What should you do about other people’s badly-behaved children? I’m sure this is a common parenting dilemma, but it’s not one that I’ve been forced to deal with directly until today. Obviously as a teacher, it was my job to deal with other people’s children and discipline was part of that, but as a parent I’ve tended to assume that I am responsible for the safety, behaviour and good manners of my child and that other people are responsible for theirs.
This morning at our local SureStart Centre, two incidents occured that made me realise I am going to have to decide how I want to handle this issue. Firstly, one of the older boys was chasing his friend around when he fell over and landed on the Jam. Neither of them were hurt – the Jam looked a bit bemused and the other boy looked sheepish. His mother came over, apologised to me and explained to him that he mustn’t run near the younger children. A little later, a different ‘big boy’ wandered over, pushed the Jam and snatched the toy car he was holding. The Jam – understandably, in my opinion – tried to hit the older boy and landed one shot before I grabbed him. No sign of a parent. I sat the Jam on my knee and reminded him (in a loud voice) that “we never hit, even when other people do naughty things”. I also took the car back from the other boy with a firm “thank you”.
I think I did the right thing, but I wondered what would have happened had the other parent complained about the Jam attempting to hit their son. (Is it unfair to assume that if he/she wasn’t interested enough to take responsibility for their child’s behaviour and good manners, they probably aren’t that concerned with safety either?) He did go through a short phase of hitting to get his own way, but I always apologised to the parent and made him apologise to the child. Usually I managed to step in before he made contact and warned him that we would go home if he tried to hit again – we only had to leave once!
It makes me angry that other parents are not willing to take responsibility for their child in that sort of environment. I try to avoid confrontation by keeping the Jam out of the way of boisterous ‘big kids’ but why should he miss out on playing on the slide because other children are climbing up it? Do I have the right to tell them to stop? It also makes me angry because by abdicating responsibility, these parents are simply delegating the hard job of raising their children, either to other parents of toddlers, or to teachers later.
Going back to the original question – the answer is ‘it depends’. There are clearly situations where any adult should step-in, for example when the child likely to hurt themself or someone else. I also believe it’s acceptable to intervene when a child’s behaviour is frightening or upsetting other children (particularly mine). If the behaviour is simply unpleasant, not affecting others, and the parent clearly doesn’t care, then I wouldn’t get involved. The teacher in me finds that difficult to admit, but it’s just not my job. Sadly for those children, if their parents don’t, and people like me won’t, who will…?