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Playdate Etiquette: Taming Your Inner Mama Bear

Playdate Etiquette: Taming Your Inner Mama Bear

As parents, it's much easier for us to see problems in other children than with our own. For instance, my son plays with a neighbor kid basically every day. Despite their age difference (5 months) they are pretty great playmates--most of the time. However, there are definitely days where the neighbor kid (we'll call him Nick) has a really hard time sharing and frankly, acts like a little snot. On those days, it takes everything I have not to go full mama bear on Nick, especially when he shoves my kid to the ground for using a toy he wants.

So what's a mama bear to do? I can't just sit and let my kid be tortured by this hulk of a playmate, but I don't want to offend his mom and overstep my bounds either. I've read around on forums and the like for advice and tips, and here's what I've found: you have to be even more patient with other kids than your own. How is that even possible, you ask? I know it feels like our own kids push us to our limits sometimes, but trust me. It's just easier to see all that's wrong in so-and-so's snotty kid than in our own children, who, let's face it, can do no wrong.

When to Intervene/Discipline

Don't get me wrong, there are definitely times when it is appropriate to discipline another person's child, but those times are few and far between. All you need to focus on is your own child and helping to teach them between right and wrong. As for when to intervene, a lot of it depends on your relationship with the parent of the child in question. Here's where I would feel comfortable telling another child off:
  • If you are good/best friends with the parent and they discipline your kids too, as needed
  • If you play frequently together in close quarters and discipline your own child simultaneously
  • In an emergency or severe injury-causing sort of situation AKA their kid is seriously going to harm your own
Remember that if, and when, you do intervene, never be violent or rude to other children. State calmly that their behavior is not kind before steering your child to a different area or activity. You'll read a lot of parenting books that encourage parents to "let kids work things out on their own," and there's definitely some truth to that. You'd be surprised how well two kids can work things out when left alone. At the same time, if one of your child's playmates is an avid biter, it's best to keep a close eye on them and any potential conflicts that may arise. Go with your gut and use your knowledge of the child and situation to steer you in the right direction. My rule of thumb is this: if their parent is present, let them intervene with their own child. If they fail to intervene repeatedly, remove your child from the situation. No one likes to be told that their kid is a selfish little urchin, and most people get defensive or rude when you try to parent their offspring.

Public Playdates

Public places are a little different, as the conflict is with a child you might not know. In these situations, I do my utmost to protect my child and move away from volatile children and situations. If there's a kid on the playground that is causing trouble, move to the swings. If the problem child continues following and bullying your kid, maybe it's time to leave. I'm not saying it's horrible to say "No!" to the kid as he attacks your child, but attempting to teach a strange child a lesson is about as useful as knitting with spaghetti. So, my advice is to move on from the situation. At the same time, watch the other parent and how they respond to their child's bad behavior. I usually let their behavior be my guide; if they aren't responsive at all, I tend to just leave the situation. If you feel comfortable saying something that's casual and non-confrontational, do it. Just think about how you'd respond if someone did the same to you.

Sharing Issues

Because my son is a toddler, one of the biggest conflicts I deal with is sharing. Sharing is tough, and I'm convinced that no kid truly "gets it" until they're are much older, perhaps 9 or 10. On the other hand, some kids are definitely better at sharing than others. Do your best to teach your child to share with others by using the following tips:
  • When there's a fight over a toy, introduce a new toy or distract them from the fight
  • Stop your own child from "stealing" toys from other children and explain that behavior isn't nice
  • If a child repeatedly "steals" toys, ask them politely about sharing the toy but don't make them share
  • When all else fails, help your child move on to other toys
Some of the best playdates my son has had isn't when there's perfect peace, but when he learns that sharing is a good and important thing. These lessons aren't easy to teach and take perhaps years to sink in, but every so often, you'll see something that shows you they get it.

Be Alert, Yet Patient

With this advice in mind, there's no guarantee that you are going to have smooth sailing playdates from here on out. But, when we stop and realize that our own kids do things that annoy other parents, we can be more patient with regular playmates, and tread carefully around parents and kids we don't even know. In the end, it's not about trying to avoid offending people, but simply offering them the same courtesy we, as parents, hope we receive from others.

I don't think there's always one hard and fast answer to any parenting question, but I do believe that patience and empathy can go a long way. Stay watchful and be aware of what your own children are doing, and protect them when necessary. Otherwise, know that they will live through that girl at the park cutting in front of them in line for the slide.

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