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At the playground (ya know?)

Apologies to those of you who descend upon this site for the current and interesting; I’m interrupting for a little personal blogging and parental advice interlude. Something happened to Ollie and me earlier today and I’m still upset about it for reasons that are unclear, so I needed to get this off my chest.

I took off work a little early today to take Ollie to the playground. We’d been there about 15 or 20 minutes and he was happy playing in his favorite plastic car. Another little boy, probably about 2.5 to 3 years old, came up to him in the car and after standing there for a moment, slapped him in the face. Now, I’ve seen enough accidental toddler flailing to know that this wasn’t it. And then he slapped him again…pretty hard. I could see Ollie drawing back, shocked and perhaps getting ready to cry. As I moved over to Ollie to intervene, the kid slapped him again and was rearing back to do it again. I grabbed his hand, said, “hey!” and moved him away from Ollie a bit.

Now, this is normal playground stuff. Usually the hitting isn’t so weirdly premeditated, but whatever…they’re too small to hurt one another unless there are shovels or sharp sticks involved. Usually you just let the kids figure it out themselves but not when one kid is just slapping the other one just for the hell of it. And in that case, the parents usually move in, settle things down, one kid apologizes to the other, everyone rolls their eyes — kids! — and everything’s fine. It’s not about discipline, it’s about teaching kids how to deal with these situations through sheer repetition.

So, I’d moved the kid away from Ollie, just a foot or so…I didn’t yank him away or anything. (I wouldn’t even have touched him if Ollie hadn’t been trapped in his car…I couldn’t just get Ollie out of the situation easily.) I repeated “hey…” and started in on the standard toddler anti-violence speech that leads to an apology, blah blah blah. The kid smiles at me like the cat who swallowed the canary and starts to run off. I took hold of his arm again so that I could finish making the peace. (Sort-of side note: We looked at a bunch of preschools for Ollie, which are not so much schools as they are organized social mixers for pre-K kids. Many of the schools stressed conflict resolution for the “twos and threes”…getting the kids playing well together and helping them work though their problems with each other is important. That’s pretty much what I was trying to do here.)

Then this kid’s mom finally appears. She yanks her kid away from me and says, “hey, what are you doing?”

“Your kid was slapping mine. I was trying to…”

“I know that. I saw.”

A bit stunned by that, I tried again. “Ok, I was just trying…”

She goes right to eleven. “How dare you! You were going to hit my child!”

My eyes and mouth are wide as this point. “What?!”

“You were going to hit him! You’re an adult, much bigger than him, you shouldn’t be hitting little boys!”

We went back and forth like this for a bit and I finally just said, “Ok, whatever. Listen, lady. I didn’t hit your kid and I wasn’t going to hit your kid. Period.” She eyed me suspiciously and moved away with her son. Ollie and I left shortly afterwards; I was pretty upset and just wanted to get the hell out of there.

On the walk home, I felt sick to my stomach. For one, I was shocked by the woman’s reaction to her child’s misbehavior. And then that she thought that I was going to hit her kid. Had she pressed the point, it could have gotten ugly…she could have called the police to have me arrested. For performing normal playground toddler intervention kiss-and-make-up! Then I started thinking that maybe I had been too rough with her son without realizing it. That really made me feel ill. It occurred to me while talking to my wife after the fact that maybe I should have let the kid walk away after he smiled at me… perhaps I have the right to protect my kid from abuse but I shouldn’t attempt to “parent” the other child in any way.

So, I guess my question for the more experienced parents in the crowd is: what’s the etiquette here? Am I being naïve in thinking that the playground is a collective parenting situation when it comes to this sort of thing? Or is touching or parenting another person’s child, no matter how slightly or what the intent, strictly off limits in this overprotective and litigious society? (Just to anticipate a common question — If your roles were reversed, would you be comfortable with someone parenting Ollie in that situation? — I’d say yes, if Ollie was slapping some other kid around, absolutely…break it up, make the peace, and move on.) I know you weren’t there and this is just one side of the story, but I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or via email. Thanks.

Reader comments

GregMay 19, 2009 at 10:47PM

Two fingers to the forearm of a kid that age would be a quick and easy solution.

SaraMay 19, 2009 at 10:52PM

My son is almost 2 and while we haven't been in that situation yet, I can tell you that I'd be leery of touching someone else's kid for any reason - probably because I'd be afraid to get the kind of reaction that you got from the Mom. But I don't know that I'd be able to stop myself from the speech, or trying to get the slapper to see that slapping another kid isn't cool. I think it would've been really difficult to not get into an argument with the Mom after she said that she saw her child slapping yours and did nothing about it. Your ability to keep your cool with that is pretty remarkable.

joshMay 19, 2009 at 10:59PM

You never touch another person's child. There are a few exceptions to this bright-line rule: particularly, situations where your child is in danger and you are unable to move him, as in this case. "I took hold of his arm again" is where you went wrong. At that point, you should've gone directly to his mother.

robMay 19, 2009 at 11:01PM

Parents in the neighborhood I grew up in had every right to scold other kids. You had to respect them and follow their direction.

The neighborhood looked after it's own. Today though, neighbors barely know each other. In your situation, you might not even see that mom again.

DavidMay 19, 2009 at 11:02PM

Forget the kid, it's that mom that shoulda been decked!

DanMay 19, 2009 at 11:02PM

After the kid smiled, you should have let him walk away. You were right to intervene, but, this child has one (of at least) two things going on here.
1) A parent that doesn't actively correct obviously improper behavior (that mom should have been jumping in). In my experience (two boys, 13 and 14 years old) that is most likely. 2) The child is Inherently evil. This is unlikely, but certainly possible. Next time, get Ollie out of danger, and don't parent a stranger's child.

TimMay 19, 2009 at 11:03PM

My sister's son is a bad kid. He's been diagnosed as high-functioning autistic, but from my point of view - and I love him dearly - he's just a little asshole. Once when we had him at the playground I was watching him over my sister's shoulder as he quite deliberately head-butted another 4-year-old boy right in the nose, and when I got to him he had the same sociopathic smile you describe. I had my finger in his face and was explaining that hurting other people is bad, and my sister took him and told me "we're not using the word 'bad' with him".

The idea that some behaviors are wrong and that some children will only refrain from them if disciplined is long out of favor. So, since there's no valid reason to be restraining any child, anyone touching a child must be a dirty evil kid-toucher. Of course, my nephew fears no punishment, and has been kicked out of every pre-school in their area.

JacobMay 19, 2009 at 11:06PM

Other kids are off limits and should not be touched or grabbed unless necessary. It wasn't THAT big a deal either. The other Mom was just paranoid. I'd say move your kid away and limit touching to that needed to protect your kid from harm. Parenting the other kid probably wont work, for reasons below, and probably won't work if you are the only person yelling at them. Parents have to do their part and if their kid is a monster on the playground, then people can unite and ask them to leave.

On another note, remember toddlers have varying degrees of empathy and guilt for actions and this is a normal part of their development that depends on social cue and frank neuronal development. Your verbal and facial cues are the social cue that alerted him to the negative aspect of his behavior. Further explaining was probably falling on deaf ears. This is well established in pediatric developement literarture. Toddlers are fun to watch grow. Enjoy Ollie!

troyMay 19, 2009 at 11:06PM

i live in an urban environment but it is of a much smaller scale that what i think you're dealing with and where i'm at many folks know one another in one way or another. the sentiments you raise speak to the village mentality but i don't know that you live in a city conducive to this old-world / small-town notion. in the right situation your assumptions and actions would be correct but wildcards always exist and the more varied and random your setting, the more wildcards in the deck. in the end the lecture is always fine, but unless you know the kid in some form or fashion, i'd probably advise letting them walk away should that be their choice.

that said, any parent would be initially inclined to react as you did. don't beat yourself up about it. parenting is the great equalizer and we all start out as rookies and we all get better along the way.

SamanthaMay 19, 2009 at 11:07PM

It sounds like the mother was using some other experience to inform her about your behavior. The idea that a stranger would hit a little boy in public is pretty out there so I feel like her reaction must have come from something more than the simple facts of the situation. You feel gross because she projected something onto you that had nothing to do with you.

I think it's perfectly acceptable to help out in the parenting of a child that isn't yours, but I'd be mindful of any sort of physical contact. If the kid wanted to run away you'd be best just to let him. Ollie already got what he needed out of it, he was being threatened and you protected him. The other kid also got what he needed in that he saw he wouldn't be allowed to treat someone else that way. I feel like you tried to talk with him for YOUR needs not his. Which is totally understandable but somewhat wrong headed.

By holding the offending child in place you sent the wrong message which was that if you're bigger than someone you can make them do what you want. Obviously not a message that kid needs. So, while I think your actions were understandable and well intended they missed the mark a little on what would be more helpful. Hope that helps a little! Year of child care have taught me that every interaction with a kid is a learning experience for both parties.

Glenn MercerMay 19, 2009 at 11:07PM

My quals: 4 kids. My comment: I feel for you but I sadly must agree with Sara. Never, never, never touch another person's child, except to pull it back from running in front of a car or something like that. Perhaps nine times out of ten you would not be castigated for it, but the tenth time... yes, you get the kind of reaction you got. All I can ever do in these situations is get my own kid out of there ASAP and probably not even speak to the other child. To climb up on my curmudgeon soapbox (I am 54, youngest of my 4 is now 15) this is what we get when we all insist on total control of every situation for our children. The logical extrapolation of "I have decided there will be no dodgeball as it will hurt my child's feelings, no peanut butter for the other kids because it will make my child sneeze, no swingsets because my child might fall off" is "No one touches my child because it might get upset." If we don't trust the government to vaccinate our kids, the schools to teach them, or strangers not to molest them when they leave our sight for 30 seconds... then we certainly won't trust other parents at the playground to speak to or touch them, either. In our quest for absolute total control over our kids' every move, we have rejected the notion of community oversight. And it is sad that we have lost that. But we can't have it both ways: I can't both desire to shape every aspect of child's life AND want to have a warm caring playground community form around her -- because I won't trust that community to handle the 1% of the time when my child SHOULD be disciplined.

Hmmm... maybe I read too much into your post? (smile) But on the other hand, it was clear you were rattled and you did spend a lot of time writing that, so I replied in turn.

RichardMay 19, 2009 at 11:08PM

If you could rewind and do it again maybe it would be better to let the kid walk away, follow him with your eyes until you find the mom, then walk over and ask her if she'd seen her son repeatedly slapping yours. The fact that she said she saw it and seemed to do nothing says quite a bit and you might have gently but firmly laid that on her.

SterlingMay 19, 2009 at 11:09PM

My kids tend to be of the quiet variety, so they have been on the receiving end of playground shenanigans. In my experience it is best to just separate the kids and move along. Don't try to parent some else's little miscreant. Especially at a really young age. If my 9 year old got into an incident with another 9 year old I'd have no problem telling that kid how to act.

Parents usually know when their kids are dicks, and they get pretty pissed when someone reminds them of that. By trying to correct the kid's actions you are showing the parent what they are doing wrong.

EricMay 19, 2009 at 11:11PM

In my experience there are very few Dads at the playground, and if you're going to mediate you aren't going to have a "Mom's touch" (no pun intended). You shouldn't have grabbed the kid when he was leaving the scene; you're not making a citizen's arrest, and the kid isn't going to learn anything from you. Take care of your kid and move on.

The Mom in the story has no idea what your intentions were and was just protecting her kid as well; she may not have perceived that the slapping was as bad as it was. More likely, she doesn't parent well and lets this kind of thing happen all the time, and doesn't think it's unusual. We have friends where the level of rough-housing is WAY higher than what we would allow, but the Mom doesn't want to intervene to shut it down. Needless to say we don't have as many play dates with those kids.

If it was someone you knew, e.g. your friend's kid, or a kid in Ollie's class, you may want to make an effort to talk it through with the parent since you're going to see them again. But a random annoying child/parent at the playground? It sucks, but let it go.

Sorry to hear that this happened, and I hope you and Ollie can talk it through and put it behind you.

BoazMay 19, 2009 at 11:11PM

Lots of bad parents out there :(. Chances are they hit their kid (and their kid learned to hit others) and they also project onto you that you'd hit their kid too.

Don't even worth it to spend your time thinking about them.

But yes there's this idea of letting your kid learn to stand up to him/herself... I let my older kid to try to do that when he was how old Ollie is... too early I think, just the "daddy I don't know what to do" look tells you so.

adamMay 19, 2009 at 11:13PM

You have every right to protect your child from physical harm, and that includes blatant, repeated face-slapping, be it from an adult, or another two year old, or a dog running free, it doesn't matter. Period. The end. You protected your child without hurting the offender. That the mom is ridiculous is immaterial. Good work, dad.

AlanMay 19, 2009 at 11:15PM

I agree, but only from the perspective of how I would react if someone grabbed my child. However, sometimes you become protective to the point that rational behavior doesn't necessarily present itself as an option. Fact is that if someone, whether 3, 13, or 30, whether it's a child, teenager, adult, dog, cat, mouse, or anything else, my first instinct will be to protect my child. Also, that my daughter, who is four, can trust that I will protect and defend her matters to me, and is a paramount concern to me in these kind of situations. So while the mother may think that you went over the line with her child, you certainly didn't cross any with Ollie, which is most important.

As far as feeling ill later....ahhhhhh the travails of being a parent. Good for you for showing your child that it's not ok to be f***ed with.

KevinMay 19, 2009 at 11:16PM

That's a tough situation. Our son is only 3 months so we haven't had any playground encounters yet, but I think that you did the right thing by stepping in and halting the slapping. I'm appalled that the other mother watched her son do that without stepping in and stopping it. 2-3 years old is plenty old enough to understand that any hitting is wrong and gets you a time out and perhaps a parental spanking.

It is a sad state of affairs that people are afraid to assist in parenting by correcting obviously bad behavior in children they encounter. We've been making it a point to tell family and friends that as out boy gets older they are well within their rights to set him straight if he pulls misbehaves. I really don't think you were out of line to physically restrain the child or to verbally correct him, hitting him obviously would have been wrong, but you didn't and weren't going to so I'd say you have nothing to feel bad about.

JZMay 19, 2009 at 11:23PM

Sounds like you are in the right. The other kid has a mother who thinks he can do no wrong (and the kid knows it). Her loaded accusations toward you sound like the adult version of what was done to Ollie.

3rd WayMay 19, 2009 at 11:24PM

It takes a village... If you don't think the villagers should all participate in the upbringing of the village children then get out of our village.

BrookeMay 19, 2009 at 11:28PM

My brain is too fried from a day of working as a nanny of two kids under 4 to read all of the previous comments, so I may (or may not) be repeating something already said...

1) Good on ya for giving the little jacka$$ a toddler sized come to Jesus meeting. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. Don't f**k with my kids.
2) I probably would have let the turd go after he started to walk away. In this circumstance, I would have followed him over to his Parental Unit and given her a heads up.
3) I also would have felt sick to my stomach, especially considering the toad's Mom admitted that she saw her spawn smacking your son.
4) It is a difficult mantra I try to remember "I can only control what my 'kid' does." The lesson you try to teach someone else's kid, at this age at least, is going to sound like a Peanut's teacher to his little brain. And his Mom is going to ruin any amount of comprehension on the walk home while she lets him squish every bug on the sidewalk.

Did that even make any sense? I'm sorry if it didn't, I have Snack Time ringing in my ears.

PaulMay 19, 2009 at 11:35PM

Your situation is almost identical to the situation which begins the novel by Chritos Tsiolkas called The Slap. You can read the first chapter of the novel here. It's uncanny because I just put the book down, picked up the laptop and read your post.

There's a video of people reviewing the book here.

BrianMay 19, 2009 at 11:35PM

Jason, thanks for sharing. It'll be a valuable data point for when my little one is big enough for the playground.

If I were you, I wouldn't spend another minute thinking about the mother of the other child. If she made no attempt to apologize for the blantant violence visited upon your son by her own, or acted at least a little embarrased by her boy's actions, then she is probably just as much a brat as her son.

You did the right thing by defending your son and showing the bully the law, without going overboard.

That said, everyone's warnings about touching other children, as silly as that is, might inform your next enounter like this. Pehaps you first should have asked aloud "Who belongs to this boy?" and got her involved ASAP… so she felt like she had some say in the situation. But you had to act quickly, and what you did was probably 90% ideal, so I wouldn't sweat it.

KariMay 19, 2009 at 11:37PM

I'm an experienced parent in this situation, and I think you were absolutely right to intervene physically, and I think you have the right to deliver approximately one sentence of corrective info to a 2.5-3 y.o., like: "Hitting is NEVER okay," loudly and as in-your-face as possible. But then you gotta walk away. Especially if it turns out the kid is the kind to smile slyly at an adult and the mother is only interested in being defensive or making a scene. Then you have to just be glad it's not the person you're with, and laugh at accusations like "you were going to hit him" as ludicrous. I'm okay with another parent correcting my kid, but only to diffuse the immediate situation and to state truisms that my kid has somehow forgotten. More than that is unnecessary, unless the other parent shows signs of wanting to be reasonable.

Once Ollie is a little older, I'm okay with doing a post mortem with him, too, to explain it to him and to say that some people aren't nice and choose not to do right, even when they're grown-ups, and there's not much you can do but make a tiny scene and then leave. Better to keep parenting your child in that situation, not worry about parenting the other child.

jkottkeMay 19, 2009 at 11:39PM

Thanks for the feedback so far. I'm regretting keeping the kid from walking away...I should have let him go.

I feel like you tried to talk with him for YOUR needs not his. Which is totally understandable but somewhat wrong headed.

No, I know that 2-3 year-olds are too young to understand lectures. It's a matter of getting the kids together to "discuss", as much as toddlers can, what happened, and to say sorry. 98% of this is going through the motions so that by the time they are old enough to understand situations like that, they know what the appropriate behavior is.

ManuMay 19, 2009 at 11:43PM

It is a pity that America has turned into a such a sensitive society. The mom just reinforced that child's behaviour by picking up a fight with you instead of giving a feedback to her son.

But having said that and considering the society you live in, you should have got Ollie out of the car and followed that kid to his parents and given them a dressing down.

jkottkeMay 19, 2009 at 11:50PM

Oh, and I was going to add that in the two minutes that we spent at the playground after this happened, the same kid came back over to Ollie (still in the car). He had a scooter this time and appeared to be either a) showing Ollie the scooter as some sort of peace offering, or b) attempting to negotiate a trade: the scooter for the car. In other words, making nice. This behavior was totally initiated by the kid...his mom didn't put him up to it or anything like that. So, probably not a bad kid, all things considered.

deezeeMay 19, 2009 at 11:51PM

what Josh said and a few others echoed. I'd say that's the common playground etiquette, for lack of a better word.

HeatherMay 19, 2009 at 11:53PM

I'm a mom of four kids, from age 20 down to 2.5. I've been there. I've seen that "sociopathic smile" that one of the other commenters mentioned in describing her autistic nephew. If it had been me there with my toddler, I would have done all of the following:
a) Barked at the kid to "Hey, stop that now. No hitting!" --and with no "okay?" at the end. This is a command.
b) Put my arm in between the kid and my kid to block the hitter.
c) Picked my kid up.
d) Demand of the other kid, "Where's your mom/dad?" and if he showed me, I'd march over and just tell them what happened, knowing that they will probably be rude. Or just tell the kid, "Go play somewhere else. No hitting allowed near us."
e) I wouldn't touch the kid. Some kids might be autistic, but some learn that from their parents, who conveniently project their actions onto others. That mother might have been the one who was going to hit her kid, not you.

steventMay 19, 2009 at 11:58PM

I agree that you should refrain from touching other people's kids unless it's a matter of life and death, but certainly don't beat yourself up over this episode. It's all part of parenting.

You might feel better by talking about it with Ollie. Did he ask about it afterwards? Our daughter is just a bit older than him, and in this situation she would probably be asking "What did Daddy do? What did Daddy do?" about a million times until we recounted the entire story. If Ollie is into recapping the day's events, you might use this incident to reinfoce that hitting other people is bad manners.

AlvinMay 19, 2009 at 11:59PM

Like most folk around here I think you did mostly as right as you could by the situation. The fact that you wrote down the offending kid gave you a smug look after you stopped him...well, it bugged you enough and got an emotional hit out of you (understandable). That said, you came close to the line between assertive and aggression. You didn't cross it, which is admirable as you were probably feeling a cocktail mix of strong emotions at the time.

There's a good explanation of all that here:

As for you feeling sick after...well it could have been a result of you just going through a high-stress situation and the ensuring down of the chemical overload, plus the intellect coming back to go over what was a situation handled by the emotional brain. Not discounting its validity in any way.

I'm more concerned about how you're going to help Ollie frame the situation instead so that he doesn't develop a negative belief from all this.

MarcusMay 20, 2009 at 12:04AM

As both Samantha and Boaz have said: This child is possibly testing out behaviors it has seen elsewhere (read: the home), and likewise the mother is anticipating and projecting actions she has seen elsewhere (read: the home) onto you. Unless you really did somehow indicate somehow a movement that really looked like you were going to "discipline" her child, I'm not sure how she jumped straight to eleven. Especially after saying "I saw" what he was doing.

All this is background to make you feel better about her reaction to you. But aside from that, a terse "hey, don't hit people!" and a big frown might have sufficed. Touching, sadly these days, is a loaded issue.

tapeMay 20, 2009 at 12:07AM

Sounds to me like that mother should have her parent license revoked.

"I know that. I saw?" That is not the kind of statement that demonstrates that you have any form of clue.

LauraMay 20, 2009 at 12:11AM

i dont have a kid, i have a dog. and every time we go to the dog park (3x now), this kind of thing happens. i question whether the socialization skills she's building is worth the possible mauling, or the value of such skills when apparently all shes learning is that other dogs are a-holes.

i don't know of any good way of handing situations like that. walking away is a decent thing to do, but always feels like some sort of defeat. all i do know is, you can't tell a dog owner that they're an irresponsible one, or tell a parent that they're a bad one. they don't even hear you.

JennMay 20, 2009 at 12:13AM

I'm so sorry that happened to you. My reaction in that situation would have been the same as yours, but that is because I have been a preschool teacher for 10 years now. For me it is such a natural role to be the playground mediator, that it is hard for me to stop myself from doing so in situations where I am out nannying or with my nephews.

Sadly, while I am used to being in an environment where everyone is looking out for the good of ALL of the children, I have to remember that when on a public playground there are caretakers who do not care about the feelings or safety of any child but their own... and have not given consent for me to look out for their children. I am with Kari in this situation: keep parenting and protecting Ollie, and when he gets older, explain with a shrug that there are people out there who do wacky things.

Unfortunately, as awful as it is, you do also have to be concerned with your own safety. It is very easy to accuse people of abuse or improper touching, and it is such an emotionally charged issue that it is tough to deal with it logically. I feel dirty just typing this, but I think you do need to be careful avoiding even the appearance of impropriety. As a preschool teacher, we always have multiple adults around in every situation, especially in toileting and discipline situations. While I know you meant no harm, and you know you meant no harm, there are mentally ill people out there in all income brackets who view the world through their own lens. If you do not have a relationship with the other parent involved, I would proceed with extreme caution, and be very careful about touching another child at all, except to save someone from clear and present danger.

Bottom line: keep protecting Ollie. You did the right thing by sticking up for him. I would even say that you did the right thing by trying to work through the conflict and model engagement and discussion... but unfortunately the other parent wasn't playing with the same rule book.
No wonder you were left with a sick feeling.

f5May 20, 2009 at 12:15AM

"It's never OK to touch another child"

Please. Complete hogwash.

You know, that sounds something I'd read on, where most of their articles totally generalize and idealize almost everything. I honestly agree with Manu.

Look, it isn't okay to hit. It is okay to stop the kid from hitting yours by moving him slightly, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU'VE ALREADY EXPLAINED TO EVERYONE THAT YOU REALLY COULDN'T MOVE YOUR SON. One person's 'block' is another persons 'grabbed the arm'. Seriously, consequences happen as a result of our actions, at all ages. If the kid has brittle-bone disease, autism, debilitating fear of males hands -- whatever -- that stopped being your problem when he intentionally physically abused your kid and when his mother let him run free. I can't believe people here are advocating that you stand up and call out for his mother while he continually slaps your kid.

I think it's a pretty sad testament to how generally fearful we've become in our society. If my daughter were slapping another kid I'd want the parent to 'prevent her arm from hitting' and tell her it's not okay.

RyanMay 20, 2009 at 12:15AM

You were right to parent the other kid, and I think you may have even been right to finish the speech—but I would have let the kid go after the smile. I would want to have someone do exactly what you did to my kid, but if I was in your shoes I would fear legal headaches.

Also, given the story as you told it, she had no reason to think you would hit her kid. That prediction came from her own history and has little to do with you.

GaliMay 20, 2009 at 12:15AM

Here's a third person perspective. I am not a parent but have had more than enough experience with the toddler's of others.

Most parents think of their children as either little people or possessions. Those that think of them as little people believe that no one is allowed to lecture or touch their children just as no one is allowed to lecture or touch them. Those that think of their children as possessions believe that any interaction with their child without their permission is an insult to them. So most parents think of Kottke's situation as an infringement on the rights of their child or on the rights of themselves.

But children are neither little people nor possessions. They are dependents. Parents have responsibility to be aware of all their child's actions when in public. In essence, that child slapping Ollie can be equated to that child's parent slapping Ollie. It makes no difference for argument's sake. If someone's dog mauled your child, the dog would not be responsible. The dog is a dependent. It is the dog's master that would hold responsibility.

If a parent is being negligent to the actions of their child in public, it is perfectly in rights for another person to restrain the child. Yes, even if that means, God forbid!, touching the child. You don't let a dog that just bit your child keep running around biting children if you can restrain it. Why would another dependent, a child in this case, be treated differently. Someone please explain.

BlytheMay 20, 2009 at 12:16AM

My son is two and I feel like I'm just learning about this stuff too. All of these comments are very informative.

I was (sort of) on the other side of the situation today. My son pushed another child when I was a few steps away. The other mom was right there and she grabbed her child (not mine) away to protect her and said firmly to my son, "Be nice." I appreciated her approach - protect your own kid and make it clear, without touching him, that the other kid's behavior is not OK. Remove your own kid from the situation if necessary. (Incidentally, I like to think I followed up in a productive way--removed him from the play area and sent him back to apologize to the girl.)

I wonder if the follow-up conversation you tried to have with the kid might have been more appropriate if you were part of a regular community of people he knew (playgroup, family) versus a stranger on the playground.

YolandaMay 20, 2009 at 12:21AM

Since Ollie is a few days older than my daughter, I'm not more experienced in parenting terms; but I belong to a playgroup and spend several hours a week at public parks. In our group it is absolutely standard that any mother available intervenes when kids are hurting each other or conflict arises. We don't put each other's kids on time out, but we do not hesitate to redirect and/or correct the behavior of each other's children. Likewise, we cheer for each other's children when they "go on the big slide" or "learn to push themselves on the swings." But this is amongst a group--not necessarily a tight-knit one, but one--where everyone knows each other.

I don't think you're naive to perceive the playground as a communal parenting situation. But it's probably idealistic. In the Age of Paranoid Parenting, parents are fearful of a lot of things; but nothing is more fearful to them than the possibility of judgement.

I wouldn't tolerate anyone committing violence against my child; but I would hope that if another adult witnessed her mistreating another child as you describe, that adult would redirect her and ask her to make another choice. That's for her benefit, not mine. She needs to think all adults hold her accountable for appropriate behavior, not just Momma and Daddy.

But most parents perceive the corrective actions of other parents as an insult. They are ego-centric and therefor care not so much about whether their child has done something wrong and needs correcting, as much as they care about protecting their own self-esteem and sense of worth.

That said, your conclusion is probably a good one. For the sake of a more settling resolution, the grabbing of the arm was probably unnecessary, but far from catastrophic or evil.

scott cMay 20, 2009 at 12:41AM

Man, that sounded absolutely horrible. I feel for you.

The lady sounds crazy, or possibly even trying to entrap you into doing something dangerous so that she could sue you. She saw her kid slap yours three times and did nothing, then jumped into that kind of accusational tirade?

I think as a rule, in 2009, you don't touch another kid, though. It's just too risky. As you note, she could've called the police. They would've shown up, inquired about what was going on, and then you would've had to explain that the little kid hit your little kid, and you then grabbed the little kid. There's no way to explain that that doesn't leave you looking like a dangerous person. So, as a rule, I think it was probably a mistake (but an understandable one) to touch the kid.

The right course of action is to probably call for the mother, and then directly confront the mother - initially in a loving manner, but doing it nonetheless. This kid harmed you and your kid. You have every right to be upset. But ultimately the authority belongs to their parent. It's also just prudent, because as you note, it really could've gone down differently and easily.

To quote Jacob to Locke, I'm really sorry this happened to you. Seriously.

Bill CMay 20, 2009 at 12:46AM

I've got 2 kids, 5 and 8, and i've had the same sort of situations before. Maybe it's my location (St. Paul MN), but i would do the same as you did; let the other kid know it's not ok to beat up another kid like that. You can't over-talk it with a toddler, but to let them know what they're doing is not ok is, i think, totally in line.

Yes, i'd be somewhat uncomfortable with another parent doing that with one of mine, but i would also talk to my child about what they did wrong (and wouldn't have let them slapping someone stand in the first place). If it's a situation where the kids are playing around kids of parents i know, it's expected that the kid will listen to whichever parent is breaking up the problem.

The touching part, as you describe it, seems ok; a physical connection can be vital to communication at that age. I understand that some parents are not at all down with the touching part, and i know adults who were messed with as kids who would probably nix it too. It seems to me though that the mom projected the idea of hitting a child onto you from her own experience or fears.

The mom let her kid be a bully, and really should have been called on her lack of reaction to that. There's real value for children in the idea that you can't get away with something just because mom/dad doesn't see (or doesn't care). That kid who hit Ollie got a bad lesson in morality from his mom today.

GabeMay 20, 2009 at 12:50AM

You weren't 'wrong', just unwise because parents can be very dangerous and unpredictable. My 2 experiences. While supervising my daughter in the playground (not much punching, but many cases of sand straight in the face as an opening kid's gambit),
altercation between 2 three year old boys. One Dad calls over to tell his kid to stop, other Dad makes some muttery remarks about the first man's kid (I think) escalation too rapid to follow, they are having a full-on fist fight in front of loads of tiny children at 10am on a Saturday morning.

In a big DIY store, I come round the aisle and find a 2 year old right under my feet and knock him over, didn't hear him coming and was looking would have had to be looking at the floor to see him. No harm done but the boy is upset. What normally happens: parent comes over, everyone apologises. Not this time, unbelievable disproportionate rage from the Dad, who insults me, and I walk off apologising. The kid keeps crying, the Dad gets even more frustrated and follows me around to throw a litre of turpentine at me. I leave ASAP.

This stuff hardly ever happens, but it is pretty shaking when it does, precisely because it makes you question yourself and the trustworthiness of other people.

troMay 20, 2009 at 12:53AM

not to sidestep your upsetting experience, but i wanted to acknowledge--and give you credit for--your awesome ABC (another bad creation) shout-out. very impressive! nicely done.

DougMay 20, 2009 at 1:00AM

It's a load of crap that you shouldn't "parent" a child in that kind of public setting. Especially when another child causes harm, it's perfectly fine to grab the munchkin, stop the harm and keep a hold of the child until you find the miscreant's parent.

The kind of people who object to this sort of normal, acceptable, non-harmful correction are the same parents who let their kids run around in restaurants.

A t-shirt that has to be made: "Your kid isn't precocious, he's a brat."

Jacks DadMay 20, 2009 at 1:19AM

Don't read too much into this situation. You had the right motivations and the right goals; the extra grab ("don't walk away from this, buddy") is just a normal parental reaction - probably a mistake in hindsight, but call it lesson learned. Hands-off is probably the wisest policy. It never should have come to that anyway. Any good parent would have intervened to discipline her child after the first slap. Other parents make me sad. Just wait until Little League. Down the line, as Ollie grows older, you'll need to teach him to defend himself in appropriate ways, and I do mean in the self-defense sense. When your son is eight and some bully pushes him around how should he respond? The lesson I learned was this: do it once - "Please don't do that?" Do it again: "DO NOT DO THAT!" Do it a third time: time to put you on your ass! Request, command, retaliate. I usually skipped straight to number 2; "please" just seemed too nice and would often invite escalation. And Pops said I had carte blanche when it came to defending my sisters, no warnings need be proffered. The only hope for any bully is a good beating from a peer early enough in life. Just sayin' I'm sure others will disagree. Modeling compassion and civility will be easy for you. Teach your child to stand up for himself and he'll then possess the courage to stand up for others, especially the weak and the helpless. Compassion plus courage can change the world.

Kathryn GraceMay 20, 2009 at 2:19AM

Hard to say, just because there's no way I would let my kid SLAP anyone else, let alone a total stranger and innocent, and let alone repeatedly. I can't freakin believe that a mother would sit there and watch her child do that to another child, and be okay with it. In my opinion, the whole family is a bunch of crazies, and are probably immune to common sense and reason. Best to leave as soon as possible, and hopefully not feel too sick about it - the crazy is their problem, not yours (as long as you keep poor Ollie out of slapping distance) and unfortunately if such a young child is slapping others (premeditated, not play fighting or flailing), he's probably getting slapped at home too. Ugh. I hate people. Sorry you had a rotten day...

GazzerMay 20, 2009 at 2:23AM

As I moved over to Ollie to intervene, the kid slapped him again and was rearing back to do it again. I grabbed his hand, said, "hey!" and moved him away from Ollie a bit.

You are protecting your own kid. Given that the mother said she saw and did nothing about it, I can't see any reason that would you did was wrong.

RajMay 20, 2009 at 2:31AM

Do me a favor Jason, if ever either of my 2 sons raises a hand to yours please intervene and in your best Kottke-ese, give it to him straight and direct, soap box and all... and I will in turn do the same for you. Best for both of our kids to learn at an early age that we're all responsible to each other...

CaliMay 20, 2009 at 2:31AM

I think you did the right thing. The only thing I would have done differently would have been to jump in more quickly, physically placing myself between my child and The Slapper. The person who said The Slapper probably gets slapped at home himself on a regular basis hit the nail on the head. He is the product of bad parenting and well on his way to becoming a sociopath. Poor child. Let us hope that Ollie never encounters The Slapper again. I don't think reasoning with The Slapper is possible because he has no empathy. Worse, neither does The Slapper's mother.

TappenMay 20, 2009 at 3:12AM

I know it's impossible to think of an effective response to such irrational behavior on the spot, but if you'd gotten out your cellphone and told the crazy mother you were calling to cops to charge her son with assault....

Once the crazy line is crossed (and US parents crossed it a decade ago) you have to be prepared to at least bluff crazy yourself

IanMay 20, 2009 at 3:27AM

Quote: "As I moved over to Ollie to intervene, the kid slapped him again and was rearing back to do it again. I grabbed his hand, said, "hey!" and moved him away from Ollie a bit."

At this point you should have held on to the child and ask the other adults at the playground who are his parents. That way you could have involved other people (witnesses) at the scene. While waiting for the parent you would have had a second or two to gain control of the situation and might have been able to put the mother on the spot.

JamesMay 20, 2009 at 3:50AM

I think you did the wrong thing here. If something or someone attacks your child, you need to remove that threat immediately. THAT INCLUDES PUSHING THE OTHER CHILD AWAY. I'm not saying you push the child hard, just enough to stop the threat.

Does this sound mean? Well, if you grab the other child with the intention to talk to him, that can be construed as assault (and maybe battery, depending on how the mother tells the story). You simply do not have the right to touch another person's child -- perhaps to save him from harm (perhaps), but not to scold or punish or "talk to." Moreover, you have no right to tell someone else how to raise their child, just like no one person should have the right to tell you how to raise yours. We develop laws, which represent the collective voice of the community, to do this instead. (This is the very essence of democracy: no one tells you what to do; instead, we all decide together what is right.)

In addition, you likely exacerbated the problem. The child will know, from your response, that proportional punishment is unlikely if he were to do it again. And he knows his mom will choose to back him up over a stranger.

So, then, let's say you pushed the child away and he hits his head on something, while you secure your Ollie. The police come. You simply tell them the truth: the kid came up to mine and struck him. He struck him again -- hard. He was going to strike him again and this time, I believe, really hard -- he had the intention of hurting my child. I'm sorry officer, I didn't mean to push the kid away, I just didn't know what else to do; he was beating my kid up. (The officer will then, probably, say something asinine before leaving: "just be more careful next time.")

Situation: Someone strikes your child. Your child cannot strike back and is in a vulnerable position. You use physical force, then, to stop that threat. This is called self-defense. It is not only allowed, it is your duty as parent.

Parents are given the task of choosing what to teach their children. Which is better for you: Teach that sometimes bad things can happen for no reason and there's nothing you can do about it? Or, do you teach that no one is allowed to fuck with you for free?

You cannot spend your time thinking of what will happen to the other child; all you can do is educate your own (well, in time). The saddest part? Most parents have choice in what to teach, but they instead choose to do nothing, and let Life do the job of making those tough teaching decisions. And that is a very lonely road for a child to travel down.

AndyMay 20, 2009 at 4:00AM

On a different note, you have way more intelligent and level headed readers than any other blog I've read. Obviously, something about you is drawing very cool folks over here.

I appreciate your follow up about the kids bringing the scooter. Most kids who hit are not socio-paths. Most are at a stage where they're learning to communicate and getting it wrong.

For the record, I second all the lessons you've summed up so far.

RichardMay 20, 2009 at 4:11AM

I live in South Africa and there is almost a collective parenting vibe at the playground. Ill often play with, look after and occasional correct other peoples kids, and the other parents do the same with mine.

I feel its good socially for my kids to interact with other kids and other adults.Therefore its strange for me to read other people comments about NEVER NEVER touch another persons child etc...

Obviously you would never hurt another persons kid (as you would never hurt your own), but if you acted like you did here is SA, the other parent would probably have thanked you, and more often than not taken the opportunity to reinforce the lesson you were trying to teach their kid.

Perhaps its a cultural thing?

Dainius BlynasMay 20, 2009 at 4:26AM

It's probably different in New York city, but in my racially, religiously and culturally very homogeneous town it's definitely normal to touch other kids if need be, even just to teach her/him.

On the contrary, it'd be rude NOT to teach other kid, it's like you don't care about other kid if he is not yours.

DustinMay 20, 2009 at 5:04AM

It takes a village to raise a child (well).

If you want to live in a real community, then it's best to engage yourself with that community, parents and kids both.

KrisMay 20, 2009 at 5:21AM

The main problem in your situation (thanks for sharing, btw) would seem to be two adults assuming the worst about each other. Yes, the mother saw you grab her son a second time and assumed the worst but maybe you did the same for her. You don't know her situation or, as has been previously said, what projections from her own experience she might have brought to the situation. Perhaps she's a good mother with valid morals and it just happened this exact situation brought back something uncomfortable in her past. You don't know her any more than she knows you and in today's society people always assume the worst. You'd be a fool not to, especially when your child is involved. So it is.

Anyway, as has been said numerous times before in the comments above, you did the right thing in grabbing the boy and protecting Ollie from further harm, but you went wrong in grabbing him again and trying to educate him. Both Ollie and the other kid got the message they needed to get from the first grab - Ollie knows you'll protect him, the other kid saw you did not approve of his actions. Case closed.

Michael StröckMay 20, 2009 at 6:29AM

"Moreover, you have no right to tell someone else how to raise their child, just like no one person should have the right to tell you how to raise yours."

James, excuse my language, but what a load of bullshit. He has the absolute right to tell anybody what he thinks of their parenting (or anything else) in no unclear terms, as long as he is not being abusive.

And Jason, don't overthink this. In my opinion, you were not morally or ethically wrong in grabbing the other boy again to educate him. I actually think that as an adult, you are obliged to talk some sense into a child in a situation like that. It was a stupid move, yes, but that's only true because you live in a society that has completely lost its collective fucking mind when it comes to child safety.

jeremiahMay 20, 2009 at 7:30AM

don't overanalyze it. slappy was in the wrong, and would be willing to bet that he's been slapped for no reason by another child who smiled as well. recreation is how the mind tries to 'fix' personal situations that were traumatic. don't be surprised if your son does this to some other kid at some point. talking about it with him at length can greatly lessen his negative feelings about the playground and older boys as well.

rather than grabbing the kid's arm as he started to run away again, i'd have followed him and given a very sound tongue lashing to the mother, yelling "you better run!" as you followed probably couldn't have hurt.

John BMay 20, 2009 at 7:43AM

I agree with what several people up above me have said -- you need (and must) protect your son. The implementation is up to you, and I tend to think that I would have done the same thing if I were in your position and my son was the one getting smacked around.

The whole "you don't have the right to discipline another person's child" thing is crap, and almost certainly not the way that the people saying it grew up. When I was a little kid and being a jerk, I avoided all of the adults, because I knew that any one of them would snatch me right up and take me to my mom, at which point my troubles would have only just begun. And you know what? I'm a helluva lot better off for it. The fear of people snatching or abusing our kids has made it so that nobody else is a participant in the raising of your child, and I just don't believe that's the way its supposed to be.

Chris McLayMay 20, 2009 at 8:04AM

Wow. That's really tough, but it happens a lot.

Generally I avoid touching and parenting other people's kids if I can get away with it, but it does happen. As kids get older, you can talk to them more, but with toddlers there is little point other than protecting your own kid.

Hope it's your first and last experience of this...

Tim VisherMay 20, 2009 at 8:09AM

Thanks so much for sharing this, Jason.

I live around the Philadelphia area so I'm not quite as Metropolitan as you but I'm also a little dismayed at the amount of people who have the attitude of "It's never, _ever_, OK to touch another person's child." I'm not speaking from tons of direct experience as I'm a fairly young parent of a seven month old, but I have tons of experience with toddlers on up through high school kids at my church and the fact is that even where it is not 'accepted' to do so our culture needs to be willing to parent each other's kids. One of the commenters so far said that we have laws to do that, but our children learn the laws of our country by the instruction they receive from us. One of those laws is Assault, and your child was being assaulted. Granted (and as you pointed out later) the other child may in fact not have meant anything overly harmful about it but their intention doesn't matter much at that age. They're learning social norms and acceptable behaviors and it's our job to help them figure that out.

I think you did the right thing (even up to the point of restraining the other child when they went to run away). One of points I didn't hear a lot of people mention is that if you let the child run away, they're learning (from _you_) that they don't have to listen to or respect adults. Yes, it's a depressing reality that if the other parent isn't on board there is virtually nothing you can do but on the other hand, if you didn't act you've become complicit in the (_wrong_) way that they are raising their child. It becomes partly your fault. I don't like that kind of guilt being laid on me. I'm not suggesting that we all need to correct every parenting abuse or wrong doing that we can see, but especially when an opportunity like this arises, you have the right and, I believe, the responsibility to address it. Sure, there are things you could have done better. I like the idea of grabbing the child and then asking the playground who they belong to so that the other parent get get involved right away. If anything it allows the other parent a chance to help teach their child the right behavior. However, I don't think you were out of line enough to warrant some of the rebukes you appear to have received here, no matter how well intentioned they were.

As a disclaimer, I'm not one who likes to take societal change lightly. Even if (as many have pointed out) 2009 and New York simply aren't 'appropriate' places to do this kind of thing anymore, I see my actions as a way to change that. I believe we do need the ability to all help raise each other's children, and if that's not normal than I'll act strange. Others may not feel like that, but that's where I'm coming from. I'm also very much so an idealist. I don't like the idea that I can't do something practically even though it's 'right'. So while it's most likely prudent in most situations to, say, not bring my infant daughter to our church service lest she be loud, I do it any way because I think our church service should be OK with it.

As something of a side note, many people, including you, have mentioned the possibility of the mother calling the police. I was wondering if someone of a more legal mind than mine could actual address the legal realities of this situation. Has it become illegal to touch another persons child? I understand that no one (except perhaps a few overzealous or sarcastic commenters) is actually suggesting that you hit the other child, but where is the clear legal line. Obviously with a sufficiently crazy second party, anything could have happened (in anger she could have said that you had sexually assaulted her child, as horrific as that is, and it would have been messy from then on), but with a fairly reasonable officer and a fairly reasonable second party, are there laws about how we can act with each other's kids?

WEBMay 20, 2009 at 8:10AM

The whole "you can't parent someone else's child" is in my view, a very American attitude. I disagree. I think it does take a village.

You were not going to hit him, and the mom was totally over-reacting. Her inability to see and correct wrong in her own child, is probably how this kid started hitting other kids with impunity!

AndyMay 20, 2009 at 8:14AM

As Michael Ströck said, you're bound to overthink things now. You'll convince yourself you must have been crushing his arm and towering over him, because noone would expect this woman to react in such a way without such provocation. Remember: however pleasant he may have been afterwards, his mother has still brought him up in such a way that he thought it was okay to walk over to your boy and slap him repeatedly. That is clearly not okay, so she's made at least one mistake. It's not a stretch to see her reaction as another.

I may not be a parent yet, but I've seen plenty of kids being brought up – both good and bad. The good kids tend to have parents who would intervene when it's necessary (no matter who is slapping whom); you've actually given both the other boy and Ollie a lesson in what's acceptable. The parents who watch what happens impassively somehow end up with less pleasant children. You were doing her a favour, and it's sad if she can't see that.

Don't let this incident make you question your parenting. Judge that by Ollie's behaviour, not a stranger's.

Emily WKMay 20, 2009 at 8:14AM

I find it fascinating that there are people here who think they can judge this child's home life and the ability of his mother based on a recounting of a six second conversation but are also damning her for judging you incorrectly based on the six seconds she saw of your behavior.

I don't think you did anything wrong, Jason. I also don't think it's reasonable for her to jump right to "You were clearly going to hit my kid." I just think the double standard here of "she don't know you, but we know her" is kind of amazing.

steveMay 20, 2009 at 8:25AM

Qual: dad to 2 boys. Reaction: Don't sweat it Jason. Parenting is a continuous learning experience, and the kicker is that we don't always learn from our "mistakes!" Just love Ollie with all your might, and remember (as you did with little Mike Tyson Jr.) that people usually are not bad, they just sometimes do bad things. And that's true for the mom too-- let's not over analyze her too much.

Extrapolate this for a sec to an adult situation... if somebody was a total d-bag to you or somebody else on the subway, you might initially step in and say something (the right thing to do, IMHO). If the person persisted you'd eventually reach a point where it was clear you weren't going to resolve the situation, so you'd back off simply to minimize the conflict. Afterward, you'd 2nd guess your reaction for a while but then you'd come to the conclusion that there was obviously something going on with the other person that you couldn't impact, no matter what you did.

Seems like you did the same thing here.

LexMay 20, 2009 at 8:27AM

You absolutely have the right to touch a child that's hurting yours. The fact that the Other Mother knew what her kid was doing, and hadn't yet made a single effort to stop it makes it abundantly clear that:

a) this wasn't the first time, and
b) she has no idea how to curb her boy's slapping problem

The only other step that I try to use in these situations is to ask the child where his mommy or daddy is. If beyond your goal of coming to Ollie's aid, you're really aiming to help both kids learn something from the experience, the perpetrator might be more inclined to learn the lesson if his own parent is involved.

PierreSmackMay 20, 2009 at 8:29AM

In this type of situation, I'd probably run up to the older kid and say, "You think slapping is funny, punk?", and then slap myself in the face a few times. Then when he starts laughing, I'd pretend to put some TNT in his mouth. That should get the parents laughing too.

Lu NelsonMay 20, 2009 at 8:45AM

It seems telling to me, that the kid slaps, and the mother jumped immediately to the conclusion that you were going to slap *him*: like there's something awry with the parent's attitudes about violence and the kid is in turn playing that out; but as has been said above, it's the nature of our society that every family is its own little jurisdiction and you have to refrain from crossing that line. However, that being the case, talking to Ollie about the value of just 'walking away' at a certain point (that is, after the point where you realize the other person is unreasonable), will probably be a useful lesson for his adult life too.

ScottMay 20, 2009 at 8:57AM

Yeah, you probably SHOULDN'T have touched the other kid, but, really how could you not? I actually admire your restraint. To me it's been one of the most challenging parts of parenting, even as my daughters are becoming teenagers: the desire/need/impulse to "protect" them from other poorly parented (ha! like I'm perfect!) kids AND idiot grown-ups, without crossing boundaries.

You probably also felt so shitty because of the adrenaline, which, I'm sure you know, makes you feel crappy if it don't USE it for fight or flight.

Also: you should send Ollie to the school where I'm receptionisting: Third Street Music School Settlement. Nice crew, here.

GamerPMay 20, 2009 at 9:01AM

It was definitely wrong for that mother to let her kid act like that. But I think you crossed a dangerous line in grabbing the other child's hand. You could have grabbed Ollie out of the little car and removed him from the situation, maybe even nudged yourself in between them to stop another slap, but I would never grab a child that isn't mine. It is weird that the mom saw the whole thing and didn't intervene, but that's her choice. Think about how you would react if you looked up and saw an adult grabbing Ollie's arm and pulling him away.

madelineMay 20, 2009 at 9:11AM

you did the right thing. collective parenting is better. not everyone still gets that. your job is to understand that too, sorry.

Bob MonsourMay 20, 2009 at 9:14AM

1. Moving the kid away from Ollie was fine (If it were me, I would have picked him up and walked him 10 feet from Ollie).
2. You should have let him start to run off to his mom.
3. You were absolutely correct to intervene, protecting your son from physical harm.
[soapbox on] This is similar to parents who react when a school disciplines a student in an appropriate way and the parents defend the student, rather than use the opportunity to teach the student about the nature of boundaries and authority at an age when this is what they need. Kids seek to find out where the boundaries are in an effort to understand how they should interact with their environment. If the boundaries don't exist, or are not presented, they they have not been given the opportunity for this kind of learning. [soapbox off]

Father of a 14 year old.

cynthiaMay 20, 2009 at 9:19AM

I have to say that I am really amazed at the lack of troll behavior on a potentially contentious parenting post. It says a lot about your readers. Or maybe you are just heavily moderating. In any case - hooray!

I am the mother of a pipsqueak so we have been in situations like this before. If I were in your shoes, I would have picked or moved Ollie out of his line of fire, gotten in his face and said sternly "Hitting is not nice" or "We do not hit people. Can you please say sorry?" Now, I don't expect or think he will understand apologies but at least I tried to address the issue with no touching. Toddler discipline is so tricky because there is a fine line between disciplining and redirection because they can't grasp empathy yet. This kid sounds totally normally for the age.

The mother on the

Michael LeddyMay 20, 2009 at 9:23AM

I think that in these situations some sort of primal protective instinct takes over. But my wife says that you should've let the other kid go. Live, learn.

These words ring true (our kids are 22 and 20):

[D]ealing with growing children is like being in a batting cage with ball after ball being thrown at you. You hit the balls you can. Amazingly, the score gets kept for a very long time.

Allen Shawn, Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life (New York: Penguin, 2007), 197

danMay 20, 2009 at 9:29AM

Boy that is tough... I think you acted on impulse and I would have too. I'd say let it go, but I know this will affect your interactions with others' kids from now on.

Personally I have a fear of some parent coming up to me on the playground and telling me how to raise my children, because of their behavior. Perhaps you imposed on the woman in an indirect way. I've found that unsolicited advice on raising children NYC is common.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to protect your child or any child. More as a defense though. You took an offensive position for a second, I think that gets a little risky as far as social etiquette goes. Touching in defense, ok. Touching in offense, not ok.

But of course every situation is different. My opinion is that your etiquette was fine until you stopped him as he ran away.

Jay HollerMay 20, 2009 at 9:31AM

This gets really slippery very quickly. For one, we don't know very much about the child or parent(s) except that they happen to be at the park this particular day. The child could be abused at home, who knows. Maybe they just have a nasty older sibling. Or maybe they are just frustrated today and decided to slap your son around. I don't think it is appropriate to put your hands on another person's child without their permission. I understand in your situation it wasn't necessarily an option, and I can't say I wouldn't have done the same. I have two daughters, and sometimes other little kids are behaving like jerks around them, I'll politely tell them why that behavior isn't appropriate, and if needed I'll raise my voice. I would think that touching another person's child that you don't know would be reserved for emergency situations like pushing them out of harm's way.

BlakeMay 20, 2009 at 9:45AM

I've gotten called out for it before, and I probably will again, but I have no problem disciplining someone else's child if they don't first take the chance to step in themselves. Do I hit them? No, never. But I have no problem stopping them from doing what they are doing wrong and getting their attention and trying to talk to them. If they're hurting my child, another child, or themselves or someone's belongings. Depending on whether or not I know the kid at all may determine my reaction or tone of voice somewhat, but that's about it. If she knew what her kid was doing, she had the chance to step in, saying you were going to hit her child is terrible on her part. I wouldn't feel too bad about it if I were you.

ParentOfTheYearMay 20, 2009 at 9:45AM

you should have put the assailant into a rear naked choke. toddler's brain's have a much higher oxygen requirement than adults, so he's either going to tap out or pass out in

another troyMay 20, 2009 at 9:46AM

nthing those who said you were OK until you grabbed the kid to stop him from running out on your lecture. And when I say you were OK, that's my opinion, which counts for little. As far as being in the clear legally, you probably should have handled the first part of the incident differently. I don't know about the legality, but you might have stepped in between Ollie and the kid with issues. If the kid got bumped in the process, your defense was that you were trying to protect your kid, and why was the other kid so close that you couldn't even get between the two of them without knocking him over?

In a doctor's waiting room, I saw a kid (who was acting out) measure up my 3-year-old. He'd already kind of passive-aggressively made some supposedly incidental contact, and now he was holding up a truck or something over my kid, who was playing on the ground, and this kid was getting ready to make the drop. I yelled "Hey!" and moved in between them. (I'm a hoverer.) I think I grabbed the truck, although it's at least possible I grabbed his arm. The mother freaked out on me about touching her kid. I felt the way you likely felt; she'd been watching the whole thing, and for whatever twisted reason, hadn't intervened, so all bets were off. I didn't regret it, and never would unless I ended up in the back of a squad car or something.

My point being, I understand there are good reasons for whatever laws there are about touching someone else's kid, but yours clearly was a situation that was exempt. But once the kid was walking away, there's little excuse for grabbing him again. That kid might have needed a talking-to (or one might have been fruitless), but society isn't going to clear you for that.

Brandon MerrittMay 20, 2009 at 9:47AM

We've never experienced a slapping, biting or hitting incident, but the bully mentality seems to be alive and well at the playground.

My daughter just turned two. I have alot on my hands just trying to teach her that "not every toy belongs to her" and "sharing can be fun". Sadly, when I visit the playground I feel like I'm the only one bothering to teach these lessons. The playground is like a free-for-all. As much as my daughter enjoys going it's hugely stressful for me.

I've never touched a child or even taken a toy my daughter was playing with away from an interloper, but I have had several stern conversations about sharing. The kids could care less, but seeing me talk to their kids generally engages the parents. They hang up their cell phone and come and pull their kid away...sometimes they discipline their kid.

Luckily we have a backyard and can host playdates and my daughter goes to a great day school where she is social. I can't imagine relying on the neighborhood playground to socialize my daughter. It just doesn't seem productive.

ParentOfTheYearMay 20, 2009 at 9:48AM

...less than 10 seconds. problem solved.

edit: damn HTML tags

Sarah PinMay 20, 2009 at 9:48AM

Re: At the playground (ya know?)

Well, you didn't solicit opinions from random non-parents, but... I'm an ESL teacher who does a lot of preschool-age classes, and this is a very familiar type of trauma for me. I teach upper-middle-class Japanese kids whose parents are paying for the lessons and tend to sit outside and watch the class through a window. So some of the parents feel they have a lot of say in what goes on the classroom.

I've had a couple get confrontational about it when I discipline their kids, and it always gives me the same sort of visceral sick-to-my-stomach shame/anger/fear reaction. This is the fundamentally the same combination of emotions I get when people have accused me of saying something racist/homophobic/etc.

I find it helpful to think of this as a boundaries thing. Kids are a major locus of emotion, so we have these very strict boundaries about how we deal with other people's, and how other people deal with ours. The same sort of boundaries exist around stuff like our ethnic and gender and religious identities - anything that can get dark and scary in a hurry. So when your boundaries collide with someone else's, you get this very potent and unpleasant shame/outrage reaction. It's sort of a warning sign.

I think it's really important to think about what you did when you're getting this alarm, because a lot of the time when it goes off that strongly, it's happening because you're in the wrong. Sometimes you're not. (In this case, my personal feeling is that you weren't. This isn't "about" the mom - I think it's not even about the kid himself, directly. It's about the right of the other kids using the playground to feel safe.) But that doesn't mean the feeling itself is wrong, because there are going to be cases where you're feeling bad because you really did mess up.

I, uh, feel too gross about most of them to give any examples of mistakes I've made here myself. (I'm a white southerner, so you can probably guess.) But basically what I'm saying is, this is a *normal* thing to feel. It's not a sign that you're a terrible unnatural person - it's a sign that someone's made a major mistake, and that you need to analyze the thing that just happened very carefully to see whether it was you.

DylanMay 20, 2009 at 9:52AM

Something that works with toddlers is to point out not that their behavior is "bad" but the effect that it has on the other child. This is something that may not have been possible given the situation, but pointing out that being slapped hurts can help the other child understand why he shouldn't do what he is doing.

As for your emotional response after the fact, it's completely understandable. I feel like that when my son gets knocked over by accident at the playground and the other kid's parents are telling their kids to be more careful. I can't imagine what it would be like if the other parent was uninvolved, much less accusatory.

ramananMay 20, 2009 at 9:53AM

There is a scene in the first season of Mad Men where a parent smacks his kid for horsing around, while another parent looks on. Then the parents speak and you realize that there roles are reversed, the friend smacked his friends kid. You expect some sort of reaction, but what you get is the following, "Little Jimmy, appologize to Mr. So-and-So for being bad." Little scenes like this are one of the things that makes Mad Men so enjoyable. The moral of my story? Clearly this lady with a baby wasn't smacked enough when she was a kid.

another troyMay 20, 2009 at 9:53AM

Sorry, I also want to weigh in on the people who make a point to say that we shouldn't tell other people how to parent. I understand the nuances, but even in nuanced situations, there's usually a line, and this is on the other side of it. I don't care (for the purposes of this scenario) who's abused, who's having a bad day, who's dealing with what at home or work or anything. The mother was in the wrong. This wasn't two kids arguing over a toy, each kid grabbing and not letting go. That's a situation where I am inclined to step in, but I know that many others think it's best to let the kids work it out, and I embrace that everyone has a right to their opinion.

This is different. Someone will need to lay out an example of a good reason for a parent to let their kid repeatedly strike another without intervening in any way before I'll see that any such examples exist. It's a your-rights-end thing.

Michael WendellMay 20, 2009 at 9:56AM

While I would probably get upset if someone, anyone, touched my daughter on the playground, I'd probably get even more upset if she just walked up to some other kid and started slapping him. I think you were well within your rights to stop it, even if that meant moving the other kid out of the way.

In your case I'd really have to wonder about how that other kid is being raised. The mom watched her kid hit your son three times, and seemed happy to allow it continue, and then when you stop it her first assumption is that you were going to hit her kid? Something is seriously wrong at home.

PatMay 20, 2009 at 9:59AM

That woman and her child were clearly both wrong. That child is getting away with this behavior -- that smile says it all, he's done it before and will do it again. And her response was "I saw" -- she turns a blind eye to his behavior. She accused you just to scare you off. It was a twisted little "defensive" move on her point to make you go away. Don't let her bully you like that -- you did nothing wrong.

DerekMay 20, 2009 at 9:59AM

You're attempting empathy with a sociopath, which is a waste of effort. The mom saw the whole thing and didn't care...the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, yada yada. She realized how badly she had screwed up in admitting this when she saw your reaction, then saw weakness when you tried to explain what you were doing. She then decided the easiest way out of it would be to run you over, so she amped up her response in a very calculated and deliberate attmempt to deflect the issue away from her and her kid's misdeeds and put the whole thing back on you.

If she had actually been angry with what you had done, she would have started yelling at you before she even got to her kid.

You still probably shouldn't try to make use of "parenting opportunities" with other people's kids, though. The ones who need it won't be helped, and in any case most kids will have parents who won't be grateful. Still, no point in beating yourself up over trying to be a good citizen.

Judson May 20, 2009 at 10:07AM

Tough situation. I wouldn't have touched the other child unless there were a real danger of injury. Just get my kid away from the problem child. The other kid is turning into a hitter and he's gonna hit the wrong kid one day.

BrianMay 20, 2009 at 10:10AM

Slap that Mom next time instead. Neglective parents should be punished for their childrens bad behavior.

Mike MonteiroMay 20, 2009 at 10:10AM

You did the right thing.

Your job is to protect your kid ABOVE ALL ELSE. Don't ever feel bad about it.

The fact that she assumed you were going to hit her kid makes me think that her kid gets hit. Frequently. And the kid's behavior says the same. He wanted to see what it was like to be the aggressor. He's been on the other side of that equation, as the smaller kid getting hit, so he found someone smaller than him and tried it on for size. I hope they get the help they need.

mihowMay 20, 2009 at 10:15AM

Oh boy. Well, we have sons around the same age. My son is almost 22 months old. (He actually attends one of those schools you mentioned here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.) Anyway, my son has done some shoving and pushing and I almost always intervene. I have also seen other kids shove my son before and usually I scoop him up and move away or conduct the usual "play nice/gentle" talk. But you weren't given that option. I'm not sure what I would have done in that situation (being that he was stuck in a car). So I'm going to guess.

As a mother, if someone was willingly causing harm to my kid, I wouldn't have NOT been able to intervene. If that meant touching the other child, so be it. Right or wrong, I can't stand to see someone strike my kid if it's anything more than playful push or your usual shove. (And that happens every day.)

To those who suggest you're not supposed to touch another person's child, is it OK to help them up if they stumble and fall? I have done that numerous times. (Because toddlers fall about as much as inebriated college kids). Is touching someone else's kid only not OK only if that kid is hitting another? Is it just never OK? Have I been breaking the unwritten rules? When does it become OK to touch another person's child?

If you're son is 5 and an 8 year old is blatantly hitting him with a stick, do you intervene then? Or do you just hope that the other parent steps in? That's crazy. If my son is getting hurt, I am going to stop it.

Perhaps the question you should be asking here is did she react this way BECAUSE you're a man? What if your wife had been there instead? Is that OK?

Jason: I feel sick to my stomach regularly on the playground. The dynamics are as political as an office. It's also a lot like a dog park. (I think.) You just never know who is going to get along and who is going to want to fight for whatever reason. And I hate to say it, but the parents can be equally as crazy.

ScottMay 20, 2009 at 10:17AM

I like the idea of "it takes a village" and I think it applies in a very broad please-look out-for-my-kid's-safety kind of way. But it ends when another adult is trying to impart their values on my child. I know the people in my village and most of them are idiots and/or assholes.

If I knew my kid was slapping yours and you physically moved mine away to protect your own, I'm fine with that. But don't try to teach mine a lesson or shame him in some way. Seek me out and I'll take care of it. The mother overreacted, but she doesn't know you. Moreover, you don't know the circumstances in her life that led to her reacting that way. Not to excuse her blatant rudeness and paranoia, but if you knew that she just came from an abusive relationship or something like that, maybe it would be more understandable why she thinks everyone is rearing back to strike. I wouldn't take it personally and wouldn't think about it too much more.

JeffMay 20, 2009 at 10:26AM

I would agree with many others here, Jason. Touching a child crossed the line. But I'd also look at this in another way. This was a learning experience for you and one you will probably need to draw on as you help navigate your son through elementary school and beyond. You were acting as Ollie's advocate as well you should. Talking to the boy's mother might have worked out as long as you knew your boundaries. Although, it's quite possible talking to her would have yielded the same indifference to her child's behavior.

It's one thing to see a small child do this to another. But it's another when you see an 8 year old do this to other children. Bad parenting is often the source of the problem. But I've learned that working with the teacher and principal is your best bet. Coming across as "reasonable" is key. They need to see you as the reasonable parent in order to gain their support.

That being said, if the problem isn't solved, escalating it and not letting go until officials do something about it is critical. I can be a mother hen at a moment's notice (but only to my own children).

max ansellMay 20, 2009 at 10:26AM

I'm a parent of 2 kids aged 2 and 3 and we go to a few neighbourhood playgrounds pretty intensively during the summer. Let me preface by saying that some parents aren't meant to be raising kids.

I think the mistake was the second grabbing. Its not your place to really give the kid a moral lesson. In a playgroup scenario, this is possible as the parents are known and there is a need to do this type of make-nice arbitration as the kids will be interacting with each other regularly. Giving the kid attention is what he wanted.

Typically at a playground, when a kid approaches mine I look for their parents. I try to get eye-contact so they know that I know. This type of thing has happened to me. After the first hit, I moved in to block the child and looked to their parents. Typically, if they don't react, I tell the kid to move off with my most authoritative voice (its all a bluff game ) and all puffed out. Most parents react. If that doesn't work I yell at their parent(s) (while still in between) to get their child out of there. Also, I make it a point to not leave the playground. I usually say in a loud voice to my kid why its important not to hit other people. That even animals play nice in the wild. Its not your fault, and now when you're thinking about going to that (or any) park you're gonna be all weird about it. It will reduce your enjoyment.

Ollie doesn't need to be everyone's friend. There are jerks at all ages and places and sometimes you just have to ignore them. That kid is a bully and used to getting what he wants. He probably sees some type of violence at home (verbal, physical, etc) and won't change with a toddler-arbitration.

JBMay 20, 2009 at 10:26AM

Agree with "Jenn" the preschool teacher's comment. Touching someone else's kid is off-limits. Even disciplining our own children in public has become risky.

In an extreme situation, my wife will let the other parent know what their child did. (Since we would want them to give us the same courtesy.)

Kottke, I think you found your audience - parents!

LeaMay 20, 2009 at 10:27AM

OK, so my kid isn't a little psychopath who hits other kids. But I really wouldn't want you to grab her arm in any circumstances. She doesn't know you and you will scare her. She's a kid. Kids are careless and rough and thoughtless. And sometimes they have really crap parents who don't teach them how to be civilised little beings.
But if you grabbed my kid you really would tick me off. So I'd want you to be the clever adult you are, and deflect her. Use a hand to block her, and then use your voice to summon her parent. Loudly. Pull your child behind you. Protect them. But you are not going to teach someone else's child (hey, they don't listen to their parents so why the hell are they going to listen to you?)
Welcome to the alternate universe, where you need to embarrass me. She's a small biological unit at some stage of basic responsibility. So cut to the chase and engage the parent.
You probably won't change a thing, but at least you won't feel quite so tragic.

David PattonMay 20, 2009 at 10:32AM

@Jason: I wouldn't have tried to get the kid to listen to me. There is plenty of parenting going on at our playground but you can't MAKE another child do anything - 'cept for the get away from my kid part. I'd feel as disturbed as you (and I'd want to toss Another Bad Creation across the playground) but thankfully in the end its no harm no foul - save for the woman who is probably freaked out 'cause she has a hitter.

@many of you: Buzz off. Sure, not many trolls in this crowd. I don't think they can stand the self righteousness of parents or worse the high horseness of all the un-married marriage counselors here. Here, I'll add to it: So glad you've looked after kids or can manage to feed and walk a dog but I don't care; it's not the same has having your own child. I'm with Emily WK above except I don't find it fascinating at all that so many of you can judge this woman and her child - I find it annoying - super annoying.

One of our daughters (2 yr. old) day care mates is an occasional biter. He's bitten her twice - once left a tooth shaped bruise on her forearm. Guess we should have marched on over to our friend and started lambasting her for what a lousy parent she is, suspect her or her husband of biting the child, and told her to watch the Dog Whisperer on DVD. Heaven help all you Mussolinis here should you ever have a child that is a biter or a hitter. It happens. They'll hopefully grow out of it just fine.

I agree the other woman sounded like a shrew and I would have felt at least as disturbed as Jason - proof of that is the first thing I thought about this morning was this damn thread that I read late last night. A good reminder why I spend NO time on parents forums.

WayneMay 20, 2009 at 10:34AM

I don't think I would have done anything differently but I am constantly gripped with parenting self doubt. My son's school instills a strong set of conflict resolution tools that teach them to walk away from hostile situations. When I saw a neighbor's kid, who my son just gave him permission to borrow his bike, calling my son names, my son just walked away. I found myself saying, "hey!....."

MarkMay 20, 2009 at 10:41AM

I disagree with the (possibly rhetorical) suggestions to slap the mother. Ollie is learning from you in this situation, and what he learned yesterday is that men can intervene in a violent situation and not resort to violence. Good job on that.

I wouldn't discount the possibility that the slapper's mom might have reacted differently had you been Ollie's mother and not his father. It doesn't excuse, but may explain, why she misplayed her role in the scene. On the other hand, she could be a really bad parent. In either case, you continued to react appropriately and Ollie saw his dad functioning as an engaged, loving parent. A great example.

EWMay 20, 2009 at 10:45AM

Based on the sad state of parenting and litigation today, assume every parent is like this mom until proven otherwise. Don't touch the other child and place yourself between the other child and yours. There isn't much that the other parent can say if you move in between your child and theirs. This of course is only when the situation requires adult intervention. Smaller squabbles should be left for the children to figure out.

I'm convinced we're all in big trouble in the next decade as the population of "everything you do is just fine" gets a bit older and does whatever they want. I already see it here in Minneapolis on the LRT. Kids ride it and use it as their very own trash can and talk quite abusively without regard to anyone else on the train.

Mike MonteiroMay 20, 2009 at 10:48AM

But if you grabbed my kid you really would tick me off.

It's possible to do the right thing and still tick off another parent. "Parenting" is something that happens between you and your kid, and good parenting choices should be made for the sake of your kid, not for the sake of other parents' judgment.

From Jason's account here he moved in with intent to protect his kid, not to harm the other kid. He did the right thing. Sometimes you do the right thing and you still piss people off and you still feel bad about it. Doesn't make it any less right. It's complicated sometimes.

CamillaMay 20, 2009 at 10:50AM

Something I picked up from dog training, which is useful with people, too, is that cocking your head sideways ("I'm asking a question") isn't seen as aggressive. One option that I've seen play out successfully in the playground is to grab or block the miscreant then look up and around for his/her parent, and cock your head. If the parent was lazy or distracted, they'll usually head over looking sheepish. (You see it directed at you all the time if you're being more permissive than the norm about letting your kid climb on walls or ledges.) With either humans or dogs, you're redirecting your own impulse to make direct eye contact.

I had an incident similar to what you described, except put a 15lb pug, attempting to pee on our stroller, in the place of the slappy child. The large male owner was sufficiently out of his mind as to threaten to hit me. (I had directed aggressive voice and body language, but no physical force, towards his dog.)

Zesty PeteMay 20, 2009 at 10:54AM

Too many comments to wade through, so I'll just add mine and hope it's not repeating a point.

FYI, I have a very sociable, very extroverted three-year-old daughter. If there are other people around, she'll want to interact.

In your situation, I would have stepped between the two kids, facing my daughter and checking she was OK. If she was, I would have steered her away from the other kid.

The reason for this is that the other kid was attention seeking. The fact that it took as long for the other parent to arrive suggests he's craving attention and not getting it quickly enough or maybe it's just not the right kind of attention/discipline. Paying attention to the negative actions reinforces them. By turning your back on the little monster, you're both reassuring your child and making it clear to the other kid that you're not impressed.

And trust me, if it had been my child doing the hitting, I would have been in there before she had the chance to raise her hand the second time. Ultimately, the other parent was responsible and should have been there faster. While she may have been defensive, she probably didn't see everything and felt guilty about it. And if she didn't, she should have.

JohnMay 20, 2009 at 10:58AM

Tough situation but once you got your kid in the clear you probably should have let it go at that. You probably went a little far grabbing his arm when he tried to leave, but it was a natural reaction and something you or any decent parent would have done with their own kid.

That said we're in a different world than we were growing up when our parents would have been fine with another parent teaching us what we did wrong - I could envision my mom telling another mom to just "bonk me in the head" if i acted up. It's a crazy society now and touching someone else's kid opens you up to a lot of liability, even with noble intentions. This woman could sue for emotional harm done to her child (crazy!!!), but that's the society we're in now. Best to not even open that can of worms.

RafeMay 20, 2009 at 11:00AM

I think the bottom line is that adrenaline is a factor in this situation (for you). Seeing a kid slap Ollie several times with impunity is impossible to take. Seeing the kid respond to your correction with a smarmy smile only increases the adrenaline. The fact that you were able to rein it in and not just go ballistic on the mother after she basically admitted that she was not going to discipline her kid speaks well of you.

It's nearly impossible not to feel sick after being involed in a highly charged situation like that. You did fine, you learned something for next time (don't impede the other kid when he tries to leave), and nobody was hurt. It's an awful thing to have to deal with no matter what.

LeaMay 20, 2009 at 11:08AM

Hey Mike Monteiro - you actually laying hands on my child is a whole different ballgame. I'm not an over-reactor, but I don't know you. I don't use physical force to discipline my child (I don't need to - voice, consequences are sufficient) and I'm not going to let you! I'm ok with you doing what you think is right in relation to parenting between you and your kid, but not you and mine. Parenting issues in relation to my child should happen between you and me.

dawsonMay 20, 2009 at 11:11AM

having read your post and none of the comments my immediate reaction was... return to your ancestral and evolutionary origins, kill them both and go home happy. :O) bring back the laws of the jungle!

C. DrakeMay 20, 2009 at 11:13AM

I have to admit, it has been engrossing reading what people have to say on this subject. Then again, children being our lifeline to the closest viable form of immortality--our genetics--its a pretty serious subject to a lot of people.

Now, unlike everyone else, I'm not going to unload a "I have X kids, so listen to me.." etc. Instead I'll just point out a few facts you listed from your memory of the event and nudge it along, then let you evaluate the thoughts; that is if you're still reading these comments (considering the huge number of them) and not ill from the sheer quantity of reading...

The child hit your child. Your child did not react except in being stunned, which is a little beyond the repertoire of a small one to understand in another. The other child did it again, repeating, trying for a reaction since he didn't get one. This is a form of bullying behavior, but normally it pops up as shoving or pushing even in chimps... Slapping is more of a learned attack; as you put it, it came off premeditated--a learned behavior. He wanted something, either just the reaction or the toy car, so he was asserting his dominance over Ollie... This is basic--very basic--primate social behavior in hierarchies.. however, in our current day, its a sign that he probably had a bad role model to observe (say.. an abusive father figure abusing his mother as an example) in situations that are similar.

Then the fact that she didn't do anything--meaning she didn't see a _need_ to intervene implies that it's normal as far as she is concerned as well (either she does it, or it is/has-been done to her)... Then she jumped to the conclusion you would hit. Now that, it could have been something as simple as a posture to lean down that she associated with violence, or it could have been the fact that you did grab his arm the second time--something I wouldn't beat myself up over if I was you, just remember for in the future. Or it could be the fact that she associates men with violence--note she didn't just take her child after accusing you and walk off, which would have been the smart thing to do when dealing with an actual abusive man, she chose to confront you--meaning she probably has some special baggage all her own. It didn't bother her to watch her child abuse another child repeatedly, but it bothered her that her own might come under scrutiny. Note: If she was genuinely, truly, worried you were going to hit her child... what would have kept you from smacking the heck out of her? She didn't think about that, so either she's used to being hit or really didn't consider what she was seeing. She made a snap judgment without thinking at all.

Parenting is as much--if not more of--a learning experience for you as it is for your child being reared. I would definitely mind the advice of those parents intervening with constructive suggestions, but all told, you experienced the highly emotional equivalent of a drive-by at the playground. I would say your feeling of intense stomach turning is your surest sign that you're not in any way broken or genuinely capable of what you were accused with, which is in it's own right a good affirmation of your stability. If you had walked away angry at her for being aggressive in general and not because of the accusation she leveled at you, I would have been worried.

JoshuaMay 20, 2009 at 11:16AM

You can lecture the kid all you want, even remove him from being able to hurt your child, but you can't restrain or even touch another person's child outside of removing them from being able to inflict harm.

Pulling him back was wrong, telling him that he shouldn't have done that was right.

jasonkMay 20, 2009 at 11:20AM

I've got 2 (3 and 18 months). Children need to learn how to defuse tense situations. Children need to learn it's not nice to hit. Children need to learn that when you encounter a bratty person the best choice is to walk away. Children also need to learn to stand up for themselves. You set a good example. You taught your child that a physical reaction should only be used as a last resort but there are times, few and far between, that a physical reaction is the only way out. You also taught your child that older/bigger/wiser humans should step in when younger/weaker humans are being mistreated.

Look to the future. Your son at 12 should be willing and able to stop another 12 year old from picking on an 8 year old. Situations like that my require a physical reaction and your son should know, having learned by your example, when a physical reaction is warranted. When it's all said and done he's gonna wonder, just like you did, if he made the right decision and that's ok most people in that situation would. Standing up to another person is hard and stepping in to protect someone else even harder. Questions will arise, just like they did for you, that will be hard to answer. That's life in the world. You have to be willing to make the right decision then have the strength to struggle with your feelings afterward.

My personal take would be to skip the kiss and makeup speech. With kids at church or in my neighborhood I give them the speech but random kids at the park I stop what's going on and separate the kids, usually by moving my own child.

On the topic of the police: Sure she can call the cops but why would they arrest you? I live in a small town and sometimes I get the impression that the authority here is a little more level headed than other places but still. Cops show up everyone tells their story and unless there is some mark on the child everybody goes home. If there is a mark on the child then she's got to prove you did it. It's taken me a long time to learn that fear of authority is not a good reason to stand on the sidelines. As a teenager I took up every fight that came my way. In my 20's I ran the other direction. I'm learning somewhere in the middle is the answer. In the end you have to make decisions, good decisions, that are in keeping with your convictions then be willing to stand by those convictions and decisions if they ever come into question. Admit if you did it wrong but know and be willing to explain why you did what you did. If the situation as a whole changes your convictions or decision making process then great you learned something but you need to be able to stand by your convictions, decision, and lesson learned.

JJMay 20, 2009 at 11:24AM

I agree with David Patton and Emily WK that people are reading too much into the child and his mother's home life. She overreacted and thought you might be about to hit her child. I think it's likely that, to her, that possibility was way more important than the fact her kid had been hitting yours, which explains how she could dismiss the hitting with "I know, I saw" and want to move on to what she thought was the important issue. There are many reasons for her overreacting this way and it's unlikely that any of them had to do with you. She overreacted, it's not your fault, and you felt sick afterwards because of the adrenaline.

That being said, I also don't think you did anything wrong. I think the idea that you should never touch another person's child is stupid, especially at toddler-age when words aren't as effective. But I don't live in NYC. Did anyone else at the playground see the incident? Their perspective would be interesting.

melMay 20, 2009 at 11:26AM

First observation just based on the I-like-to-slap kid is that the child is dangerously showing deviant and troubling behavior - repeated violence to get attention, but the no remorse response is more troubling. The mother's reaction, however, shows signs that the child is either being exposed to violence or is being hit himself. The mother had no real reason to assume you were doing anything but intervening. Holding a child is not the same as violence; sometimes just using a strong voice is not commanding enough to get their attention - i.e. toddler running away, possible endangering himself and others. While some crazy folks might be upset at another parent intervening, no sane parent jumps to the assumption that the adult is planning to use violence particularly when she alludes to watching the whole event without intervening and disciplining her own child, non-violently, of course. I know this is a hard thing and most might just walk away and chalk this up to 'crazy person' moment we all have in NYC but this child needs help - he's actually acting out in public which is a cry for help. He has picked up this behavior somewhere and is using and mimicing the behavior on a more vulnerable kid. If anyone, teacher, parent, etc., knows the name and school this child attends, I urge them to talk with the teachers or principles who have a obligation to intervene when abuse is merely suspected. Or if someone would like to be brave for this child's sake, call Child Abuse & Neglect 1-800-342-3720 or visit Seriously, these are signs that the child needs help and the mother needs help, too.

MelissaMay 20, 2009 at 11:27AM

You were right to intervene and prevent the boy from continuing to hit Ollie, especially since Ollie was trapped. Though your intentions were good, temporarily holding the boys arm the second time to continue speaking to him was a dicey move. These days, people can make unpleasant accusations (as you experienced) or even drag a seemingly minor situation into a legal battle, however minor or innocent the action.
The mother of the boy who was doing the slapping should have intervened. When the boy walked away from you, you could have tracked him to his mother (or asked who his parent was) and let her know her kid behaved poorly. "I know, I saw him" or whatever she said to you when you told her he'd been slapping Ollie would have made my temper rise a bit. So I'd have let her know she needs to step it up and rein in her kid. And then i'd have left and still felt bad about the situation.

Nelson MinarMay 20, 2009 at 11:34AM

The mother knew she (and her son) were in the wrong. But rather than admit that or apologize, she went on the offensive and accused you of bad behaviour. And it worked, because now you feel guilty as hell. This sort of reversal is classic bully behaviour and apparently mom is teaching her son well.

David PattonMay 20, 2009 at 11:35AM

@mel: nice bit of satire.

TCMay 20, 2009 at 11:38AM

Parents (and I speak as one) offer up a lot of instinctive reactions to things, and that seem to be the case here on with both parties. I would challenge someone who laid a hand on my child in a similar just becasue that would be my instinctive reaction. Just as I would probably have done what you did, mostly out of a heady mix of amazement and panic.

But for this woman to have seen her kid hit another, and have done nothing is baffling. My child would be whisked asided for a quiet word the moment she had raised her hand. Not that she would.

So, given that she wasn't acting as a parent, if you hadn't - what would have happened to Ollie? I suspect that the actual outcome is better than most of the possible outcomes. I sometimes find these kind of thoughts help propel me down the puzzling path of parenthood.

LaurieMay 20, 2009 at 11:40AM

My conclusion: it was a scam.

That's why the kid was hitting Ollie so deliberately (he'd been told to), why he smiled afterwards (you grabbing him was the desired result), why the mom appeared so quickly (she'd been waiting), and why she went straight to 11 with accusations of hitting her child: she was expecting your anger to lead to an escalation, and then your terror of litigation to lead to compensation, as it probably has a half-dozen times already.

The only reason it didn't work out this why is because you kept your cool and walked away, so good job.

NikiMay 20, 2009 at 11:41AM

Little sociopaths? Ouch. I am cringing. I'm a mother of a 2 and a half year old who went through a hitting phase about a year ago. We don't hit at home and my husband and I are not sociopaths either. Kids either get it from their peers or it is a normal reaction from a child (especially toddler boys, in my experience) who lack the language and complex social skills it takes to say, make a trade for a toy. Mine has pretty much grown out of hitting, but it takes reminders every trip to the playground and to school. I still watch him like a hawk and unlike the "bad mom" at your playground, I swoop in and remove my child from any situation where I think he may hit or push another child. That's where it looks like it went wrong here. The "bad mom" should have gotten her child away from Ollie immediately. Better yet, if she knew he had this problem, she should have been nearby and ready to react. In this situation, I would have picked up my child if he was being hit and told the other child sternly, "we don't hit," then played somewhere else. You have to keep it painfully simple for toddlers. I know you can't always pick up your child and go elsewhere and at some point they have to learn to resolve the conflict. Sometimes it's better to choose your battles. These toddlers have a long life of social lessons ahead of them. It doesn't mean they have to learn them all at once. Also, emotions were likely high in this situation. I wouldn't touch someone's child (except for helping one up from a fall or saving one from falling), because you never know how the other parent will react. I am sure the "bad mom" wanted you to feel like a jerk and that's why she threw the faulty accusation at you. How terrible that this whole thing came out of what should have been a nice day at the playground.

jasonMay 20, 2009 at 11:42AM

I am not a parent, but I'm a longtime reader. I just wanted to say that I'm a strong believer in the "it takes a village" mentality. Every family doesn't have all the things necessary to raise children the right way. For me, I didn't have a lot of male influences.

Anyway, just because a child has a bad parent, doesn't mean they shouldn't have the same opportunities that allow other kids to grow up to be smart, upstanding individuals. This is the same reason big brothers/sisters programs are so important. Helping another person's child understand when they did something wrong (or right!) is important. In a perfect world, we all contribute to each other's lives, with family, friends, colleagues, etc. By getting a variety of inputs, we all get a better sense of societal norms.

I understand that our society today doesn't believe this, and actively frowns upon it. The mother in your story is a great example of how. It's hard, especially as a man, to have any interaction with children because our society is so paranoid about predatorial behavior. With a steady diet of the media telling us about all the awful men out there, we rarely hear about the men who positively contribute to children's lives.

Although in hindsight, your second attempt at getting the other child to work things out with Ollie may not have been the best option, it is understandable. The fact that you're soliciting advice and input is a strong indication of your strength as a parent. Best of luck with Ollie and future playground visits.

Tina LeeMay 20, 2009 at 11:45AM

I'm sorry that happened to you. It's hard to watch someone hit your child and possibly even harder to have someone totally misconstrue your intentions. It sounds like an incredibly disturbing experience and one that has very little possibility of resolution. It makes sense that it would sit with you afterward. It's a messy world and that was a messy interaction.

Kari GrimsbyMay 20, 2009 at 12:00PM

The other parent should have intervened sooner, so I don't think it was wrong for you to try to follow through on getting an apology from the little boy on her behalf. You were standing up for your son and setting an example for him by trying to set things right. You did nothing wrong. The other parent obviously has issues. Hopefully the kid hasn't learned about hitting from his home life. Just don't let it bother you too much. I'm sure your son appreciated your efforts to set things straight--even at his young age.

LanceMay 20, 2009 at 12:02PM

Funny that only C. Drake addressed the Slapper's motivation (outside of maligning the child): most likely slapping is how he has gotten what he wanted in the past. This time it was the car Ollie was playing on. Separating them with a "No Hitting!" would have been appropriate, then maybe directing a question at the Slapper: "Do you want a turn?" Address his motivation (or maybe he just likes to slap kids, who knows).

Removing Ollie would have just given the Slapper what he (likely) wanted. You did well.

CamillaMay 20, 2009 at 12:03PM

Slap-and-smile at 2 1/2 is not a sign of abuse or emotional incapacity. My son does it (to parents, at bed time) and it seems that he's aware of increasing the emotional temperature of the situation, but too impulsive to resist, especially when he's over-tired and other delay tactics have failed. I think he started by grabbing at eyeglasses and accidentally knocking them off, and the behavior evolved from there, because sending the parent's eyeglasses flying always gets a reaction.
(We're dealing with it by withdrawing after the briefest possible "that hurts.")
He's not (that I know of) been exposed to hitting, and he's emotionally capable enough to attempt to comfort a weeping parent.

Charlie BathwaterMay 20, 2009 at 12:33PM

Carry a squirt bottle full of water. A good squirt in the face and a stern "NO!" usually corrects the situation. At least it does with my cat. And I plan to use this on my children. When I have them.

Oh, and never (in case you haven't been told enough) touch another child. Before you know it, you've been accused of touching them inappropriately and are explaining your innocence to your cell mate. These are the times we live in.

ed adkinsMay 20, 2009 at 12:34PM

I think you and your wife already have it figured out between the two of you. It's great that you'd like to take some social responsibility for the collective raising of your neighborhood kids, but there are some rules of thumb that need to be observed. Once you did what you needed to in order to insure Ollie was safe, it's still within your accepted bounds to attempt talking to the other child, but it's not acceptable to try and keep him there. We don't know what's going on in other kids' lives, or the lives of their parents. The kid may be a victim of abuse, suffer from a condition which adds to his behavior, or just have crazy parents who will call the police on you. It's generally not going to be accepted for you to try and physically keep him there for the talk- as infuriating as that is.

When you know the parents, that leads to exceptions, but this wasn't the case here.

Andy CMay 20, 2009 at 12:37PM

I would guess you left feeling sick because you *didn't* have the opportunity to slap the kid or his mother around. Vengeance is a basic element of human nature, and it expressed itself when you grabbed the kid's arm. Whether or not you tell yourself this is simply because you thought it would be good for the child to learn all about empathy in a ten-second I'm-sorry session, it is more likely that you began to react as anyone would have the urge to react - by initiating punishment in retaliation for the violence the other child gave. The "sick" feeling is one of frustration - you (by proxy of your child) were attacked, and the perpetrator walked free. This would make anyone sick, however significant or trivial the crime.

It must be noted that the desire to retaliate is not inherently bad. Given that you are not the parent and simply cannot teach the offending child within those few seconds about empathy, morals, or any other complex concepts, the best thing that you could have done for that child was probably to rap your knuckles over his head, the same as you would to a dog that exhibited undesirable behavior. With proper parenting, the child may learn to empathize and communicate better with others, and that may become the guiding force behind his behavior; but until then, a simple "such behavior is not tolerated, and may even cause you pain" is the most efficient and effective message that can be sent.

For better or worse (I can see parents overreacting, turning a quick sting into actual abuse), that's simply not an option for you. So the next best response would be to quickly and implicitly threaten the child, so that it at least perceives a risk (although lacking actual experience to back that perception up). Such a threat can be given by a simple warning look, after you have moved the offending child away from your son. This does run the risk, however, of giving the offending child attention, and satisfaction if such was his goal. So the "warning look" - possibly accompanied by a stern "Hands off." - must be very quick, and must not acknowledge the child in any other way, immediately turning attention to your own child. Otherwise, the offending child may see that he has caused you some form of distress. With a quick warning glance and words, he only learns that he has put himself at risk by his actions.

You shouldn't have grabbed his arm, because you really can't detain him in the good ol' USA (you've already seen how parents react, both his mother and in the comments here). You weren't wrong to do so, but it was effectively an empty threat. It only taught the child that, while others may wish to retaliate, they are helpless to do so, and he can get away with whatever he wishes.

As for the mother, it seems that you allowed yourself to be put on the defensive, so the entire conversation was rendered pointless. Instead of indulging her in an argument, you ought to have simply made your point very clearly - and if she becomes defensive, then feel free to talk over her, speak in a dominant tone, etc.; being polite isn't always effective. Especially when it means you can't make your point. And what was your point? Did you really want to help the mother learn how to parent her child? If not, then were you only trying to vent? I'm not sure of any other reasons. In either case (and both may apply), once she became defensive and accusatory, I would have said (talking over her if necessary): "Look I'd love to discipline your child for you, but we both know I can't. I came here to inform you of his behavior. If you don't care to parent him, I am sure the law eventually will, so I really don't care - do what you will with this information." At this point, you have made your message clear, and the conversation has ended. She may attempt to continue it, but it takes two, and you can ignore her and leave at this point.

I'm sure many will agree, but that's my opinion on this. Read it, consider it, conclude what you will.

Rob O.May 20, 2009 at 12:40PM

The part that stuns me most is that the other child's mother witnessed the event yet did nothing to intervene. She saw her child slap yours and was content to watch that happen again and again? That's either lazy-ass apathy or some kind of twisted parenting.

You were not in the wrong here - the other parent was.

Andy CMay 20, 2009 at 12:41PM

Sure many will *disagree even. Sorry for tl;dr and correction-post.

Emily WKMay 20, 2009 at 12:52PM

Some parents believe that behavior between children should be handled by children. They don't want to try to micromanage every interaction. Perhaps that is not the wisest choice when violence is involved, but it doesn't make the other mother a psychopath or abusive.

I'm glad nobody is slamming you, Jason. I think you did what many of us would have done.

Rob G.May 20, 2009 at 12:53PM

I'm very surprised with the comments; I never expected so many "You should not have grabbed him" comments. Personally, I think you were clearly in the right here; the kid came and tried to repeatedly hit your son.

The mom *knew* that her kid was in the wrong, and went on the offensive on you. Don't feel bad, IMO you did nothing wrong.

tdeMay 20, 2009 at 12:54PM

You have the right and the obligation to protect your child. You did that when you intervened.

I think it is also proper for you to hold the child there until you can locate his parent so that they can discipline him - or talk to him or whatever. So you did right there.

And, had someone accused me of getting ready to strike their child, I would would correct them the first time they said it. The second time I would have beat the shit out of them. But that's just me.

reviewstewMay 20, 2009 at 12:59PM

Wow, a lot of comments! Maybe someone has said this above already, but beyond the basic stuff, there's this possibility (and I don't like to make these kinds of generalizations, but some New Yorkers do have courtroom tactics built into them from all those years watching Law and Order): the "you were going to hit my child" accusation could have been a pre-emptive strike. Baselessly accusing you of smacking her kid around takes the focus off the toddler-on-toddler stuff, where she and her kid look bad, and puts it on you, making you defensive.

Of course, there's no way to build that observation (whether true or not) into advice about how you should behave if a similar situation arises again. I like the basic advice given by most people above. Touching the other kid to get to yours = allowable. Touching the other kid to finish the lesson/conversation = not really ok, but certainly forgiveable in the circumstances. "Hey kid, where's your mom or dad?" is a better way to start.

Derek K. MillerMay 20, 2009 at 1:08PM

As a parent of two daughters now long out of toddlerhood (9 and 11), I'll just give you my gut reaction, which reflects many others here. You were fine to do what you did, but people have become needlessly paranoid about other adults around their children.

The other mother thought she knew what you were going to do, but she was wrong; she was reacting to her fears about you, not to reality. You saw what her child did to yours; you were reacting to the actual situation. Fear and litigation have made us afraid to do what parents have done for all of human history: collectively teach children what is and isn't appropriate social primates behaviour. Maybe you were a bit rougher with the other child than you intended to be, but you did not harm him.

VanessaMay 20, 2009 at 1:15PM

You did the right thing. It's okay. The first time there's a confrontation on the playground it's so unsettling. I have a vague recollection of an incident involving a green shovel and kid who shoved and threw sand. I got so upset. Crazy, cross-eyed upset. But now that my kids are practically tweens, I'm over it. Only took 6 or 7 years. Rejoice, you'll feel much better in 2016.

r j May 20, 2009 at 1:16PM

Limits & Boundries. Kids need to be taught. If some snotty kid's limits and boundries are not respecting my son's cherubial face...I'll set the damn boundry and let the kid's parent know they better be setting limits. One day that kid'll be holding a baseball bat....or worse...

Stuart BuckMay 20, 2009 at 1:19PM

The problem here, and throughout the discussion, is that there are two questions:

1. What did you have the right to do?
2. What should you have done notwithstanding your rights?

To the first question, I consider it obvious that you have a right to physically intervene to prevent someone from beating up your kid. In any decent civil society, adults have not just the right but the duty to make sure that kids aren't behaving like that.

But to the second question, you unfortunately were confronted with the fact that we don't live in a decent civil society. Some parents are paranoid idiots. Paranoid because they're worried that every adult in sight is a would-be molester. And idiots because they haven't thought about the long-term consequences of raising a child with unrestrained violent tendencies. When an "adult" like this is in the vicinity, it may be wiser just to take your kid and leave.

BryanMay 20, 2009 at 1:26PM

WTF? What happened to "It takes a village...?" I remember very clearly the first time a person-not-my-parent spanked me, and it left an incredible impression on me. I never repeated what I'd done, which I'm sure my parents appreciated. As noted sadly, though, that's not the world now.

I had this sort of thing happen to my daughter about the same age...a larger boy came up, bear-hugged her and threw her to the ground. With the frightened look in her eyes, I almost went ballistic on that kid (didn't, just gave the "hey!" treatment). I, too, couldn't believe how flippant the kid's mother was. Unbelievable.

Peter Ames CarlinMay 20, 2009 at 1:48PM

I think you've gotten a lot of advice here, much of it very good. All I have to add is something ludicrous, which is to suggest that at some point in the near future:

1. You will keep bumping into the woman, in various unlikely spots.
2. And though you at first have it out about the playground situation and then move into a kind of bicker-y, mutual distaste for one another.
3. That then warms into a sarcastic rapport.
4. Which in turn becomes a strange, and yet overpowering mutual attraction.
5. At which point you fall in love. Jokes ensue. Music plays. Credits roll. Everyone goes home happy.

randhirMay 20, 2009 at 2:03PM

I would have slapped the kid AND his mother.

Joshua EllisMay 20, 2009 at 2:03PM

6. ...until you discover that her nasty little boy is in fact the spawn of Satan, and you have to travel to the Middle East to find the special daggers that can be used to kill him and prevent the apocalypse.

Yeah. Bet you'll wish you hadn't grabbed the kid THEN, Kottke. :-p

DanielMay 20, 2009 at 2:08PM

Avoid playground parenting politics... just go out and invent your own playground! It's NYC, there's enough there outside of playgrounds to enrapture any 2-year-old.

By the way, great follow-up story about the kid bringing the "scooter" peace offering. Good of you to step in when you did, but aside from *real* safety issues, I think parents would learn a lot from a more hands-off, less micro-managing approach to parenting. Like Lenora Skenazy's sentiment that you linked to a few weeks ago, it's amazing what happens when adults just let kids explore and negotiate life on their own.

megnutMay 20, 2009 at 2:21PM

7. Except that Jason doesn't see Ollie much anymore, because he can leave me for Slappy's Mom, but I'm not letting that woman step-mother my son.

Christopher J.May 20, 2009 at 2:49PM

I've read a lot of the thread above, maybe this is in there somewhere. I have a 16-month old boy and we are just starting to get into playground etiquette for the first time now that the weather is finally improving here in Chicago. I don't think I want to say if you were right or wrong Jason, it's a gray area and that's why you brought it up. Here is what I would have done:

I would absolutely feel OK defending my child, probably using my forearm as a barrier to gently force the other child back while extracting my own from the situation. I would also think it's OK to speak to the other child and inform them of the appropriate way to act (ie. hitting is bad, and your mom is totally crazy) and probably seek their parent, or at least confirm the parent is aware of what happened. Personally I would not grab another kid unless there was potential for serious injury (either by accident to themselves or purposefully inflicted on another). It just seems a hair too direct, or as somebody else said, "dicey".

That's all.

joe cMay 20, 2009 at 3:20PM

This made me feel awful. How's your son after all this? I hope he's not afraid to go back there or thinks every new kid wants to hit him.

It's too bad there weren't any other parents around to witness it and lay into her. What an awful woman. It's hard not projecting that on the kid too not as much for his action but for his apparent glee from it.

Solution: I dunno. She sounds beyond shaming. Take her picture? Whatever you do keep her kid out of it. Or bring a bigger kid to clock her kid in his little face to show him what it feels like.

GraemeMay 20, 2009 at 3:30PM

Trust. That's really what is at issues here. Are you, a perfect stranger, although obviously a parent, trustworthy? Can I rely on you to act in the best interests of everyone involved, to balance the needs of my child with the needs of your child, can I trust that you will be fair and reasonable? Or must I intervene and advocate for my child, since you cannot be trusted to deal with him fairly or effectively?

If I trust you, I am happy to have you intervene in our childrens' spat and do a little parenting. If I do not trust you, then I worry that you are going to abuse my child.

So, how do I feel about strange parents?

The default answer has changed over the last thirty years. It used to be that our default response was to trust other parents and assume that if they had intervened the way you did that it must be because our child had done something wrong. Now the default response is to treat the other parent with suspicion and react as though their intent was to harm our child.

My hope is that parents will continue to react as you did - in a manner designed to train our children how to live with others. There is a sense in which what you did was very generous - being willing to get a little bit involved in the strange child's life and help him to know what it means to live in a society with other human beings.

I also hope that other parents (including many who have already commented) will begin to realise that most, in fact almost all, strange parents are trustworthy and will deal with even very badly behaved children with the same kindness and firmness they would show their own children.

The alternative is that the circle of people we trust gets smaller and smaller and we all end up very sad and alone.

GaboMay 20, 2009 at 3:59PM

A handful of parents here have already stated the obvious, but I'll repeat it because I hope it'll help it sink in:

That kid was just modeling the behavior in his house. It's quite probable that the father hits the mother, the mother hits the older kid, the older kid hits the younger kid, and he finally found somebody he could pass that smack on to - your kid. The weird reaction of the mother makes that pretty clear.

If you see that kid again, look for bruises.

Maggie MasonMay 20, 2009 at 4:35PM

It was appropriate to touch the other child as much as you needed to in order to remove him, and I think it was smart to say something while you were doing it. However, I agree with Meg that I would have let the kid walk away when he tried to leave, then turned to Ollie to say, very loudly, "Did he hurt you? That was very surprising and strange, wasn't it? That's not how we act at the playground! Don't worry about him, you didn't do anything bad, maybe he's feeling angry about something else. You just keep on playing, Dad won't let it happen again." Verbally and indirectly is the only way I'd parent other people's kids, unless I'd had a direct interaction with their parents for at least few minutes, so I could gauge whether we had similar parenting philosophies.

Judging from the child's behavior and the mother's somewhat harsh reaction, I suspect she was projecting on you. She didn't jump in when her kid was being violent, and he may have known she wouldn't. Something strange is going on there.

That said, your anger could have been more visible than you realized, because someone whacking your kid gets your adrenaline flowing. You were right to shut her down like that, and there's no way police or anyone would have done anything to you unless there were witnesses there saying you had smacked the kid. I'm really sorry that happened. What an awful thing.

JeffMay 20, 2009 at 4:45PM

@Rob G. Unfortunately, touching another person's child is not seen as a positive thing by the authorities these days. Better safe than sorry. Don't touch.

@Bryan NYC is *not* the village you would like it to be (not even the Village is a village!). A "village" denotes a community where people know each other and have establish relationships. That woman and her child are not part of Jason's and Ollie's community and vice versa.

Luis OliveiraMay 20, 2009 at 4:59PM

Well, after 151 comments, I hardly I'll be telling you any needs:

1. No touching other people's kids. Ever. Period.
2. Some kids are mean. Some kids are born mean. It's not your problem to correct them. It's your problem to take your kids as far as possible.
3. Some parents are stupid. Some are just plain tired of their load. Don't judge. Just turn away.
4. Playground should be fun. Avoid everything that's not, including confrontation.

AzucarMay 20, 2009 at 5:01PM

I think you're remarkably well tempered. When a similar thing happened to my husband--he watched another kid deck our child in the face--the mother was told to never bring her child to that mother effing park again or he'd effing take care of the situation.

And that offending mother took the hint.

AzucarMay 20, 2009 at 5:06PM

By the way, on the touch vs. not touching, while you don't want to touch another parent's child, this is about defending YOUR child, which you have the responsibility to do.

My response to her would have been to control her child or others would do the controlling for her, including the police when he grows up to be a felon. I would have called her on her bluff to call the authorities and point out the other people in the park who could say that her child was hurting your child.

And then I would have called her stupid using lots of big words.

ClaireMay 20, 2009 at 5:25PM

Hmm, I don't have any kids, but when I was in pre-school, one of my classmates hit me, and I went home and told my mom. My mom volunteered at the pre-school a few days a week, and she went up to the kid (and I think she held the kid's arm) and told her to never hit me again. I'm not sure if that's the right response, but I went on to go to elementary school with the girl and she never hit me again, but, on the other hand, we weren't friends. Today, she is a doctor. :)

I'm also surprised by the amount of commenters who mention no touching--I was recently on the Upper West Side Barnes and Noble, and I (gently) moved a kid out of the way (he was about 2 or 3 and standing in front of the escalator), and I got totally reamed out by his mom. I didn't realize this was such a touchy (!) subject!

ClaireMay 20, 2009 at 5:30PM

Oh, and I was going to say, this month's O, the Oprah magazine, has a funny essay by Michael Lewis about his two daughters and how they stand up to bullies (and how he hid behind his newspaper instead of interfering).

AdamMay 20, 2009 at 5:36PM

You should have taken a picture of the mom and posted it TO PUBLICLY SHAME HER and her horrible parenting and social skills.

HaniMay 20, 2009 at 6:18PM

Some parents are just not qualified to be parents and the mom is obviously one such person. I feel for you but I have to agree with other commenters about touching another parent's kid.

I completely sympathize with the knot in the stomach feeling, I've felt it myself when watching my twin girls (3.5 yrs old) at the park, and all I can say is that you can only be responsible for yourself and your kids and watch out for them when you can, and teach them to watch out for themselves when they are able to. Hey, parenting is hard. Good luck.

Kip IngramMay 20, 2009 at 6:33PM

Ok, you may not have realized it, but you put your finger *right on* the nub of one of the biggest problems we have in our country today. You said that the mom could have called the police and had you arrested. The fact that we live in a country where you could even *think* that would happen is a problem. You did *nothing wrong*. No one in their right minds should think that you did, especially law enforcement.

We've gotten way to namby pamby in this country.

jillMay 20, 2009 at 6:39PM

I'm so sorry that you and Ollie had that experience. It sounds awful. Try not to feel badly about touching the other child; you didn't hurt him. That is the truth of the situation.
Beyond that, every parent has to figure out how to protect his or her own child. You will have more opportunities to learn about this, and you will figure out what you think is best. And then you will go with that.

JakeMay 20, 2009 at 7:04PM

Welcome to the depravity of the 21st century where the "I'm OK, you're OK" generation is now responsible for raising children; with all of their quirks and self worth issues I'm surprised parents these days are able to properly attach a diaper.

Perfect example: My younger cousin was being a little a-hole, my aunt (not his mother) grabs him and tells him to stop it, his mother freaks out on her own sister in front of the kid. This is a woman who has been around this child his entire life, is part of his family, being berated for correcting his misbehavior. Children are Pavlonian dogs, when they receive positive stimuli ("My aunt gets yelled at for correcting me!") they will continue to exhibit the behavior ("Being a little a-hole") which generated the positive stimuli.

By denouncing the correct action, the mother in the park and all of the posters in this thread who said you were wrong to touch the child are sending the message to their children that "You can be an a-hole to everyone and only I may correct it." In my experience, most children interpret this as "I can be an a-hole, and no one can do shit about it because the worst that can happen is I'll get some BS timeout and go right back to being an a-hole after 5 minutes."

Jason: you did the common sense thing to do, something more parents should do so that children can be taught to respect adults, learn to correct their mistakes and form some kind of socially acceptable behavior.

Just so everyone knows where I'm coming from, I don't have a child, I'm technically of the "Millennial Generation" (the one 60 Minutes derided as the laziest), but I do come from a large extended family (~30 cousins, all younger than me). I've seen most every mode of parenting and more often than not, the touchy-feely, granola, all organic, no-vaccines-for-my-little-prince idiocy that is in vogue nowadays creates more douches per year than Goodhealth.

Michael StröckMay 20, 2009 at 7:24PM

This discussion is really quite sad. Especially the sentiments that "it takes a village" and "other people's children should be completely off-limits" are worrying. Both are obviously a load of crap, and a cop-out.

Little children in the vast majority of cases simply DO NOT freak out when their arm is touched by a stranger - and rightly so! We tend to project our own phobias on those that we want to protect, but in most cases we're doing them a disservice. Touch is one of the most basic and common forms of communication. We are hurting children by teaching them that it's always a downright catastrophe if it's not coming from their parents.

And no, it does not "take a village". It takes the same as most other hard things in life: love, patience, humbleness, perseverence, curiosity, empathy and a level-headed approach to managing the (unfathomably small, in historical terms) risks that today's children are exposed to.

GeorgiaMay 20, 2009 at 8:04PM


This comment is going to be controversial, so I'm going to give it a "take it or leave it" label:

You should teach Ollie to stick up for himself, or this will become a pattern of weak behavior that recurs throughout his life. (I'm not suggesting you put him through a gamut of Rocky-style training. I'm suggesting you teach him to stand up for himself. Push back, etc.)

Sheri BheriMay 20, 2009 at 8:37PM

"Don't touch anyone else's kid" does NOT equal "Don't discipline anyone else's kid". Jason, if you haven't mastered the art of Angry Eyes - you'd better get crackin'! I think you were totally right to stop the bully from slapping Ollie. But you can't touch anyone else's kid. You can yell "NO! STOP IT!" and make Angry Eyes, but absolutely no touching.

Sorry guys, but especially not a MAN touching a stranger's child. My husband won't even push neighbour kids on the swings - hands TOO close to little bums. It sucks, I know, but the ramifications of false accusations are just TOO scary.

BrianMay 20, 2009 at 9:44PM

Hey. I like the reference to the classic ABC (Another Bad Creation) song ;-)
My 2 cents on the situation. Rule 1, don't touch other peoples kids unless you're saving their life.

I'm a big guy and have a deep voice that when raised has caused little kids to shake in their shoes or even break into tears. I don't want to hurt kids, but a loud voice can be as effective as a quick swat. Also, remember, negative reinforcement is usually best when it is unexpected. The shock (and resulting brain chemicals) helps reinforce the message.

Skinner or Pavlov?

MarkMay 20, 2009 at 9:49PM

Sheri, I'm a father of two young children, the oldest sounds to be about the same as Ollie, and you're spot on. Some of my friends have gotten anything from evil glares to all out screaming just from playing with children whose parents didn't know him. Some of the children in my son's daycare are very sweet and curious about other children's parents, and they talk to me or sometime even ask for a hug. I try to keep an arm's length between us, especially when other parents are there. If I play with them, it's rolling a ball or handing them a toy with an outstretched arm from a shelf.

The situation is unfortunate, but you just never know how other parents will react (when you don't know them). I'm probably just perpetuating the state of things by reinforcing it, but in today's litigious society it's better safe than sorry.

AndyMay 20, 2009 at 10:30PM

You did the right thing. Quit second guessing yourself and move on. You protected your son from getting hurt. Screw that other mom.

JasonMay 20, 2009 at 10:45PM

I have two girls. They are both young (3, 5) and have been in similar situations in which kids bully (or try to.) Thankfully my wife and I have the same philosophy -- upon first signs of unrest, we ask the kids to try to work it out. Then, if there's danger, we have no hesitation to intervene. And when we remove our girls from potential danger, we personally don't interfere with the other child. It may take a village, but we also know people can be sensitive (as you found).

We desperately try not to judge someone else or their kids (not always easy, especially when protecting kids!). You never, ever know what's in play.

Works for us, but not for everyone.

NidalMay 20, 2009 at 11:39PM

Jason, you acted correctly and well within your rights...yet there seems to be confusion in some the responses which i feel the need to clarify: one thing is to grab the arm of a toddler walking away and another entirely is to employ revenge on a small child. There was no evidence of violence in your actions; rather, your response as a concerned parent showed you still believe in fairness, civility and humanity - a concept that apparently escaped the mother and too many others. No, you did not go too far at all..

Yet i understand that, in a country where individualism is celebrated at such an absurd level and litigation is such a commonly drawn weapon even in the simplest of altercations, you had little choice but to back off.

This other child will not be scarred, physically nor psychologically; the mother will huff and puff for a while wasting her energy away on the trivial rather than educate her child; and you Jason, in utter disappointment, will toss this experience around in your thoughts until you're left with one of two options: protect Ollie and become a reflection of the paranoia which is American society OR be a father in whichever way you best define that role.

JenMay 21, 2009 at 12:31AM

From the comments I can tell you have more male readers than female. What's interesting is that most of the guys/dads felt it was ok to touch the child. As a mom of a 2 year old I have to strongly disagree and that might be different because I am a mom but I would never touch another person's child. I just wouldn't. Like you said, you couldve been arrested and what would have happened if it was the Dad and not the Mom at the playground with the child. Yes it does take a village to raise a child but unfortunately that is not the world we all live in.

Ibod CatoogaMay 21, 2009 at 1:54AM

Bitch slap that ho! And then the kid, too!

whypatcondellisntfunnyMay 21, 2009 at 6:57AM

Never. Ever. Touch another parent's child unless, as someone already mentioned above, you are saving their life. End of story.

I think in this case moving in to block the smacking and intervening at that point was fair enough, as you physically could not remove your child easily from the situation. But as others have said, once the kid tried to get away and you stopped him, that was the line that perhaps I would not have crossed. Though I totally get that you were trying to make a rational point to the kid, 3 year olds don't behave or think in a rational manner and you should maybe chalk it up to experience.

From what you say there was no violence or malice intended on your part, but as a father myself I would be asking questions if someone grabbed my child in the park (but then I wouldn't let my child smack another repeatedly in the face, or any other situation where a stranger would need to intervene before I could!).

If the kid's mum was paying attention, saw what her kid was doing and let it happen, then clearly you are dealing with someone who does not have normal views about acceptable behaviour, and in such a scenario, leaving the area is probably a wise move.

Personally, I don't even bother with any of the kiss-and-make up if the other parent is not immediately to hand and willing to take part. As you have discovered, other parents have different ideas with regard to acceptable behaviour for a child and all you can do is protect your own kid as best you can.

Mic EdwardsMay 21, 2009 at 9:08AM

Necessary and proportionate is the test.

What is more concerning is the "premeditated" violence from the child, clearly violence has been rewarded or not dealt with before!

In my experience, the only parents who believe that another parent is going to hurt their child are the ones who believe it is okay to hurt a child.

But yes, you live in a screwed up country when you have to worry about the consequences of this.

ZachMay 21, 2009 at 9:42AM


You handled this correctly. If my son or daughter were hitting another child and I saw him/her doing this and the father/mother of the attacked child stopped by son/daughter from continuing his behavior by physically stopping him, I would consider this correct behavior and apologize to you and your child. I don't think it's the fact that I am a man that makes me think this way (is it because the mother of the attacking child is a woman that she allowed such violence to occur?).

Clearly this woman has no control of her son. Sometimes we need to step in in situations like this. To have an ironclad "law" ("You never touch another person's child!") in a situation like this is what has lead, (for generations, not just recently) to some of the 17-year-old high school students I interact with on a daily basis as a teacher to refuse to respond to reasonable requests to amend their behavior. I don't advocate hitting children ever, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with stopping your child from feeling pain (and imagine the emotional toll this could have taken on your son if it had happened when one of the above people had allowed it to happen until his mother stopped it!)

If this happened in my classroom (between, say, two 9th grade girls), I would not hesitate to stop the attacker by holding her arm back. I'm sure I would catch heat from the girl and her parents (inevitably, a child who would hit another child without provokation comes from a home where they have been told the world is their oyster, etc.), but I would still not hesitate. It's the people who say you were wrong to stop the kid who create kids like him, in my opinion.


raulMay 21, 2009 at 9:49AM

I've been in this situation many times. If some kid is hurting a younger or otherwise more helpless kid, I have no problems stepping in (The other day I jumped in and neither kid was mine because I the younger kid was legitimately going to be hurt.) With most kids a sharp word and look will send them scampering, but some kids are just Neanderthals. I was recently out with my kid when a four year old in my other son's class came up and, unprovoked, whacked him with a stick hard enough to knock my 2 year old down. Then the older kid started hitting my son in the legs repeatedly even after I called out. I ran over and grabbed the stick out of the older kid's hand and said , "what do you think you're doing?!" The older kid just smiled and ran back to his mom who did nothing and then told me to "step off" her son.

Kids I think are naturally amoral. They will take advantage of younger/weaker kids by instinct. You'll be shocked when your own son hits some other kid one day, but it's our job as parents to set examples and tame these impulses. All this 'never touch a someone else's kid' stuff especially in this context above is PC nonsense that leads to an over precious view of children, encourages bad behavior, and leaves them overempowered. If we're ever at a park and my kid decides to hit your kid, your kid, grab his arm and tell him to back off. Please. I encourage it.

ZachMay 21, 2009 at 9:57AM

Well-said, Raul.

jkottkeMay 21, 2009 at 11:28AM

Thanks so much for your emails and comments. Lots of interesting viewpoints and there were several aspects of the whole thing I hadn't considered, particularly the role that gender may have played in my interaction with the mom.

Several people mentioned that the arm grabbing was inappropriate and that I should have somehow inserted myself in between Ollie and the kid or pushed the kid out of the way. But with toddlers and little kids, grabbing ahold of an arm is not the hostile gesture that it might be between two adults. It's more for their safety than anything. You can't just push a toddler out of the way, no matter how gently...they might fall over backwards and that makes the situation worse. With a firm grasp on the arm, you can redirect *and* keep them safely on their feet.

Again, thanks for the comments.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.