged in other activities and doesn’t notice – that is different. Those parents usually make the kids stop as soon as they notice.)

  124. “I’m not talking about “talking on a cell phone,” I’m talking about talking on a cell phone and yelling “shut up!” when the kid runs toward the mom to ask for something.”

    Well then I’d guess you’d consider my very well cared for child neglected in your 5 second observation of our interaction. I don’t tell her to “shut up,” but unless she’s bleeding, clearly distressed or in obvious danger, I’m not going to get off the phone answer a question. I’ll tell her to wait until I’m finished. I adore my child but I don’t feel it necessary to drop everything to cater to her every whim.

    “I’m not talking about pursuing your own interests while at the park, I’m talking about not giving any appearance whatsoever that you would surrender your own interests for 15 seconds unless an ambulance showed up.”

    I probably fall into that category sometimes too. There are times when I take my child to the park to avoid killing her. I’m a single parent and occasionally my child gets on my last nerve. I don’t always have the luxury of a friend or family member to take her off my hands. I’ll take her to the park and tell her to play and not bother me unless she’s dying. I won’t push her on the swings. I won’t put her on the monkey bars (she can do them but not actually get on them – badly designed monkey bars). I’m not going to watch her climb the tree I’ve watched her climb a 1000 times. Nice of you to decide on ONE interaction that I’m a neglectful parent and my child is in need of special attention.

    The fact is that you can’t tell if a child is overall neglected by watching them at the park. I know horrible parents (I am a public defender) who will push their kids on the swing. I know great parents who take their kids to the playground to get a break from them and don’t interact with them unless necessary.

    “Maybe it doesn’t make any difference to you. But maybe the kid would like to be pushed, and maybe “just taking them to the park” is less than what the children would want from an adult who happens to be handy, and maybe there’s no “principled” reason they aren’t pushing their kids, but only a tuned-out one, so where’s the HARM in pushing the kid?”

    So now I have to cater to my child’s every whim to be a “good” parent? I can’t simply say “I don’t want to push you now so you’re going to have to live without being pushed?” Again, is being pushed on the swing some life right that I missed in all my Constitutional law classes?

    You don’t know that the parent doesn’t have a reason for not pushing the child on the swing. You actually don’t care. You want to push the child so you’re going to push the child. You clearly have no interest in what the parents want.

    And there is absolutely no HARM in my child not getting pushed in the swing. Nobody has climbed a clock tower and killed people while screaming “my mother refused to push me in the swing when I was 5.” I don’t appear to have the same boring playgrounds as some so there are other things for my kid to do. Or she can just pump herself if she really must swing.

    “4) leave the park for the day if either the kids, or the adults, remain impervious to your wishes.”

    Hmmm. Now I, who am doing nothing but seeking to allow my child to play at a playground without interference must leave to avoid you from interfering with my child?

    “We are not talking about an adult insisting on walking a child home nor about an adult giving an allergic child a piece of candy with peanuts in it. We are talking about an adult in a playground giving a child who asks (or hangs around and look like she’d like to till someone suggests it) assistance.”

    Actually we are talking about the exact same thing – people doing something with your children that you don’t want done, sometimes with the child asking and sometimes without. If you don’t see the similarities between walking a child 2 houses although the child can do it himself and pushing a child in a swing who can do it himself and giving a child who asks a piece of candy, then there is probably little hope that you will ever understand our position and why this annoys us.

    I also don’t truly care if someone pushes my child on a swing or helps my child if, and only if, she asks for help. If my daughter is asking for help on something that I know she can do, I’ll talk to her about it. I draw the line at actively taking my child (this occurred mostly when she was a toddler) who is on the ground and not in any danger whatsoever and placing her in a swing (she was not in a swing because of the tantrum she was going to throw upon leaving so unless you’re willing to handle the tantrum, HANDS OFF). I draw the line at “helping” my child who isn’t asking for your help. Those things are RUDE, not kindly.

  125. Donna, I can see you’re not going to let up on this thing. It’s really late here, they’ll probably be typos, but I’m game so what the heck:

    First of all, this was never about not allowing children to do what they can do for themselves, so don’t try to pull the old bait and switch (which I guess bringing up the other two topics hoped to accomplish). We were talking about someone helping your child in the park (without your explicit “permission”). But you insist on widening that to people walking a child home and people giving a child peanuts, which has now even morphed into giving a child candy (got a whole post of its own a few weeks ago, that one), so let’s.

    If someone walked my child home, I’m sure they would be doing so because they think they are doing my child a good turn. Of course in my opinion, it’s a misguided idea, but nevertheless. I wouldn’t expect that person to read my mind that I don’t find it necessary for them do. I would have to tell them so. I’m pretty sure that would settle matters for most people. But what if they were very persistent and kept doing so, even after I said it’s not necessary? Well the situation would merit the reaction: maybe it’s a good friend, or someone I know who is just a horrible worrywart, or someone who “returns” my child to me every time with the sentence: You really should be doing this yourself you know. It would serve you right if she got killed! Plenty of possibilities. I would need this kind of information before deciding what I’d do next. Armed with that information, I could either insist on them not walking my child home, or let it go. I like to imagine I don’t always have to have my own way. It’s comforting to think one can remain flexible. The world’s a tough enough place as is, no point in letting oneself get worked up too much about something like that (ahead of time no less!) if you can help it. I would hope that I don’t now identify so much as a “free-range mother” that every adult I come in contact with must meet every one of those requirements or I flip out. That’d be spooky.

    The peanut allergy thing. I’m going to kick your “this is just like” . . . back to you here. This is the same scenario as the alcoholic drink at Applebees. If someone gave my child peanuts and she had an allergy, barring it was a murder attempt on my child, I would have to assume it was a MISTAKE. That little old thing that humans do and the divine forgive. In my experience, children who are allergic to peanuts know they have a serious condition and will behave accordingly. Am not entirely certain, but it seems you are suggesting that an allergic child would do what your child does on the swings (fib). I don’t think a child would do so about a serious allergy, but were that the case, how could I in good conscious blame the adult who give it to her?

    That was your last hope, that’d I see reason with at least! these two other examples, but it wasn’t to be. I’m a horrible disappointment, a lost cause. It seems I can’t join your club, for as you write: “then there is probably little hope that you will ever understand our position and why this annoys us”.

  126. “Hmmm. Now I, who am doing nothing but seeking to allow my child to play at a playground without interference must leave to avoid you from interfering with my child? ”

    Yes, because sometimes that is reality. What else are you going to do, exert your Jedi mind powers to make everyone at the park behave the way you want them to?

    I’m not saying this is the way it should be, I’m saying doing this seems to be a better alternative than having to do it anyway and developing a chip on your shoulder.

  127. “Well then I’d guess you’d consider my very well cared for child neglected in your 5 second observation of our interaction. I don’t tell her to “shut up,” but unless she’s bleeding, clearly distressed or in obvious danger, I’m not going to get off the phone answer a question.”

    Yes, well, then, since your behavior doesn’t fit my example, guess what? It doesn’t fit my example! So don’t treat my example like it describes you, when in the same breath you say it DOESN’T!

    I really am surprised that so many people go through life without seeing outright verbally abusive and obnoxiously neglectful parents in public that they think it’s hard to make the distinction between that, and a normal form of not dropping everything at every noise your kid makes.

  128. And no, I’m not saying a push on a swing is going to save a genuinely emotionally abused/neglected child. I’m saying doing so because you feel like being pleasant to a child isn’t really interfering with any sacred parental prerogatives since parents like that evidently aren’t exercising them anyway.

  129. “And no, I’m not saying a push on a swing is going to save a genuinely emotionally abused/neglected child. I’m saying doing so because you feel like being pleasant to a child isn’t really interfering with any sacred parental prerogatives since parents like that evidently aren’t exercising them anyway.”

    I don’t understand. “Parents like that” are which parents? Are you talking about all parents who don’t hang around the swingset, or just the ones you determine to be abusive/neglectful (assuming these are not the same in your opinion)?

  130. “I really am surprised that so many people go through life without seeing outright verbally abusive and obnoxiously neglectful parents in public that they think it’s hard to make the distinction between that, and a normal form of not dropping everything at every noise your kid makes.”

    I am sure there are parents whose public behavior is so obnoxious that you just know the kids are getting dumped on all day and night.

    However, there are moments in my day when, if that was the only moment you observed, you might think I fell into that category. Or somewhere on the continuum where you might feel sorry for my kid.

    I’m a fairly patient [single] mom and most days I don’t lose my cool with my two 4-year-olds. But sometimes they exasperate me. Sometimes it’s that on top of my business partners getting on my case and/or having a very stressful deadline and/or not feeling well. You can’t know how many times I have reminded my kid of something before you hear me preface it with “dammit” or emphasize it with “frickin.” You can’t know what pattern of behavior led to my saying “… or I will spank.” Maybe you notice that my kid shows up with snot caked under her nose – well, sorry, but the daycare hands her off to me like that, and I brought the kids straight from the daycare to the park so they could have as much outdoor play time as possible. And her lovely long hair? She loses her hairband most days at daycare and ends up looking like a banshee unless I remember to bring an extra band. She also writes on herself at daycare, etc. I’m sure we’re not the picture of loving care, but you can’t know why. So it just makes me uncomfortable to hear people say they are going to step in if they think my kid appears to be neglected, and try to make up for what she’s missing.

    Consider this. My kids are at the park because that’s usually the only time they get to have unstructured outdoor play. Let them have it – it’s important! So says the only person whose opinion really matters in our little world.

  131. SKL: You are putting words in my mouth. For the last time. I don’t make judgements when helping a kid who asks for help. I just do it.

    Well I don’t wear matching clothes with my sons either but other parents always seem to know they are mine. Mostly because I am watching them and looking at them, occasionally playing with them and talking to them, handing them water bottles, etc. That is how I notice who belongs to whom as well. If I see none of that, I don’t really know where the parent is so I will be willing to help out if asked.

    I guess you probably think I think my best mom friends are terrible mothers too because I ofer to push their kids in swings like I did the other day. Or because when making a count of the whereabouts of my boys I also look for theirs to make sure they are present and okay. Gosh I am a monster! How dare I pay any attention to any kid but my own! Shame on me!

  132. SKL: From your description of your kids it sounds like they have plenty of fun. Its the kids who always look like baby models that concern me. Kids are supposed to be dirty, that means they were playing!

    My boys march up and down the street in their pjs with rainboots and raincoats on splashing in puddles and getting their butts soaking wet. Now that is how boys have fun! Gosh I love little boys. My mom used to send me to school all dolled up in designer clothes with my hair all fixed. By the time I came home my hair was down and tangled, my dress was dirty and my knee was skinned. That meant I had fun on the playground! LOL.

  133. I can honestly say I can count on my hands the times I have felt judged negatively as a parent. It had not been often. I am a good parent, but I think it also has to do with I probably am too busy having fun to notice if some mother is whispering about me. Now judging me as a person, oh yeah, that happens all the time. But judging my parenting. Nah. When it did happen, I laughed it off and had a funny story to tell everyone later. Who cares!?

    We all have our moments where we look like a stupid parent. I know I do. But I know it is just that a moment and I don’t worry about it because I know I rock the rest of the time! I bet you will find the harshes and biggest judge of your parenting is the person staring back at you in the mirror. Most other people probably are too busy with their kids to even notice or care.

  134. Parents have always been judgemental of one another but I believe that parents are under particularly harsh scrutiny at the moment. Personally I blame Super Nanny for this (rating other people child-rearing – in order to feel better about oneself – has become a national sport). Super Nanny and the tendency for public policymakers to blame poor parenting for social problem, which is oversimplistic in my view.

    It’s all very well to say you shouldn’t worry what other people think, but this social pressure is extremely powerful. We know from this board that lots of people would like to give their children more freedom but they’re worried what people would think. What is stopping them is NOT that they think their children would be in any danger, but rather that they might be socially shamed.

  135. Myriam, sorry my patience, and sympathy, are at an end. Some people are just spoiling for a fight — on the Internet as well as in the playgrounds. And if you are constantly on the look out for a fight, you’ll never be disappointed. There will ALWAYS be someone out there who doesn’t agree with the way you do things.

    From what I read here, I could surmise that certain mothers would just a likely give the stink eye to a mother who DOES stand and push her child on the swing the whole time. They’d lean over to their buddy and say – “look there’s a helicopter. I let my child do things on her own! And don’t interfere with her development! I have better things to do with my time than stand and push a swing all day!” (cue smug expression on face). So who’d be judging whom then?

  136. Yes and they’re just as bad in my view. Looking for fights is really the last thing I want, in fact my dearest wish is to be able to go about my business in peace with my children without strangers regularly chastising me loudly in the street in a way that seems to have become acceptable but only if the person on the receiving end is accompanied by small children.
    No I’m not exaggerating but maybe I’ve just been unlucky or it’s because I live in a tough part of a big city.
    Stink eyes, or “thoughts” or even whispers I couldn’t care less about.

  137. Just to be clear, I don’t judge moms who push their young kids on the swings. I tried to be very clear that my preference in that regard relates only to myself and my children. Surely I do some things with my kids that other parents have moved beyond. I’m just pushing for people to accept that either choice is a valid and usually positive choice.

    I’m not seeking a fight. Like I said, I’ve been attacked with my kids at hand and I’m sorry, but it stings. I didn’t go looking for that, it came looking for me.

    But what I do is on this board, where I think it is appropriate, I call out people who appear to have assumptions that are unfair or judgmental. I’m challenging them to consider whether they are seeing all sides of the situation, since in my opinion they are not. This is in the hope that it helps the pendulum to swing back a little way.

    If you don’t agree with it, that is fine. If you think I’m the one being rigid, fine. We are all entitled to our opinions.

  138. Reading these comments is better than all the Lifetime Television for Women put together.

  139. “Are you talking about all parents who don’t hang around the swingset,”

    How many times do I have to say that I’m not talking about parents who merely “don’t hang around the swingset” before people stop asking me whether I am?

    Okay, I’m done — we’re a bunch of people who generally all get along here pretty well and we’re getting out of sorts with one another, probably mostly over miscommunication. I’m pretty sure if we saw one another in action we’d all be cool with another. See y’all on another, hopefully friendlier, thread!

  140. Cheers, pentamom, see you there.

  141. Unfriendly? Out of sorts? I thought we were having a discussion.
    A pretty inane discussion admittedly, and more circular than a playground merry-go-round, but interesting nevertheless.

  142. @Rich Wilson — heehe, guilty as charged!

    And it occurred to me that Mr. Bennet’s wisdom applies:

    “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

  143. Myriam, a lively discussion can certainly be something other than unfriendly. But I got the sense that this one was getting a little more heated than productive after a certain point, that’s all. Maybe I’m wrong — that’s okay, too.

  144. Rich — that’s been one of my faves for years now. 🙂

  145. Whoa, I must have skipped the part where we started talking about pushing kids on swings. This is a story about a lost child.

    When I was about 15 or 16, at a swim meet, a friend of mine came up to me with a crying little boy by the hand who was wearing our team’s swimsuit. He was about 3 or 4 and crying pretty hysterically, hiccuping and unable to tell anyone his name. He had gotten lost, and since we were the visiting team, he was at an unfamiliar pool. I recognized him as the younger brother of my teammate, found her, and she took him to find their mom. He was so scared he couldn’t even talk to his own sister to tell her what was wrong.

    About 30 minutes later, I saw the same little boy running around playing happily with other children. His mom was nearby, but he was clearly over it, recuperated, and ready for playtime again.

    I think this is a perfect example of kids being able to bounce back. And this was an actual lost child, not kids sitting at the front of a gym. I can’t think of anything scarier than being a small child, lost in a strange world full of tall people, and not able to recognize anyone. He had gone back to the clubhouse, which was the last place he had seen his mom, and found help there. He was clearly not traumatized.

  146. You’ve hit the ball out the park! Iencrdilbe!

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