Play Areas Should Be Segregated By Parenting Styles

I show up at a play area to meet up with a friend.

The friend is great.

The other family in the play area is not.

A boy about five years old purposefully knocks over my daughter. Twice. I could see that his newest sibling had just began to move.  E took out his frustration on other little guys when N began to move around and get into his stuff.  Now, E was more the unwilling-to-share, not the make-them-cry-by-slamming-your-body-into-them-type but still.  It happens.

Both times I say: Sweetie, you need to be careful around her.

But the boy is already walking away.

And his parents — both of whom are there — NEVER SAY A WORD. Even as my daughter bawls in my arms.

I know that by the third time, I will have to call the parents out.  Or request their help.  Or smack them up-side the head.

But after visualizing the painful argument with them over their son’s intentions, I decide to body-block the entire family. I trail my daughter everywhere and move to man-to-man coverage when the boy is within a few feet of N.  Oh, and I glared at that family like they are demon spawns.

Of course, now, I can’t talk to my friend. I can’t play with my son. Because I have to protect my daughter from the boy who decided that picking on her was okay.  And his parents who are too busy to care.

Then I look over and my son is standing in the middle of the play area with the I’M ABOUT TO CRY look.  As I make my was across the room, I ask twice: What’s wrong, sweetie?

And ANOTHER adult finally says: He bumped heads with that boy. I think it was an accident.

The same boy.

And his parents say nothing. Until I go over to E and glance at the mom. The mom says: It was an accident. But not to me. To her husband.

Without thinking, I go into my normal parenting mode and say to E: When we hurt another person we apologize.

I’m thinking that the boy had gotten hurt as well  since E had a huge red mark on his face.

E refuses to apologize saying repeatedly that the boy hurt HIM.

I stop and recall how the boy has treated N and think: E is probably right.

And we walk away from the situation.

When the spawn family finally leaves, I’m so excited that I consider throwing them a party except it would keep them in the same vicinity as my children.  But I would’ve valeted their car had it meant that the husband got off his computer to parent that boy.

In fact, the only time the dad steps in is when the boy hurts his own sibling.

I love the life lesson: It’s okay to hurt others. Just don’t hurt your own family.

But I am conflicted about my own examples of life and lessons.

I’ll comfort you but not stand up for you.

I’ll let people hurt you.

I’ll make you apologize before listening to you.

After we leave the play area, I tell my children that the boy was wrong for hurting them and not apologizing.  And I offer an apology of my own for not knowing how to handle the situation.

My children seem unscathed. But I’m still thinking of it a week later.

I wonder if I should’ve spoken up.  Called them out.  Protected my children better.

Then I waiver and tell myself that we all have bad parenting days. Days where we just don’t want to have any more problems with our children.

I get it.  My son has hit other children before.  And sometimes I want to look away.  Let them work it out.

But I never do.  I never let it be okay to hit or hurt another person.  One of us, and on good days both of us, apologize.

Part of me hopes that mom reads my blog. Because I want her to know how much she sucked that day.

Part of me hopes that next time I can turn to the parents and calmly say: I need you to speak to your son or keep him away from my daughter.

Most of me hopes that I never run into parents like that again.

I understand that we all have bad days and ugly moments. But I’m having a hard time being okay with this. Because I don’t think that we have the right to have our bad days spill into other people’s days.  Into other people’s children.

My play date was affected. My children’s enjoyment. My enjoyment.

All because of crappy parenting.

I told my friend that day: I wish there was a place with a big sign that said:

I’d go there every single day.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

35 thoughts to “Play Areas Should Be Segregated By Parenting Styles”

  1. things like this make me worry about becoming a parent. I have no idea how one should handle that. I’m non-confrontational as is, but I’d probably hire a hit man to take those parents out. or get super loud and passive aggressive. yeah I’m gonna be a horrible mother.

  2. I want to go to that play area. It is brilliant and it would do wonders for my possible social anxiety (especially where other people’s children with thoughtless parents are concerned).

  3. Oh I have been in the same spot with my daughter at a play date. The worse part is I love the boy’s mother. But after that play date I totally looked at her different because of how she didn’t parent her son. My daughter is 2 and he is like 3.5. Well the whole play date he purposely knocked her over or took toys away. A few times his mother said no, but then told me he is just having a bad day. Now I afford play dates that this boy is going to be at. I know I am bad, but seriously this little boy just stuck a nerve in me that day. I always debate how much is ok to step in and parent another person’s child for them. Because my daughter is the type that will just step to the side and let someone take her toy or step in front of her for the slide. Play Areas are just dangerous war zones at times lol

  4. Play areas, in general, make me twitch, but mostly for these reasons: a) Too much chaos, noise, and children running amok. b) Germs, boogers, and other bodily gook possibly contaminating my bubble. c) Parents who suck at parenting.

    I tend to take the loud, passive-aggressive stance in those situations just so the parents know that I know that they suck. And then I loudly praise my kids for their perfect behavior (preen). Okay, so maybe my kids are awful occasionally also, but they do get reprimanded and they do have to apologize.

    And, I have perfected the stink eye. I find that works in most cases.

    No worries, though. Your kids are loved and you are teaching them well and occasionally awkward play area playdates aside, that is really what matters.

  5. Sadly, you’re going to run into this type of parent again. They suck. Their kids are going to grow up thinking what they’re doing is OK. That sucks, too. You’re aware – your kids will get the lesson.

    Know what I do? Esp in play areas. I say to my boy, loudly, “Did you see that child hit that other boy? Isn’t that SO unkind???”

    I get glares, often, but whatever, it brings the attention to the parent. Without specifically calling them out.

  6. Ugh – that situation sucks. I think probably the best course of action would have been to politely ask the parents to keep their kids away – but you don’t know how they would have reacted to that. They seem pretty overall crappy, and who knows, maybe they would have started yelling and accusing your kids of stuff. And then it would have been a terrible scene, and certainly not a good example of how grown-ups behave. So just figure how it went was for the best. And next time (though hopefully there won’t be a next time) you’ll go in prepared.

  7. My first was not a hitter, so parenting in play places was more about including others and dealing with hurt egos.

    I think with kids of one age there are some conflicts they need to solve (sharing) and some that an adult should step in (violence). I guess I’m a semi helicopter parent too. With little ones… Well, I would have totally corrected that boy. I don’t care if I do get the stink eye, someone has to tell him. I’ve even done it when it’s someone else’s little one.

    I would also pay for a cell free zone. Play with your kids people. Phones are not as cool as them.

  8. Wow, amen. I wouldn’t know what to do in that situation either, but you’re right- we have a right to stay calm, and say “I need you to speak to your child” to the other parent. And if she gets nasty, THEN poke her eyes out.

  9. You know, we took our daughter to the park on Sunday and I got a small glimpse into the future and this was it. Kids are rough! Of course, I have to more than vaguely helicopter (love it!) my kid since she’s only 15 months, but she’s all fearless and independent and whatnot, so she was climbing all over the big kids’ play structure like a little monkey while I tried to keep up. And other kids were running past her and, in my mind, I kept seeing her little fingers get crushed or a shoe in her face. It never happened, but I wondered how I would handle it if it did. Or how the other kid’s parents would handle it. It’s a whole new realm of parenthood for me, and I’m only at the starting line.

    My guess is, each scenario is different and you just have to learn and adapt as you go. I think you did fine. And FWIW, I fully advocate staring daggers as a way to get your point across. Passive-aggressive, but effective nontheless! 🙂

  10. You have way more self control than I do. By the third incident, I’d have been all over them like white on rice. Kudos to you for being so aware.

  11. I can totally see you going to “man to man coverage”. But since when does the coach get into the game? Say to E: “Make sure your little sister doesn’t get hurt.” Enjoy coffee. At this stage in their lives it’s all about the physical. The fastest way to stop a bully is to pop them in the head. If you do it it’s abuse is your child does it it’s “Growth”.

    I think the biggest problem we have in this country is that alot of adults have never been in a fist fight. Have never had to fight for what they believe in. Way too much nonessential apologizing.


    Forget how funny this is..


    I wish I would’ve thought of this, because I have enough stories to outrun this white box space here.

    OK, one:

    A kid punched mine in the stomach over my son’s truck in the sandbox, that he wanted! The mom saw this and said, “that’s what happens when you don’t share.”

    Obviously…she had no idea I was the mom..but HOLY COW.

    Do you know how bad I wanted to yank her by the hair and say, “that’s what happens when you’re a B.”

    But, I didn’t.

    Because, I am a grown up.

    1. Wow. I totally would have told that woman off. Unbelievable.

      In that situation, I completely admire your restraint for NOT grabbing her by her hair.

      If a parent EVER told me it was OK for their kid to punch mine in the stomach, I would probably file assault charges. Seriously.

  13. I’m not sure how I would have handled this either because I avoid conflict like the plague and I tend to be the mom that is talking to her friend or on the phone when something happens and I miss it. However, I also believe in letting others say something to my kids if warranted. I can’t/don’t see everything and my boys are NEVER in the same spot, so if someone sees one of them hit someone or throw something, I want that parent to tell him that is not okay.

    I did have one incident where another mother corrected my oldest and his response was “you’re not my mom”, of course that mother told me and I was LIVID! I was not angry at the mother for trying to correct him, I was angry at him for mouthing off and being rude, he has better manners than that. I could have spit nails and he was immediately punished and we left the playdate. He won’t ever say that again. Grrrrr…..

  14. A, I also want to tell you that parenting is 20/20 hindsight.

    NO ONE is ever on their game lickety split.

    Of course you thought of the best way to be, after you had a chance to react and ponder.

    And now, you can remember…but it’s hard. When it happens that fast.

    I can tell you, being the way you had hoped to be, isn’t all gems and rainbows:

    I protect at first chance.

    I admonish the other at first chance.

    I step in and prevent.

    What this has done is have me become the most unliked woman mama bear in this small town.

    And has had my kids tell me, “mom…please leave us alone this time.”

    SO, yeah, it sounds good. but, really, there is a balance.

    Just me, from the school of hard knocks. Always having the superhero cape on isn’t all it’s supposed to be.

    1. I like that you said no one is on their game lickety split. This is SO true! I have had a million moments like the one above where I feel like knocking my head against the wall for what I should have done.

      I am not a lickety split gal, and it has become even more apparent while also being a parent.

  15. Sometimes it’s okay for kids to work things out but it is NOT OKAY for kids to hurt one another. You know, your independence ends where my face begins or something like that. My daughter is having a little bit of an aggressive phase right now and I know that. So I stand close when one of her friends gets close and I know it might be one of those situations. I don’t always intervene but if I see she’s going to hurt another kid, I grab her arm or body and say “I will not let you hurt your friend.” I would do the same with another kid. I don’t care what the parents say. I’d stand close and tell the other kid that I won’t let them hurt my daughter. If the parent wants to say something about that – I’ll say that they can parent their kid the way they want to but their parenting stops where my kid’s body begins. I think that’s about right.

    1. I really like, “I will not let you hurt your friend.” What a great thing to say.

      And as cliche as it sounds, I often find myself saying, “Use your words.” Because I know Ezra has them, he just can’t always get them out as fast he would like in these types of situations. Somehow by giving him that reminder, he’s able to express why he snaggled a toy/doesn’t want to share/got all shove-y with someone.

  16. I have struggled with this on both ends with both my boys. My first was never really a hitter and my second is more aggressive and has totally thrown me for a loop. I have no idea why he acts this way. I haven’t modeled the aggressive behavior that I’m seeing but I am doing my best to correct his behavior and reinforce that it’s not okay to push, shove, or hit. We’re in the thick of the “terrible twos” and I mostly avoid play areas and playgrounds during high traffic times because (selfishly) it’s so exhausting for me. I helicopter the entire time and if/when he does something aggressive I make sure the other child is okay and ask my son to apologize. I usually apologize to the child also (and parent if present). I give him another chance to act kindly toward the other children, but if we have one more incident, we’re out of there. I’m way too sensitive to take the daggers from the onlookers and feel the judgment of my “bad parenting”. It’s really tough to go through it when you’re a caring parent who is trying to do the right thing. I know the parents in your situation were not at all attentive or involved, but the situations I have been in have scarred me just a little to the point that I kind of want to hide in a bunker until he turns 4 or 5. Of course, he has to learn how to interact appropriately with other children and in my opinion, the earlier that is, the better off he’ll be. Ahh, parenting. It’s definitely the toughest thing I’ve had to do with the people I love the most. Thanks for another great, thought-provoking post.

  17. It’s probably not the right thing to do, but I find myself turning into everyone’s mom in public situations. I guess it’s the control freak aspect of my personality.

    In college I went to Universal Studios. I was waiting in line for a ride and in front of my was a group of kids in 4th or 5th grade. I watched one repeatedly take their drawstring bag and hit the other kids with it. I was bothered but was holding back taking any action. Then he hauled it back as hard as he could and hit a girl on the head with it. I stepped in immediately and said, “Excuse me! Don’t do that. You should not hit other people. That was not nice. Say you’re sorry!” The kid was super embarrassed and out of pure shock apologized to the girl. I thought my boyfriend (my now husband) was going to kill me. He said, “Lindsey, you are not everyone’s mom. You can’t just say things like that.” To which I replied, “Well, it worked!”

    I do the same thing now with other kids around Jackson. At a birthday party this weekend I had to step in and tell a little boy that he had to play easy around Jackson or he would knock him over and hurt him. Granted, I had say this multiple times but eventually the kid stayed away because he knew I was going to come over and reprimand him for playing rough.

    I do it because I know I would want another parent to do the same. I don’t mind if someone else reprimands my child as long as it is fair and gentle. I can’t possibly catch everything my little one may do wrong on the playground, but I’d hope if he was doing something he shouldn’t do, someone else who saw it would say something.

    I’m sure I could really tick some people off by reprimanding their children, but like I said I only step in when necessary and am always gentle. I’d never yell, touch, or be aggressive in any way. I’m willing to take the risk of someone else getting mad if it the lesson could sink in to that kid’s little brain in any way!

  18. I think there’s a difference between not being on your game & being inattentive. Or just not caring. These parents either didn’t think it worth the effort to say something about their child hurting another kid or they weren’t aware. Neither is acceptable, IMO. I slightly helicopter as well. And I have been known to say something to other kids.

    And as others have mentioned, a well-developed stink eye works well in these situations. That same stink eye works well when the kids get older, too. It’s a multi-purpose tool. 🙂

  19. Oh! I have been there. Totally. Like the time a four-year-old boy repeatedly jumped onto my two-year-old from above, and I’d never seen anything like it so I just left the play area.

    I’ve never thought about it before, but you’re right — crappy parenting is the cause of a lot of ills in society, especially kids not having fun on a playground or moms having a chance to talk. Horrors!

  20. I haven’t had this happen, yet but my hubby has and he didn’t handle it very well. He made a scene and basically told the parents if they weren’t going to watch their child he would and he would pick appropriate punishments. The result was they left. I am very glad that I was not there. I’m not sure what i would have done but I’m pretty sure I would not have handled it much differently from you.

  21. forget about the parents, they’re not paying attention, they’re checking their email or texting. deal with the children directly: it works better. i try to give other people the benefit of the doubt (mostly because i hate confrontation–i could stand to do a little more of it, really), but when some kid’s bad behavior is affecting my kids, i talk to the child myself. if the parent is paying attention, she or he will come investigate. most of the time, i’m on my own.

    don’t beat yourself up, you can’t keep your kids from having unpleasant experiences when they go out into the world–and why would you want to? they’ll go into it all on their own one day, better they should get a little practice while they still have supervision and backup.

  22. That is so AWKWARD! I have spoken to kids before though if I can’t figure out who the parent is and I have been privy to witness a friend speak to a parent before. So far both parties have been receptive, but it’s so so so awkward always. Sounds like this time it was not a very receptive bunch though. Ick. And I don’t even think it’s a “helicopter” issue. It’s a “treat others the way you want to be treated” issue. Good for mankind! It’s a win win! People are crazy though and honestly just don’t think. I have come to realize things that make perfect sense to me are not even on the radar screen of others sometimes.

  23. Actually, I think you did very well. I’ve resorted to body-blocking myself. The problem is, the other parents are usually so uninvolved that you can’t even tell WHO the problem kid is supposed to be with!

    With regard to what happened with your son, I think you’re worrying too much. The lesson is that you cannot always control what other people do, but you CAN control how you react to them. And putting space between you and someone who is acting inappropriately is always a good option. In suggesting that your son apologize, you helped instill that it should OCCUR to him to apologize. But you also LISTENED to your son, and judged the situation based on your own observations of the other child’s behavior, and deemed that in this case, your son was probably right to refuse. (I’m with ya, E!) Willingness to apologize is important, but you did absolutely right by not insisting in this situation. Your child just learned that people SHOULD apologize when they hurt each other (whether accidentally or intentionally) but that HE should not have to offer an apology when someone victimizes him. That other kid is going to get his butt kicked one day.

    I LOVE your “I need you to speak to your son about staying away from my daughter” line. I’m confrontational enough for that, and I’m going to use it next time I can actually tell whose kid it is that’s being too rough. Or maybe I’ll just yell at the top of my lungs, “WHO DOES THIS KID BELONG TO???” and see who answers. 😛 Why not? I’ll never see these people again.

  24. I’ve said things to other parents before, to their kids too. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make sure your kids have a good time. There is a way to say it nicely.

  25. Yes please. Start a chain of them. My daughter is a sweetheart (of course!) and has a hard time standing up for herself. At playgrounds etc., other kids are always butting in front of her, pushing her out of the way, you name it. I could regale you with stories of me not saying anything, saying something and getting a rude response, or saying something and having a good outcome. You’re doing a great job. All we can do is try to teach them to be good people. The Golden Rule is the compass in all that we do in our home, and at our daughter’s school. It’s amazing how much that simple rule encompasses, and how few people live by it.

  26. My whole life my mom was in charge of other people’s children. It was her responsibility to tell them how to behave and I guess it rubbed off on me. Now as a mother of two I have no problem correcting another person’s child and I am quick to tell a parent that they need to nip their child’s behavior. After all, it takes a village…

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