Playground & Park Etiquette

Parent Q&A

  • Playdates at parks inclusion

    (4 replies)

    When we're at parks with a friend, sometimes a third child will want to join. Sometimes my child and her friend are okay with it, but sometimes not. I don't know how much to force it. I feel bad for the other kid, but I also feel like it's just a playdate and they should be able to play with each other. It only gets more awkward when we kind of know the other kid. We've also been on the other side of it too. My child has seemed to accept it when the kids run off with each other or say no, but I know she's disappointed. What do you do? They're all early elementary school aged. Is there wording I should be teaching for inclusion or exclusion? Should I push inclusion more when they do know each other? I also know that this will be come back on them when the rejected child sees my child next...ouch. Signed, overthinking parent

    RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

    That is a tricky situation that I have observed with my kid, primarily as the odd one out. My son (now 7) has always been an outgoing kid who enjoys playing with everyone and is not shy approaching other kids and playing with them. I observed this often when he was age 2-5 and we would go to playgrounds or Kindergym a lot.

    I noticed that with sibling groups (or sometimes nanny share groups or best friend groups), there was a tendency for them to kind of team up and tell my son he couldn't play with them. And not in a way where they were objecting to something he was doing, i.e. he wasn't being rough or rude or anything. It was tricky because my value that I taught my son was that in a public place, anyone is allowed to play; you can't exclude a kid from part of the playground just because that kid is not related to you or one of your friends. However, I can't force other children to subscribe to my values, especially if their parents support exclusion. I would just take deep breaths and remind myself that these kids were in fact preschoolers who would learn soon enough in kindergarten that yes they have to share the playground with everyone and no they're not entitled to sit next to their best friend all the time.

    As it turns out, my son is very adaptable and generally found ways to interact positively with exclusionary kids so that they warmed up to him and the next thing I knew, they'd all be playing some game together. He still is this way.

    If the kids in question are already in elementary school, then they almost certainly have heard about inclusion in the classroom. I would highly doubt your child's teacher actively supports exclusion of other children. Perhaps your child's teacher can tell you what kind of language the school uses about inclusion so that you are using consistent terminology.

    In short, public playgrounds are public. Your living room is a better place for exclusive time.

    RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

    It so depends on the situation and the game being played.  I have two very social kids (early elementary) and my youngest is a very shy preschooler and we often do playdates in playground with their friends and sometimes just my three kids.  I personally don't intervene unless there is violence, harsh words exchanged, etc. (though so far I only intervened once when a bigger kid was being mean to my preschooler and it escalated fast so I intervened as it looked like my older son was about to hit him in little brother's defense).   Kids need to learn to navigate playgrounds on their own and learn the pros and cons of inclusion and exclusion, how to play with other kids, and how to make their wishes known to others and navigate the social scene.  I will never make my kids play with someone they don't want to (unless it is a kid they invited for a playdate and changed their mind or it is a guest in our house) but I will make sure my kids are polite about it.  There is a difference between excluding a child from a public space (i.e. telling another kid you cannot play on slide or be in the sand box because I'm here with my friend) which is not ok, and just deciding not to include another kid in a game (i.e. if my kids are playing a game with a friend and another kid wants to join, it is up to them whether to include him/her or to tell him that maybe another time as long as they are not occupying any specific space, in which case if they want alone time they need to move).  Often my older son will be playing with my preschooler who is very shy and another kid will want to join and my son often tells him no since if another kid joins my little one will often stop playing as he is very shy with strangers and loves time alone with big brother; there is nothing wrong with that as long as other kids still have space to play, access to playground premises/equipment and are told in a nice way that right now they want to play alone but maybe another time.    

    RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

    We've had a very similar experience with our daughter (7yo) as the previous poster. She'd like to play with everyone at the playground - classmates, kids she doesn't know, toddlers, whoever - and will play with pretty much anyone who approaches her. She's been rejected plenty of times but she's resilient. She now mostly doesn't bother approaching kids in who are already in pairs; instead she seems to have a superpower of identifying the one kid in a crowded space who will want to play. 

    To the point though... Early elementary friendships are really fluid. Especially if your child and their friend know another child who is at the park, I think it serves all of them to be inclusive. In a week or two it's going to be a different pairing at the park or at school recess and someone who used to have a buddy will be feeling left out. Modeling inclusion when it's within your control (your kid's playdate and you are there supervising) sets the expectation that everyone be included when you're not there to guide it too. As noted, you can't do much about it when you're not in charge of that day's "in crowd." But I still think it's worth it to push inclusivity when you have the standing to do so.

    Different story altogether if its a playdate in a private space; no need to invite a third kid to your house because they saw your kid + friend walk in the front door. But I agree that the public park is public: everyone can play there.

    RE: Playdates at parks inclusion ()

    Hi, I think it depends on the situation a lot. Are they actively excluding or just not including? Are they playing tag or something easy for a group, or did they bring a 2-person game or each bring a toy where if a third kid played, one of them wouldn't get to?

    Some ideas: I've tried to get my kid alone for a moment and ask him how the other kid feels, and what do you want to do about that? One time my kid and his friend were hiding from another kid and being rude, and I pointed out how the excluded kid felt, asked him to look at her face and what do you think she's feeling, and do you think she'd feel better if you said you're sorry? And then he wanted to say sorry and be nicer, because he had just gotten caught up in the fun of running away from her with his friend. Then he was nice and inclusive. Actively excluding and being rude are I think worthy of intervening in some way, but not necessarily forcing the issue -- just teaching politeness in the same way you wouldn't let your child be rude in other settings. Another idea I have done is to model the inclusion. Like, I give the other kid some attention and maybe play a little and show that we can include that kid, and then the other kids will usually start playing together. Or I try to have us all play, and then I bow out and they keep playing together. Another option is to let them do whatever (as long as not really bad) so you're not hovering (esp if children are old enough to play without direct supervision), and speak with your kid later about the situation as a teaching opportunity. I think you can also teach your child to compromise, like if he/she specifically came to the park to play something with one other kid, your kid could tell that to the third child and say we can play with you in a little while but right now we're doing this (or vice versa -- we'll play with you a little while, but then we want to do this just the two of us because it was our plan and we didn't know you'd be here to play with). 

    Ok, I just asked my 5-year old what to do in this situation, and he said you should play with the other kid, even if you have a toy - let them take a turn. And if there was a special secret thing, play with them first and then do whatever you're doing after. He says, "There can be a grownup solving the problem, but sometimes it won't work so a kid would be easier because the grownup might make the problem worse (because then the kids fight or are mad because they are forced to be together)." 

    One thing I do when I'm not sure of what to make my kid do is to think of an analogous adult situation and what I'd do. Like, what if you meet a friend at a cafe and you see someone you know - you don't have to invite them to join your table but you wouldn't say "go away" either. And if they sit down or ask to sit down, you make them feel welcome, but if you had planned to discuss something private, like your friend's marriage, you might say after catching up for a while that they two of you had some business to discuss that we should probably get back to but it was so nice to run into you, glad we could catch up, etc. And then I think, Ok, so kids should probably be inclusive always unless there was something special they wanted to do only together, in which case they should do some of that and some of the other kid playing. 

    Hope this helps!

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  • Unsure how to handle older children with my toddler

    (11 replies)

    I’m a first time, stay at home parent. My son is 19 months old. I’ve noticed lately that some older children push him around and their parents don’t get involved. I’d love advice for how to deal with this. 

    Two recent examples. At the park a ~6 year old

    repeatedly taunted him calling him a “baby” and blocked his path so he felt trapped. At a children’s museum a ~4 year old pushed him away from an exhibit he was playing with and took it over. 

    In both cases I was close by but didn’t know how to react. My son was upset and I comforted him. What would you do? I’m not sure how I should use this as a teaching moment for my child. And, at what point do I say something to another child or parent?

    I was first thinking this happens since 19 month old should be supervised closely and protected against older toddlers/preschoolers, but the age of the "older child" is concerning.  Frankly a 6 year old should know better.  I am not surprised the parents did not do anything, they likely did not notice, as very few parents closely supervise their 6 year old on a playground.  I watch my school aged kids to make sure they remain on playground but don't pay close attention unless someone is crying/falls/or gets my attention, since my attention is focused on my 2 year old.  My kids are very gentle with younger children and even though they will get into fights and confrontations with other kids their age (it happens to most kids), I would be shocked to see them be rough with a baby or such a young toddler.  If it was an accident, I would ask the older kid to be careful, if on purpose I would tell him that your son is a baby and he/she should be more careful around him, not hurt him, and wait his turn.  If that does not work, I would loudly say ("excuse me, who is this boy/girl's parent?") and then go talk to the parent.  I have done that before when a kid was very aggressive and as mean as it sounds, it is not my job to discipline other parents' kids -- I'll first try to explain to the kid once and re-direct but when that fails or keep happening I go and get the parents involved.  

    I wouldn't hesitate to speak to a child that was acting poorly toward my toddler. And by speak to a child, I mean speak for your toddler: "His name is Adam. He's not really a baby anymore and he wants to play, too. Would you please share the path?" or "Excuse me. Please don't push him. He's having his turn."

    I have both a 4 and 6yo and admit, I'm much less on top of them at the playground/park these days because they need that freedom to play, too. But certainly not at the expense of your child so I wouldn't take offense if you spoke to them in this way. And if they weren't respecting you or your son's wishes, I'd certainly thank you for bringing it to my attention. 

    I truly feel your concern. Although my kids are much much older now, I faced such situations in the past, especially since they were relatively shy girls. I decided to stay very close to the girls and speak directly to the older kid (and for all to hear) things like  'no, it was her turn to play now' or 'please wait for your turn'  or 'could you please move out of her way'. It usually worked. 

    I am dismayed that parents of older kids in a mixed age setting sort of let go of supervision and assume they are 'fine'. It happens all the time and I am sensitive to this too. Some of this behavior when repeated and unchecked, perpetuates to 'bullying' later in life, and we would not want that.  

    When I had my first kid I was pretty shy about telling other kids what to do, but I got over it quickly! There are a lot of kids out there who just don't know how to act and don't have anyone telling them "no." I'm all for letting kids sort things out for themselves when they're all the same age/size, but at 19 months you are definitely within reason to model strong behavior for him by gently but firmly saying to the other kid things like, "He was using that," "You can have a turn after him," "Please wait for your turn," "Please be gentle with smaller kids," and other forms of "what you're doing is not okay." Give him a chance to try to solve it first, but it will help him learn to advocate for himself to see how you handle things. I was always very polite, definitely didn't touch the other kid, but I didn't take no for an answer, and I wasn't above asking kids where their grownup was - usually just the mention of that was enough to make most kids shape up, although you'll still meet some kids who just truly don't care. In that case, you can play with your toddler to provide a buffer from the aggressive kid.

    Ugh. I’m sorry outward going through this. In this day and age of helicopter parents are those parents not hovering nearby? I would totally intervene (“Excuse me, I’m sorry, no he had that toy first/can you please let him by he’s a baby.... You can wait your turn/share etc.” loudly enough as a- a way to model self-advocacy to your child and b- embarrass those parents for not managing their kid better. I suppose you should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t observe the behavior. 

    I’d be mortified if my kids acted like that. 

    Those "older kids" are still little kids and you don't need to say anything to them or their parents. Simply protect and empathize with your child. The six year old name calling and blocking, simply go over there and help your child navigate away from the other child either by picking him up or taking his hand and leading him away and empathizing: "You seem upset by that other child. Let's play somewhere different ". For the 4 year old who pushed in, empathize with your child: "you were there and the other kid wanted a turn. He pushed you and you didn't like that."   

    In these situations I think it's fine to admonish the other child. For example, "Please stop teasing and blocking my son" and "Excuse me, my son wasn't finished, can you please wait your turn?" It can be uncomfortable, but it's important for your child to see you standing up for him while he's still too little to do it for himself. If the behavior continues after you say something, I think it's fine to look around and ask in a raised voice, "Who is here with this child?" and then speak to the adult, calmly explaining, for example, "My son would like to play here but your child is blocking him, can you help us please?"

    Not sure if this is right thing to do, but what I do with my two year old, since he hasn't "learned" to stand up for himself yet or what to do in these situations, I stand up for him so he can see how to appropriately deal with difficult situations. For example, my son was "pushed away" while playing with a steering wheel at the park so I stepped in and said, excuse me, my son is in the middle of playing with this, when he is done it will be your turn and navigate my son back on the toy and the other kid off. Of course if my son is monopolizing the toy, then after a period of time you would say you have had your turn and this child is patiently waiting for his turn so now it's time to do something else etc. My opinion is that you want to show him the behavior/what he should say/how he should react that you would want him to take so then he can learn and model it later. I've found its easy to step in right away since the older kid knows he did the wrong thing and that he can't get away with it just because your kid is younger. That's what I do at least but I'm curious to hear what other people do too.

    It’s so hard! I like Janet Lansbury’s respectful parenting blog for stuff like this, she has a couple of podcasts on helping your child navigate social situations without too much hovering or letting your own indignation influence the interaction, etc.  

    At the playground, you just go up to the six year old and say something like, "That doesn't seem like a nice way to treat a little kid. Can you be nice instead?" If his mom comes over and gives you crap, you go, "Oh! There you are. I thought he was here alone, since nobody seemed to notice he was teasing my kid." 

    At the museum, you just move on, because people are impossible sometimes. 

    I think a good rule of thumb is to speak to the older child the way you would want your own child spoken to - because he will be a 6 year old playing in a playground with younger kids one day (sooner than you think) and may also need to be reminded about how to behave towards littler kids! 

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  • Older kid bothering toddler in playground

    (18 replies)

    How do you handle when an older kid is aggressive or snatching toys from a toddler on playground?  I was in a playground with my 2 year old and 7 year old.  My 2 year old was playing and walking around with his "outside lovey soft toy" and my 7 year old was playing and helping the little one while I monitored from the bench.  This 5 year old kid (said he was in K) approached my son and snatched the lovey from him pushing him to ground, my 7 year old jumped in between them and snatched it back to give to the now crying toddler.  I of course ran over to ensure this does not end up in a fight if big brother decides to stand up for baby brother.  I took the lovey and gave it to the toddler and told the other boy that it is not nice to snatch toys away from a baby and that it is his special lovey and he cannot share it since it is his comfort object.  The kid turned around and walked away.  I turned to return to the bench and made two steps when my son calls me -- I see my son standing between my toddler and the other boy as he is trying to take it away again.  I was annoyed but told my older son to go play and that I'll watch the baby and stayed within arm reach.  I saw the other kid watching and he tried to go for the lovey when my son was on the playing structure pushing him -- I rushed and grabbed for my toddler before he fell off the structure.  At this point I had enough and asked loudly who this boy belongs to and who is watching him because he is being very aggressive toward my son and I would like some help (I likely would have let it go if he was just being active and bothering all kids or just bothering my older kid who can stand up to himself, but he was intentionally picking on the little toddlers while he wisely gave my 7yo son and the other older kids on the playground a wide berth and did not as much as push any of them).  This girl who looked to be about 8 or 9 says that it is just her and her brother in playground (she is watching him!) and that her mom is home but is really close by.  I told her to please control her brother, told her what happened and told her to make sure she tells her mom as what her son is doing is very dangerous to the little kids.  I also told her nicely that she should tell her mom that another parent might not be so nice (especially if he hurts a baby) and that another parent might call the police since her brother is young, unsupervised and is being aggressive toward younger kids.  I am all for independent kids and it is non of my business how these kids are supervised as the older girl did appear responsible and she said they lived in one of the houses whose backyard neighbors the playground, but a kid who is this aggressive toward little kids (he was being tough with all little ones not just my toddler) cannot be in the playground unsupervised and leave it to the other parents to deal with him.  Another parent told me I should have called the police since the kids are there all time unsupervised and he is always like this, but since my son did not get hurt I did not want to resort to it and the older girl did seem very sweet and she tried (with very little success) to control her brother. We go to that playground often and I might encounter him again. Is police the right step here the next time?  What else can I do? No parent is ever there :(

    Wow that's a tough situation. I'm (also) feeling compassion for the 2 kids being left unsupervised. If it were me, I would first ask the girl to take her brother home to tell her parent what's happening, that he's endangering other children. Maybe ask her to ask if her parent will come out to talk with you. 2nd, depending on the girl's response, and the building (house or apartments), I might consider knocking on the door and talking to the parent. But I wouldn't want to put myself and especially my child/ren in an unsafe or insecure situation. You really have no idea who's behind that door. Sounds like he's acting out and needs his mom or dad.

    Wow, what a tough situation. I think you've done everything right so far. Two things I would try before calling the police. First, the next time the child bothers your toddler, take him by the arm (gently, but so he can't run away), get down to his level, get your face close to his, and say very firmly, "Stop hurting my son right now. This is not allowed. If you don't stop I will find your parents or call the police. Do you understand?" Next, if it continues, I would ask the sister to show you where her house is and try to talk directly with the parent(s). Assume the best, although obviously it is not good these parents are not supervising children this young in public, they may be truly unaware that it is a problem. As a last resort, yes I would call the police or child protective services, although know that it might not change anything except to anger the parents who live nearby the park you frequent. Hope you have a good outcome. 

    I fully understand your determination to keep your child safe.  But I'd respectfully suggest that going straight from "That 5-year-old is bothering my younger child" to calling the police is a pretty huge jump.  There are often all kinds of unintended consequences once the authorities are involved, and it just seems like a nuclear response.  How about asking the older girl to take you to her house so you can talk to her mom?  Or (as matter-of-factly as possible) insisting the 5-year-old sit on a bench with you until he can leave the littles alone?  This boy sounds like he really needs help with his behavior.  Surely there's a way to try to help him get it that doesn't involve the police, and keeps your child safe.

    Did you consider calling the police out of concern for those two other kids or out of revenge against a 5 year old?  Are we now calling the police on children?!

    I am glad you didn’t. Do you realize all the problems you could have caused that family over something like this?  The police should only be involved for really dangerous adult issues that cannot be resolved among themselves.  Using the police to tattle tell is not mature or responsible.  

    Im sorry if my email seems harsh; we have seen for a while now all the horrible things that can happen to nice people when the police gets involved. A better solution would be to go to their place and talk to the parents (but only if you are concerned about those kids). Otherwise, just watch your baby, as you were doing, and help him deal with issues like that one. The world is not always perfect. 

    I would not call the police unless I felt the children themselves were in actual danger.  Assuming the mother is in fact home in the nearby house, and the older sister is there, I would not feel like they were in danger as of yet.  In these situations I would try to respond the way I hope others will to my child.  I really believe in the "it takes a village" approach, and when my 4 year old is being overly rambunctious and I don't catch it, I sincerely appreciate the adults who step in and say,  "That's not safe" or "That's not how we treat other people."  It's important to come at it from a place of kindness and teaching, just as you would with your own child, instead of a place of protecting your kid from the "bad" kid (although I know that's hard!).

    I would attempt to correct the child's behavior more firmly myself, and if that didn't work I would ask the older sister to take me to their house and I would ring the doorbell and say something like, "Hi, we are often at the playground with your children, and although your daughter is lovely and is trying to look out for her little brother, he has been having a really hard time being kind and safe towards the little kids.  I know that you wouldn't want him to hurt any of the babies, so we came to let you know." I would do all of this with a bright smile and the conviction that I would want to know if my own child were behaving like that.

    If that conversation didn't address the problem or if I suspected actual neglect after meeting the mother, then it might be time to think about involving the authorities.

    Do not call the police.  Think through that course of action, and honestly ask yourself:  do you think the child should be arrested?  Do you think the parent(s) should be arrested?  Do you think the parent(s) should be reported to child services?  When you yourself say you are all for independent kids and it is none of your business how they are supervised?  Instead of calling the police, you do exactly what you did do, which is supervise your own children and protect them as needed.  That is your job as the parent at the playground with your two-year old.  It means you can't just chill out on the bench, sure, but, c'est la vie.  Lots of parents don't get to just chill out on the bench; it's not some right you have.  If you really need a bench-chilling situation (been there!), sounds like you need to find a different park or go at a different time. I'm really baffled that calling the police is even being considered as a possibility, so I wonder if you've left out some details or if there is something else going on here.  The most I would do -- if there really was some truly dangerous situation and me doing my job as the parent of a two-year old at the playground was not enough -- is ask the older girl to show me which house is theirs, then walk over there, ring the doorbell, and let the other parent know about the problem.  If you were the other parent, wouldn't you want to know?  

    Sorry you and your family had to go through this! I have a 2 year old myself so I totally relate to what you are talking about. I see two different issues here. In dealing with how to stop older kids from being aggressive with your 2 year old, I think you and your son were handling it well. When it comes to kids conflicts I try to let them work it out themselves when they are similar in age, but if any older kid picks on my son, I usually put myself in between them and say " I won't let you do that" and add whatever it is they are trying to do. I do the same to my son if he tries to take something for someone younger as well. And if it continues I try and figure out who the parent/guardian is and talk to them about what is going on. The other issue is unsupervised children, and in my opinion there is no way that an 8 or 9 year old is capable of responsibly watching a 5 year old without adult supervision. An adult needs to either be able to see them or be within earshot of them, in case they need help. I might have asked the older girl to go get their mother and bring her back, so I could talk to her about what happened. This would let me see if an adult really was close by and available, and who knows maybe there is some good explanation. I hate to judge other moms without knowing the full story. If I did get to talk to her I would give her a heads up that I'm sure she has the best intentions but leaving them alone is putting them and others in harms way and  if they are unattended the next time I came I would call the police. I probably wouldn't have called the first time since you haven't observed a pattern, you would only be taking another person's word on that pattern (separate issue - if they've noticed this happening a lot why haven't they called the police??) but if you see it again I certainly feel you are justified in reporting it. All in all you handled it well, hope my thoughts help if you encounter it again.

    What a bummer.  It's always hard when an older kid messes with a younger one.  However, the kid is only 5, and I think calling the police on a 5-year old for what sounds like pretty typical playground behavior would be an extreme over-reaction.  Since the older sister is with the 5-year old, and you know their house borders the park and the mother is apparently home, I would ask the girl to either take you to meet the mother, or at least identify which house it is so you can go yourself.  Then go talk to the mom about the situation.  If you can't make any headway with her and this keeps happening, you could try calling Child Protective Services, since the 8-year old seems too young to be in charge of the younger brother.  We did that when a nearby family kept dumping their 5-year old unattended at the park across from our house and he kept asking strangers to take him home with them.  :(  Different situation, but CPS would be preferable to police.  Good luck.

    It seems inappropriate for an 8 year old to have the responsibility to supervise ("without much success") a younger sibling without parental oversight. 

    Child Protective Services seems to be the resource to call, especially as other parents have said they are "there all the time." As you point out, this is an injury/accident waiting to happen. As a retired pre-school teacher, I see this as the younger child needing boundaries and peer interaction, rather than unsupervised random encounters, which have a high potential for endangerment, himself and others. Call and express your concerns and experience, and thanks for seeing and expressing this as not okay.

    That sounds very upsetting for you!! My advice would be to keep doing what you are doing. Supervise your children and make sure they are safe. I would treat these kids the same as if the parent was there: Tell them to leave your children alone and help enforce that if they don't listen by getting in between your kid and them. If it just isn't working, call it quits and go home. Beyond the near term safety of your children, I hope you can have some empathy for this other family. These kids don't choose how they are parented and they are still very young. Calling the police on a five year old for pushing and taking a toy seems very, very extreme. Elementary aged kids alone at the park is not common today but was very common when I was growing up. Do you really want to get CPS involved and potentially break up this family without more evidence than that?  

    Hard situation, indeed. I understand your concern for your child's safety, but it seems very clear that these kids need help. When a 5-year-old displays this kind of behavior, he needs help. And, it is not the job of a 9-year-old to manage the challenging behavior of a younger sibling. Grown-ups should not be asking that of her (neither her parents, or any one else's parents). 

    I would be curious if others who have more experience with CPS have anything to say on that matter -- I think it can go either way.  If you get a great person, they could actually support the family. Or, it could be terrible.

    Appreciate many of the comments thus far.

    I agree with the person who said the child and family services would be the best call, however, since you don't know the children/family names or the residence address, CPS would have no way to follow up. In this case, a police call acts as a proxy for getting child and family services involved since they could be dispatched immediately to locate the children and the parents who are supposed to be watching them. Obviously you aren't calling the police on a 5 year-old, but to the situation where two small children are chronically neglected (and therefore also endangered).

    Are you kidding me. No, do not call the police and do not call CPS. You are an adult and can protect your 2 year old from a 5 year old. If you want to wait for the parent and talk to the parent, fine but this is a situation that you can handle on your own. CPS is a nightmare agency and the police are not there to help your toddler not get his toy snatched by another child. You are perfectly capable of stepping in, possibly repeatedly, and saying: do not take the toy. Help this child find something else. The playground is for everyone.

    you're going to get a lot of responses on this one.  That is a tough situation, and to be totally honest, I'm not sure how I would respond.  But I want to encourage you to see these two kids as part of your 'village.'  Clearly, their parent is not able to, or choosing not to, spend time with her kids and it sounds like the little one's behavior is attention-seeking.  If you have the capacity, give him positive attention.  Play with him, encourage your kids to share their toys with him, etc.  If his behavior is out of line, talk with him about it, which it sounds like you did.  If you feel that you need to speak with a parent, it sounds like the girl showed you where they live--go to the house and talk to the parent.  

    Also, while the kid's behavior is certainly annoying, it doesn't sound that different from what my son used to do.  He's very extroverted, sensory seeking, and basically wants to play with everyone but doesn't have great social skills.  He will often run up to a kid and grab something out of their hands just to see if they will pay attention to him and play with him.  He's not a mean kid, he just needs to learn (as all kids need to learn), and I get that its putting your kids in danger, so I would try to be right there with your kid to keep him safe.

    I don't think it is wrong to send kids to the park (alone) together.  This is something my parents did all the time.  the main difference was that the other parents/kids at the park all knew my family and who to talk to if I needed help or intervention on behaviors.  Today in age is not actually more dangerous for kids at the park alone, and I think we can get back to that 'village' feeling of helping each other's kids.  The parent may have many reasons for sending the kids alone.  There may be no other good options available due to cost.  There may be a baby sibling to care for.  It may be a parent who believes in children's inherent ability to be independent at the park, or someone from another country/area where this is normal.  Threatening a 9yo sister with calling the police is NOT APPROPRIATE.  Sharing snacks, toys, and gentle corrections is.  And if all else fails, talk to the parent.  And if all else still fails, find another park to play at.  

    A five and eight year old are old enough to be in a park alone, assuming there is no major street to cross. It is fine for you to set limits for the five year-old since his parents aren't there. You might need to stay close to your toddler in that situation and/or go to a different park if it is really stressful for you. Calling the police makes no sense for children's behavior. And unless there are other indications of neglect or abuse, (i.e. the children saying they are hungry, more than a day's worth of dirty, out after dark) there is no reason to call CPS. You might want to try having a conversation with the 5-year-old and see if you can connect.

    I want to explain to folks that CPS is not an agency you can dispatch in the moment. You also can't "call CPS on someone" without specific information about the child's name, or family's name, and address. CPS is not going to stake out the park. Also, please leave the older sibling out of it - obviously she is not old enough to be the babysitter so don't expect her to be. Just ask her and the 5 yo where they live, and march over there to ask the parent to come supervise their child because he's not able to play nicely with others. If you feel uncomfortable with that level of involvement, then that's your cue to avoid this park.

    Someone should call the police if there's a clear risk of physical harm to a child, and as you've described it, this does not rise to that level.

    The above is my advice as a county employee (CPS is a county agency) and a parent who has called CPS based on a comment made by a child in school that "my dad beat my brother so hard it left marks". Just as a fellow parent of young children, I would STRONGLY advise you to NEVER touch another child on the playground, or do anything that they could construe as a threat, because if they run back home and tell their parent you scared them, guess who looks very bad from a law enforcement standpoint?
     

    Original poster here.  Thanks for all the comments, it is very helpful and helped me feel less guilty about the situation.  As an update: the police was called a few days after what I described happened (not by me).  The kid hit and pushed and injured another toddler on the playground and hit the toddler's mom with a toy in the head because she tried to separate him from the toddler.  She started bleeding and another parent called the police.  The police arrived before the boy's mom did, so I guess they did not live as close to the playground as the kids made it sound.  I got there after the fact when the police was there and taking everyone's statements and felt really bad for not speaking up earlier.  Though it seems most of the responders here would not have called police either, so at least I know I acted reasonably by just getting my kid away from the situation and not calling authorities. And to clarify for the posters saying that even thinking about calling the police was ludicrous:  this is not a situation of a kid alone on a playground being active and taking away a toy (I can mange that), or even a situation of a 5 yo being unsupervised (as you said, none of my business), but this was a situation of a kid with some possible issues (cause I've seen active kids and this was not normal active but mean active) that is regularly aggressive toward little kids being unsupervised on a playground.  I'm sad for the kid and the family and for the little toddler who actually got hurt, but I'm actually happy the police is involved now, cause I was really worried that the next time another toddler might not have a mom who reacts fast enough or understands the danger quickly enough and the toddler could be injured a lot worse.  Not sure what happened, but in the last few days the kids have not been on the playground and hoping that when they are back the boy will be supervised going forward. 

    To the original poster, thank you for the update. 

    I read all the responses and I think it's really unfortunate so many people shamed you for considering calling the police. I was also glad so many people encouraged you to first try finding and speaking with the parents. But honestly, I don't think calling the police is so insanely unreasonable as a last resort. In my view, regularly sending a five year old to a park with zero adult supervision is neglect. I don't know if it meets the legal standard for neglect, but that's the point - someone with authority needs to figure that out, and if the parents can't be located, who else is a person supposed to call?

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  • Restrictions on food for park birthday parties

    (16 replies)

    My son had his 5th birthday party in a park near a playground and we had an issue that I'd like opinions on for the future and what others do as I know park birthday parties as very common.  My son has invited his friends to the party and 3 of the boys had severe allergies.  They are close friends so I accommodated these allergies and all of the food was safe for them to eat (and approved by their parents).  None of these boys had a nut allergy and the moms said nut was ok so the cake and one of the other desserts had nuts in them.  The food was restricted to the tables only and kids did not take food onto the play area.  The boys were playing on the playground with some other kids there and when it was time of cake invited the other kids they met in the playground to join them for cake, which I was ok with (as we got enough for all kids and adults and adults never eat cake so there was plenty extra).  I insisted that all of the boys ask their moms permission to join us for cake (they all looked to be 5 to 7 years old range) and asked the moms about any allergies.  One of the moms said her boy was allergic to nuts so I told her that I'm sorry but our cake has nuts in it and I can serve her boy fruit but I was not looking out for nuts when I was choosing snacks for the party as I was focused on other allergies so don't know if her boy can safely have any of the other snacks.  She said nuts is the main allergy out there and I should not have nuts in birthday party food as now her son is going to miss out and cannot eat the cake.  She left with her boy soon after; the other boys joined the party as they received permission.  I know there are a lot of allergies out there and I am always careful to accommodate the allergies of my guests as much as possible, but do people really accommodate all allergies even if none of their guests have it.   I understand that her son was disappointed not to have cake and I talked to my son about not inviting kids he does not know to join us for cake/food until I ask their mommy if it is ok since if the mom says no they will be sad, but beyond that not sure if there is an unspoken rule I don't know about.  

    No, I don't think there is an unwritten rule about not serving food with nuts at parties at parks. That said, while that mom may have overreacted a bit (it is hard to have a disappointed child on your hands), it is true that with a 6 & 8 yo, I do not serve party food (regardless of where the party is) with nuts in it. Some allergies don't pop up until age 5-6, and I do not want to be the cause of someone having a reaction, anticipated or not. Your son's generous impulses sound very sweet, and I think the takeaway message you gave him (have mom check first before issuing the invite) is right on.

    With 1 almost-grown kid and 3 other grown kids, you can bet I threw a LOT of park birthday parties. While I did accommodate the allergies of the guests, and their siblings who often tagged along, I would never imagine that a complete stranger who upbraid you for that! You are not responsible for anyone's random kid who shows up, plus the mom most certainly should have come to you asking about nuts, and if she's a really great mom she'd have a stash of nut-free treats at the ready for just such an occasion. Sheesh

    I'm going to reprimand you for remotely thinking it's somehow your fault or responsibility to curate the happiness of a stranger's child in an outdoor setting. If the kid had a bird allergy and a bird in the park crapped on his head, that wouldn't be your fault either. You went above and beyond for those kids/parents who you invited. It was nice of you to kindly explain to this stranger-mother that there were nuts abounding, but again, it's NOT your problem. Before your next son's party, I suggest a quick coaching session wherein you tell him that only his invited guests are welcome to partake. Everyone else can go buy their own damn cakes. (OK, maybe don't phrase it that way, but this got me riled up.)

    Oh my goodness. Let me get this straight, a total stranger, who wasn't ever even invited, berated you for having a cake with nuts in it at YOUR child's birthday? People have lost their minds. No, there is no protocol. You were BEYOND gracious, especially in offering fruit as an alternative, to a total stranger who WASN'T EVEN INVITED and it is in no way your responsibility to worry about what everyone else in the world can eat. You were obviously thoughtful about your son's guests in accommodating their allergies. You know that old expression, "if you try to please everyone you'll end up pleasing no one."

    No unspoken rule at all. You went above and beyond. We can't anticipate the allergies of random kids at the park. 

    She's a random person at a park, expecting you to accommodate her kid's nut allergy: she's an entitled lunatic. 

    You were being kind! The proper response should have been, Thank you so much for offering, but unfortunately my son is allergic to nuts, so we'll have to pass on the cake. 

    I had to re-read your post to make sure I understood the scenario correctly. So a kid who was a stranger to you and your child but happens to be at a park at the same time as your kid's party, whom you and your child generously include in the party after your child happens to play with him, cannot eat your kid's birthday cake because it has nuts in it, and the mother is mad at you and thinks you're being unreasonable for making a cake with nuts? I hardly know how to respond to this except to think that mother must have mental health problems. The world has nuts in it (referring to actual nuts here, not people). Her child will have chance, unforeseeable close encounters with nuts. I can't understand how you could have been expected to anticipate a complete stranger with a nut allergy coming to your child's party and eating your cake.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat, yes, I think nut allergies should be accommodated in school and when a known party guest has an allergy. But no, the duty to accomodate should not extend to this situation. Sheesh. 

    I generally don't serve food to kids that has nuts in it because (1) that is a pretty common allergy; and (2) most kids I know--including my own--don't like many common nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds).  The other mom was very presumptuous, however, in lecturing you and creating a rule that birthday food can't have nuts.  Since your son just turned 5, you have years of class parties, birthday celebrations and sport team snacks to look forward to.  My advice (though it's not a rule) is to avoid nuts.  There is almost always going to be at least one kid who is allergic.

    I think you handled this correctly. The response to her complaint could just have been, "I'm sorry about that, but this is a private party." You have no obligation whatsoever to accommodate anyone other than your invited guests (and frankly how could you guess what other dietary needs the kids on the playground might have??)

    Figuring out what you can serve to a large group of young children that is tasty and safe and that falls within everyone's dietary requirements is a lot of work these days, and sounds as if you handled it beautifully.  It's entirely out of line for a stranger to scold you because you failed to anticipate the unknown allergy needs of random children at the playground who received a generous invitation to share cake.  Children might be unable  to eat wheat, dairy, sugar, palm oil, soy, chocolate, eggs, etc.  ... don't expect yourself to be psychic. The mother was very rude to shame you, and she set a poor example for her child.

    My nephew is severely allergic to almonds and certain other nuts. His parents are teaching him that it's his responsibility to ask what's in his food, and to be gracious and not make a big deal if he can't eat something.  The most important thing you did was to make sure the children had their parents' permission.  I'm just sorry one parent chose to have a temper tantrum centered on what a bad mom you are; please don't buy into her guilt-trip.

    You did everything the absolute right way and there is no reason for you to feel guilty. You were very thoughtful and thorough in checking about all of your guests possible food restrictions, and accommodating them. You aren't responsible for strangers that might unexpectedly traipse into your event.  That is the responsibility of those parents.  I am baffled that someone would make you feel guilty for that.  While using a public space, you were accommodating for your private party.

    I think if you accommodated the needs of your invited guests, that's all you need to do.  Beggars can't be choosers, as the saying goes.

    My kids' friends with severe allergies always brought their own treats for cake time. I always asked what I could have on hand for them to eat, and the parents always said they'd bring their own. It's prob the safest thing to do. I think it is gracious to be sure all guests can partake of the food, but it is hard and risky, given the number of possible allergies. 

    I think you're good. You did all you could to find out about and accommodate the allergies of the birthday boy and invited guests. You can't accommodate the kids you don't know about. I'm empathetic to that other mom because it is a heartbreak for her boy, and she probably felt for him, but they had zero claim to your party food. 

    Absolutely not, that mom was being ridiculous. You were kind enough to say that kids you didn't even know could come to the party, and this lady got mad because HER allergy wasn't accomodated? That's incredibly rude. My kid can't have dairy and was trained to ask and knows how to care for herself in the world. You did nothing wrong. Repeat: You. Did. Nothing. Wrong. 

    The unwritten rule is, don't expect strangers to accommodate your child's allergies when your son was not initially invited to the party.  That expectation on the part of the boy's mother was, if you'll excuse me, nuts. 

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions Related Pages

What should I do when my toddler grabs kids' toys?

Feb 2012

I'm new to this playground stuff (as a mom). What should I do when my 17 month old tries to grab other kids toys at the playground? For the most part, I try to redirect her, but sometimes there are so many around that she can't resist. Sometimes the kids share and sometimes they get very upset. Should I just let them hash it out or pull her away kicking and screaming?


Most kids that age don't have the skills to work things out. Maybe bring a toy of your own to offer the other child. If that doesn't help I think the right thing to do is get the toy back to the upset kid whose toy it is. been there


Hi- The way I handle it at a park is the same way I handle it at home, and I have 3 kids that are close in age and despite having a million toys, always seem to want the same thing!!

I intervene and remind them to use their words and not their hands. Ask the person who had the toy first if they could share it and the other one can have a turn with it when they are done (or in a few minutes). I then give a few minutes and say ''ok, time to share!'' I often model asking and have them repeat it (''will you give me turn when after you play for a few more minutes?''), so they can develop the skills on their own. At home if I see a tug of war happening, my kids know I will simply take the toy away for using hands, not words, but that isn't a solution at a park with other kids. I don't think letting them work it out by sheer will and force without learning to develop sharing skills is a great long term solution...it is absolutely rough to have to mitigate this for a what feels like millions of times, but when I see my older two (ages 7 and 4) doing it on their own with their 3 year old brother or friends, there is pay off! mama bear of 3


Bring a big net bag of toys. Dump them out when you get to the playground. Redirect your child to her toys. Or try to get the upset child interested in one of your child's toys. A toddler shouldn't have to fight another kid to get his own toys back, a parent should intervene. I loved the grandmas, nannies, and other experienced people who brought a ton of toys and shared them when I was at the playground without toys. anon


Hi. I think of the playground as a place to practice all that stuff. No one gets it quite right, but we keep trying. I think older kids are more willing to let a little one play with a toy - I used to explain ''he doesn't know how to share yet, because he's very little, can he play with your shovel for a little while?'' If not, I'd find a strategy for giving it back. You can also bring lots of toys, some to share and some for your little one to play with. Abundance seems to smooth over the bumps. It's good to let them work some of it out on their own, but I think you have to step in when your toddler grabs other kids toys. I recently saw some older kids yell and try to hit at a little one for grabbing their toy... Not a common occurance - but it's worth keeping a close eye on the interactions. I'm sure you'll find your way. nother momma


Other children, parents and care givers will appreciate it and welcome you and your child more IF you stay close to her when she is in a ''live toy'' grabbing mode and, you get her attention before she grabs the toy, or give the toy back to the other child after she grabs. The live toy idea was discussed by Barry Brazelton (sp?) in one of his great old books, i think. Kids are naturally drawn to want the toy that another kid is already using. They need to learn to take turns. It is especially exausting to help them learn it but it willserve you two well.

When my kid was in the play ground as a toddler other parents and i would often tell our kids and others that. '' Oh she is playing with that right now. She will be glad to give it to you when she is done. Would you like to play with this other toy while you wait?''. And then when she give it to the waiting formerly grabbing kid, the one doing the sharing is praised, as is the one who was waiting. ''thank you for sharing, ..and thank YOU for waiting your turn!''. Other grown ups will not feel comfortable taking a grabbed item out of your kids hands, but you can and you probably should do so. You should probably give the grabbed item back to the other kid and apologize and ask them to share it with yor kid when they are done. Ohhhmmmmm. Anon.


My response? Use your best judgement as each situation comes up. Pay attention (be a ''helicopter parent,'' like me! lol) and when she's steamrolling over someone else too much, intervene. It's also okay at this age to offer her something else as a distraction, if that might work to circumvent the inevitable melt-down over having you hand back the toy she just grabbed from someone...

Also, conversely, if she's occasionally grabbing from someone and the kid in question doesn't seem too phased by it, try letting it go. Still pay attention, but allow them to work it out. It also seems like an okay idea to occasionally try letting them ''work it out'' when the kid DOES get mad at her for grabbing. This will give her a chance to experience the response of her actions towards others. If she's naturally empathetic, this may help curb her behavior. If she's not (don't worry, that probably will come later for her), then she may not care about another kid's emotional pain (quite common! and this will be good for you to note as well.

In all of this please try to remain calm and keep your sense of humor -esp. when dealing with the other moms! It may blow your mind to find out how aggressive, critical, and judgmental some of the moms will be... But don't trip. We've all been there. If a mom unleashes her fury on you for not parenting ''right'' (ha!) try to blow it off and regroup somewhere else. Mamas can be ferocious when *protecting* their young.

Good luck on the playground! If I see you there, my daughter will be the one trying to hug your daughter the entire time while I gently explain to her that the other kids actually came there to play with toys... LOL

Mama of Over-Hugger


As a mom who brings toys to the playground, I expect that other kids might want to play with the toys we bring -- no problem. We only bring toys that we are ok sharing.

The issue about what to do when the kids aren't getting along on the playground (whether it is over a toy or anything else) is a separate issue altogether. At 17 months old, kids can't ''hash it out'' themselves and parental intervention is definitely needed. If my child wants to play with another child's toy, and it causes the other child to cry, then I will tell my little one that the other child was still playing with the toy and she needs to give it back. If I have to pick her up and play in another part of the playground (even if it makes her cry), well, so be it -- it is part of being a parent and setting boundaries.

The question you should ask yourself is whether you will be annoyed when the other parent steps in and corrects your child (since they do have every right to step in and protect their child from yours). If you don't want someone else to correct your little one, then yes, you need to do it even if your little one has a meltdown. Playground Mom


TOYS? To bring or not to bring to park?

June 2011

Curious about people's general feelings about bringing toys to the park or not. Do you like to bring toys or not? Fun or more trouble than it is worth? What challenges do you find? What is the playground etiquette? I usually like to bring some sand toys or trucks since the supplies at the park can be pretty scant. We are happy to share toys, but it can get awkward when it is time to leave and other kids are playing with toys that we are about to take. The post below Annoying kids with rude parents at the playground sort of covers the question, but most responses are directed at the mom being annoyed at the other parent, rather than on general advice about bringing toys to the park. Thanks! New to playground


My advice is to buy cheap toys you're not too attached to, and to put your child's name clearly on them with a Sharpie. If other kids are playing with them when it's time to go, try to give a little warning and then gently say ''Mary has to go now so she needs to pack up her toys.'' We never had a problem with this. The other parents generally were very helpful, in fact were often anxious to demonstrate that they knew the toys belonged to us and to make sure beforehand that it was okay to use them.


I have this dilemma too. If I don't bring the toys, my son wants to play with others'. If I do bring them, other kids want to play with my sons'! I usually wind up NOT bringing them, but only because that's the easy solution (fewer extra bags to carry, less to keep track of). However, on the days I do bring the toys, I don't really find it that much of a problem to get the toys back from the other kids. Usually a parent is around to help with the transition, and really, it is part of growing up -- learning to share, learning to part with things -- so maybe you are a doing a service to the other kids by helping them with this lesson. Playground Mama


I absolutely do bring toys to the park for my child to play with. My strategy is to either be protective of the toys and not let other children play with them and put them away when my child wanders away from them or to let my child share at their own comfort level and learn to get comfortable with taking toys away from other children when it is time to go.

Depending on the age of the child, I use a couple of techniques. A very young child who doesn't neccessarily understand about giving the toy back will always have a caretaker close by, so you can ask the adult with the child to get the toy back. With older children, I let them know that we will ask for the toy back when we leave and I will need the toy back if they leave. Then I always give the child warning that I will be taking the toy back soon when I warn my own child that we are leaving soon. As long as you are kind and firm about it, I wouldn't worry about upsetting another child. They will have to learn about sharing and other people's things at some point and you will have to learn to set boundaries with other people's children at some point too - might as well be at the park. love bringing sand toys to the park


I feel it's fine to bring toys to the park. It's more gracious if you share, but not necessary--depends on the toy, crowd, whether it's a toy-accumulation park or not, how other kids are handling the toy, etc. When it's time to go, I usually just say to the child playing with our toy: ''I'm glad you got a chance to play with x, but we need to take it home now'' and I hold out my hand in expectation. Repeat variations as necessary. If the child is too young to understand or relinquish with grace, there is probably the child's parent nearby, who can facilitate the process. --


My thoughts on bringing toys to the park: If either you or your child is likely to get truly upset (like more than a brief moment of fussing) if someone else plays with/borrows/picks up/runs around with (anything short of stealing, really) your toy, then don't bring it to a public space. If you don't mind, then bring 'em on!

I read the previous posting and frankly, I really disagree w/ the original poster and most of the respondents. It's a park, these are little (pre-talking!) kids, and her child wasn't even playing with the truck. What's the big deal? A baby took a toy from her bag and wanted to play with it? We spend so much time and effort ''teaching'' our children to share, but what are we actually modeling? Not to get all anti-capitalist here, but when we put so much importance on ownership of our objects, it's no wonder that our children scream 'MINE'! when someone picks up their toy. I do believe it's important to teach kids what's theirs and what belongs to others (''Nope, that's not your bike, sweetie!'') but I also think it's important to model gracious, relaxed sharing (''Sure, she can take a turn in our wagon!'')

The sandbox-as-life metaphor has been used time and time again to relay (cheesy but true) lessons about cooperation, sharing, and community -- I see I see taking toys to the park (and sharing them!) as part of this lesson. Sure, kids will fight over toys, and maybe even cry and get upset. It's all part of life. Write your name on 'em, make sure you get them back before you leave (if another kid is playing with the toy, approach the parent, let them know it's time for you to go, and get the toy), and have fun! Socialist Playground Mama


Here are the basics with toys at the park

1. Toys at the park are for sharing. So that ground rule does provide a good way to teach your kid to share/take turns, but of course it can cause grouchiness if you kid is not in the mood to that on a given day. If I'm going to pack toys I always pack at least two shovels (or two identical toys) to try to minimize this.

2. Write your kids' initials with a sharpie somewhere on the toys so you can easily identify which of the million shovels is yours. When it's time to go, you just have to say to the other kids who may be playing with the toys, ''Sorry, but we need those things since it's time for us to go.'' Kids are usually pretty good at relinquishing toys and parents/nannys at helping them do so.

3. Sometimes it is a drag to bring toys but on the other hand, sometimes your children will entertain themselves far longer at the park with a simple bucket and shovel so it seems worth it. Plus I don't want to be the person at the park whose kid is always playing with other people's toys but never brings any to share themselves.


First of all, put your kid's name on the sand toys. When another kid wants to use them, say you're happy to share until it's time to leave the park. When you're leaving, tell the kid/parent, ''we're leaving now so we'll be taking our truck with us, I'm glad you had fun with it!'' This models sharing, generosity, setting limits, and keeping track of belongings. ASP


Hi - I always bring toys and I just calmly and politely retrieve them when it is time to leave -- even if I must go get them from other kids -- ''sorry, we're leaving now, I need that toy back.'' I've never had any issues. Though, I never take anything to the park that I'd really hate to lose! another mom


Unsupervised older kids at the playground

Nov 2009

I have a 1 year old son (first), so we're just starting to navigate the whole playground dynamic. So here's my question. I was at a playground where there was a group of 5 or 6 boys about 8-10 yo range. They were having a great time, running, yelling, which is fine. I looked around and there didn't seem to be many parents. It looked like there was one Mom, who was tending to a slightly younger child.

So my one year old and I are watching, and staying out of the way, but one of the boys starts spitting down, almost on us. I tell them ''Please don't spit'', and they start spitting more, so we move. In fairness, it was one boy, and I can't really tell which one, so I don't say anything.

They are all wearing some yellow caution tape that was intended to keep kids off a broken part of equipment. They are taunting the one same age girl, but call her by name (so they know her), and calling her names. She's tough, and starts chasing them around. They say ''Let's get her'', and start holding her, saying ''let's tie her up''. Still no parents. Note: the girl seems to be okay, no crying or being upset.

So, at the point where they actually catch her, and seem to proceed to tie her up. the one Mom with the younger child yells at them to stop, so they do.

Is she the only one there to watch all these kids? Meanwhile, all the younger kids have left the play ground crying for whatever reason. I can't say the boys were the reason.

So, am I being judgemental in thinking that there should be more parental control? Should I have approached the one Mom about the spitting, if they were even belonging to her? Will I be one of those Moms when my 1 year old is that age, with all his friends, and I'm just so tired and releived to let them blow off steam? Not looking forward to this


Yes, there should be parental supervision of the kids at the playground, but if there doesn't appear to be any, then other responsible adults need to step in. We are the adults, after all! It often helps to see if you can take a moment to establish a hint of a rapport with the kid or kids (Hi. My name is --- What's your name? Or, I see you're having a lot of fun with your friends today . . .) just so that the first words out of your mouth aren't harsh. But then, it's our job to tell the kids whatever needs to be said, ''Spitting is gross and you can't spit here!'' Or, ''This area is for the younger children and your group is playing a little too roughly''. With regard to the way they were ''playing'' with the girl, check in with the girl first but firmly and clearly so that everyone knows your paying attention, you're a grown-up and you're ready to take charge if need be. You can say to the girl, ''Hey, this game looks a little rough. Is this a game you want to be a part of?'' Or, (seems absurd but . . .) is it OK with you if the boys tie you up as part of the game they're playing? Chances are the girl will say, ''No'' but sometimes the kids being picked on (or whatever) are intimidated and don't speak up for themselves. In that case you have to use your instinct and your authority as a grown-up on the playground and say, ''This doesn't seem safe for everyone in the game. You can't do that.'' Of course we can't all be telling every kid on the playground how we think they should behave and butting into everyone's business, but in the case you described it seemed like other adults weren't present and the play was definitely getting out of control. anon


I'm the mother of a ten year old and I well remember how big, scary and out-of- control ten year olds seemed when I had a 1 year old. They do take up a lot of space and make a lot of noise, but they're not as scary as they seem and they do -- most of them -- respond to adults telling them the limits.

To answer your question -- at this age, I would certainly not expect an adult to be closely supervising -- kids this age are pretty self-sufficient although unruly in large groups. Which is why it's important for the ''village'' of other adults to feel fine about stepping in when they cross the line. It would be absolutely fine to be firmer and louder the second time -- ''Hey, did you hear me? I said, no spitting. I don't want your saliva on my head, thanks, and neither does my kid. If you want to spit, take it out of the playground.'' The tone you want is firm, friendly, and non-condescending.

Or you can go to the mom and say, ''Some of the boys were spitting and they came very close to hitting me. I didn't feel comfortable telling them to stop. Would you mind telling them?''

As for the tying up stuff -- well, kids this age are all about boy vs. girl fighting/flirting. The same game can be mean in one context and silly in another. If no one seemed upset I'd probably let it go until someone was, but you could also put a word in the ear of the mom then, too. Like, ''I don't know these kids so I don't know if this tying up game is OK or not, but I just wanted to point it out to you in case it isn't.''

The main thing to remember is that a lot of independence happens between 1 and 10, but kids are still kids, in need of gentle but firm reminders about what's OK and what isn't. And when you're the mom of an older kid you'll look back at the parents of 1 year olds, vigilantly supervising every move they make, and wonder how you ever did it. I remember, kind of


I have 8-10 year olds and yes I frequently take them to the park. To your first question, one adult is usually find for that many 8-10 year olds. In fact, my kids sometimes go to the park by themselves. However, I do agree that if those kids were spitting on you (or spitting in general - ick) and they didn't stop when you asked them, either moving or talking to the mom would have been appropriate.

Having one parent at a park for a few 8-10 year olds isn't about being ''tired and relieved''. It's about giving kids the appropriate level of responsibility coupled with appropriate supervision. In this instance, it sounds like those kids maybe could have used a little more intervention from the parent with regard to the spitting. However, I suspect you will understand a bit better when you have a child in that age range, even if you're ''not looking forward to that.'' Hope this helps - Mom of Boys


Well, with a boy in the age group you are discussing, I will venture some thoughts. It's quite possible that a group of boys in the 8-10 age group, especially on the older end, would be at the playground alone. That is the age at which many parents let kids start to try some things on their own. This is especially the case if the boys are younger siblings (my s-i-l basically let all her kids self monitor once the oldest hit 10-y-o), or if the playground you were at was near a school. It's also possible that the kids were even older.

The one mother you saw could very well not have been associated with the group you saw, and simply stepped in as available adult when the play began to get dangerous. I have been that available adult at times. Kids--even as they begin to navigate the world on their own--need to know that there are social standards and that there are eyes on them. Sometimes what it takes is an adult moving into the kids' space and just letting them know that someone see that their behavior has gone to far. Other times, it takes words: I see you and what you are doing is not okay.

Kids do sometimes need to push boundaries to know how far is too far. The key is to give the feedback that will trigger their own sense of--dare I say it?--shame for inappropriate behavior. Then they have a better sense of what is too far. Also, some of the boys might have been egging others on, and it helps the less alpha kids feel supported if an adult steps in to set a limit. It's okay for you to check in with that other mom, too. She may have had her hands full with a younger one, or she might have been eyeing you with the same sort of question. And if you need to, pick up your kid and go to a different park. Sometimes that other mom


And had they taken out a knife would you have FINALLY spoken up more clearly to them? Yes, of course that mother should have been more involved, but since that wasn't happening, you should have put those boys in their place! Tell them to stop, and say it like you mean it.

I have no qualms about very clearly and firmly telling kids like that that their behavior is not acceptable. Frankly, I believe bad behavior should be called on. When I do that to kids, they behave, and are quite shocked that an adult they don't know is putting them in their place.

It takes a village, and again, yes, that mother was wrong to not be involved, but that's no excuse for such awful behavior to go on. If my kid was the one acting like that I truly hope some other parent would step in. And sure, tell that mother on your way out what happened and what you did to help those kids learn. Part of the Village


I remember when my daughter was that little at the playground and the big kids can be overwhelming. Now that I have a big kid, I can say that you should trust your instincts and just speak up directly to the kids -- at any age in an age appropriate way following the proper confrontation statements. But, whatever you do...don't tell someone or their children what to do. Just state some general facts about what's not looking okay.

My advice is DON'T go to the mom if she's not participating -- don't be a tattle-tale. If nothing is being done and it appears that the mom is for whatever reason is unable to attend to it - just tell the kids directly what you think. One thing, at that age, there's a lot of girls chase boys/boys chase girls and you have to trust your instincts and decide on whether it's okay or not.

Did the girl seem to be laughing and enjoying it or was she looking around for help or actually telling them to stop? Does she seem okay, but then seem overwhelmed? Make sure to use all the proper confrontation rules -- no ''You'' statements -- just state the facts. ''Hey, I said don't spit near us. Knock that off, that's gross!'' They're at an age where they need a couple of reminders, they may test, etc. Mom can't get mad at you for saying that.

And if the girl looked like she needed help, maybe...''Hey guys, she doesn't look like she's enjoying that. No, that looks like too much.'' Or, ''that doesn't look safe, let's find something else to do.'' Walk toward them if they don't stop and continue the non-''You'' statements -- state the facts, look them in the eyes and repeat what your saying. Don't tell someone else's children what to do, however.

It's good to participate in the monitoring of children around us, but you have to do it carefully so as to not appear as if your taking over as the parent, but rather stating what you see that appears to not be okay. First observe a little and then trust your instincts on what appears to be / not be okay playground etiquette. Playground mom


As a parent of a child in the older age group (9 years old), the older kids at the park have been in elementary school for a few years so they know ''the rules'' and how to listen to adults reminding them of the rules. You should be OK speaking to them directly. At this age, ''Dude, no spitting, that's totally gross, spit in that bush'' will work much better than ''excuse me, but the spitting is really upsetting my baby and me.'' Sometimes, though, you run across parents who feel really entitled and the kids are that way, too, so you end up just having to leave. -- a mom


OK-so the spitting thing would have had me stand up and LOUDLY say, ''don't spit in the park it's disgusting and gross.'' Then I would have asked equally loudly, ''where is your parent or who is here with you?'' Finally I would have approached the alleged caretaker and just said, ''hey your guys are over the top, rein them in.'' I don't think being harassed at a public park is acceptable. mean mom


Hi, Well, honestly it sounds like you need to explore different playgrounds. Every playground will have a different flavor. Some seem to attract more older (and sometimes rougher) kids. It can also depend on the time of day, vacations ect... have fun anon


Older kids play much differently than younger kids. Was it OK for the boys to be spitting? No. And yes if I were watching those kids I'd want to know they were spitting and I'd tell them not to, and to aplogize to you. Is is OK for one person to watch a bunch of kids? yes. Wait until your child reaches elementary school. On the yard there is often one person watching the entire school. The girl was probably a sibling of one of the boys. She no doubt liked a little attention, but then of course these boys went too far and the mom called them off.

When my kids were young, older kids overwhelmed me too. I saw it mostly at the library after 3. It's just a different ball game when your child is one year old, and you need to follow their every move. Parks with a different area for older and younger kids might be best. Also during the day, all the older kids will be in school so you won't have to deal with them. I wouldn't want to navigate the park with those boys and my one year old either, but other than the spitting I don't think they really did anything wrong. not at the park


I'm sorry you were upset by the annoying behavior of the kids at the playground. However, I think that by the age you mentioned (8-10), kids can play at playgrounds unsupervised (at least in reasonably safe neighborhoods). Kids need time away from adults, and they need to learn how to get along with each other and to figure out how to deal with conflict without adults always intervening. If they can't do that at a public playground, where can they do it? (That doesn't mean, of course, that an adult shouldn't step in if some egregious bullying or abusive behavior is going on, but it sounds like that wasn't the case). Yes, it is annoying sometimes. If their behavior is such that you feel like it is unsafe for your child to play there - and if they are in the toddler area - then I feel you do have a right to say something. Otherwise, let kids be kids (in all its messiness); they get so few opportunities for that anymore. non-intervening adult


Your first job is to protect your child, so you did a great job by confronting the spitting boy(s). Sometimes an outraged mother can stop a pack of wild children from misbehaving. You were brave. Hopefully that's the worse you will ever face at a park! My advice: Go to a different park. Go to parks during school hours when the older kids should not be at a park. Stick to the toddler zones of a park. There is usually a baby/toddler area fenced off specifically to keep wild children from hurting tiny children.

You could have asked the other mother if any of those were her children, and asked her to stop them from spitting. She may not have seen them spitting, or heard you asking them to stop.

Never be afraid to be a tough mother bear and tell them to knock it off in no uncertain terms. Tell them to head to the big kids' area -- this is the baby area. ''You boys should not be in the baby park?'' Embarassment can work, an adult yelling at them. You will probably never experience this again. Sorry one of your early park play experiences was with wilder kids. It's usually quite pleasant and relaxing to play in the sunshine, learning to use fingers and balance, and toes and toddling around. It will be enjoyable again. But use your instincts. If something bugs you or scares you, listen. Park lover, Park mom


I would avoid this playground or leave if you see big kids there. My son was disrespected one too many times by older kids and could have been hurt. Also, we had our diaper bag stolen from a busy playground. AA


Protocol on toys at Totland

June 2009

I was wondering if anyone knew of a protocol (official or un) about borrowing toys from Totland in Berkeley. Occasionally we play with a toy there that would be fun to take home for a few days. Is this ok? It would be great to ''check out'' a toy and not have to accumulate more stuff! I haven't done it yet, because it seems a bit like stealing when I don't have permission, and I certainly don't want to do wrong by Totland. We love it too much!! curious mama


In my opinion, people should not borrow toys from Totland. If you want to play with the toy, go to Totland! The chances of the toy coming back are pretty slim, whether or not that was the original intention. Toys should stay at Totland


I would say 'no.' People donate toys to Totland with the expectation that all kids will get to play with them, not that one child will take it home. Even if you return it, you're preventing the other kids from playing with that toy while it's at your house. I agree with the sentiment of not wanting to accumulate stuff, and some things only get played with for a few days when they're still new and novel. It would be nice to have a toy library, but my understanding is that's not Totland's role. sarah


I am not saying people don't do it, but the toys were donated to the community, for the community, by the community. With the implicit obligation to share. It seems to me that ''borrowing'' a toy is like hogging it for an expended time, which is not the point of a community that shares. It's a bit selfish. I mean if all the people that visit Totland desided to borrow one toy each that place would be empty! Sharing is a very important lesson to teach our children. We should teach them to take care of the toys and to share them. They do not belong to anyone in particular they belong to the park and thus remain with the park. I have found that Habitot in Berkeley has a great toy-lending program which is ideal for what you seek. The program allows you to choose 3 toys at a time for 3 weeks at a time with the right to renew as many times as you want. Also there are many toy stores that buy your old toys and sell used toys at discounted prices. ---Sharing momma


Leave Totland toys alone! What a bad idea...the toys are for all the kids. anon


Ummm -- imagine if everyone felt it was OK to ''borrow'' toys from Totland ''for a few days.'' All the toys would soon be ''out on loan'' and the kids wouldn't be able to play with them. If your child really enjoys a Totland toy, either take them to the park more often or buy the toy yourself. If you're worried about accumulating stuff, donate a few of your own toys to Totland after you buy the new toy for your child. Don't contribute to the tragedy of the commons.


I get where you are coming from, but I have to say that it is a really bad idea. One of the things that makes Totland such a great park is that there are so many toys for kids to play with and you can go there a lot during the week and the kids do not get bored. If everyone felt that it was okay to take toys home, then there would be no more toys at the park. How would one regulate this? Is three days okay - what about a week. What if you forgot to bring something back and then ended up going on vacation? What if you just decided that you really liked the toy and never brought it back - who would ever know? I think people donate toys there so that everyone can use them. If you want to try them out, then go to the park and use them. That way everyone can have the same opportunity. Park Lover


I'll be interested to hear the opinions on this one! I personally would consider that stealing... Imagine if every kid who came to totland ''borrowed'' a toy when they left? No more toys! I think teaching our children that the toys stay there and we don't take them home helps them learn about boundaries. -toys for all


I frequently take my daughter to Totland, which is her absolute favorite playground. I am not aware of the official protocol but must say that I would find it inappropriate for people to ''check out'' toys. I know it seems like there are lots of toys there but if many families made this a habit there would soon be little left to play with! Anon


No way! That's stealing.


its so funny you should ask this- i was just asking my husband the same thing earlier today! well, personally i think its ok. its my understanding that these toys are just dropped off at the park by parents who dont want them anymore, and that are too good for landfill but not resale worthy. i also think that totland periodically clears(throws?) them out to help there not be an overabundance of toys there... so maybe we would be helping the situation? however, the only problem i could forsee is that if this becomes an ok thing to do, then potentially there wont be any toys there when we go to play, which is why our little ones love going there so much. hmmmm. curious what other responses will be. we like the toys too!


Violent Children at the Park

Aug 2008

I am totally weirded out by an encounter I just had. Two little twin girls basically jumped me, my son (1.5) and our dog. They came up to us and took his toy away and looked right at me and started to hit the dog. I told them no, and to be gentle, their mother came up and sort of said half heartedly, that's his toy, and then they went at it again. I have a very small dog and was worried about the baby and the dogs physical safety. I picked up the baby and basically high tailed it out of there, I could hear the mom saying ''oh they're SOOO bad'' as I left. I don't know if she actually meant her children were bad, or if she was mocking my reaction. The more aggressive of the two girls had a huge knot the shape of a table tennis ball in the middle of her forehead and neither of them smiled as they descended on us. It was actually sort of scary. The parents were both there, both young, both sort of sketchy looking, the father sitting on a picnic table spitting. The whole thing just freaked me out and I can't shake it. Am I being a whimp? What do you do in such a situation? What should I have done? So strange the whole thing.... I don't know what you are supposed to do, I mean I know kids take other kids toys at the park all the time, and it happens to us all the time, but this was different, more violent, and it just plain freaked me out. weirded out


You did the right thing, and you can do the right thing again if you ever need to. It sounds like it was a very creepy experience, but the fact that it's haunting you means that it pushed some major button of yours, and maybe you need to figure out which one so that you can work it through. Anon


You're not crazy. That was really, really weird. I don't blame you for being upset. But unless you see this family at the park again, I don't think you will have another experience like this. If you do see them steer clear! Yikes!


This sounds like an assault- a case for the police. You don't need to ''understand'' or be conciliatory if the parent is not immediately mortified and does not apologize and stop the children and admonish them. Don't enable people who can't behave, if would be much worse if they were older. Anon. anon.


I think that you did the right thing to get out of there. Good for you for taking care of yourself. That would have freaked me out and I probably would have left too. The fact of the matter is that some parents don't know how to be parents. Just because someone can reproduce does not them a good parent it just means they can reproduce. I feel so sorry for those children though. That just seems like a very sketchy situation and you are probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg. If that were to happen again...bring a cell phone and call the police and better yet bring a friend so that you are not alone. You are not a wimp for leaving. Rachel


What you are supposed to do is exactly what you did - got out of the situation as fast as you could before you, your child, or your dog was hurt. Clearly, the parents are, at the very least, disengaged, judging from the treatment you got from the girls and their parents' reaction (and lack thereof) to it. One of the parents might have been the cause of the big bump on one of the girls' head - who knows? For me, manners, protocol, and/or social expectations always take a back seat to my safety. It sounds like you were justly afraid and not simply reacting unreasonably to an unfamiliar situation. Instead of wondering what you should have done differently, you should be proud of how well your ''Mama Bear'' instincts kicked in to get you and your Baby Bear out of harm's way. And thanks for the heads up: if I see a pair of unsmiling, female twins approaching me or my kid on a playground, I'll know it's time to make a move! Jai


Wow, I am sorry you had such an awful encounter. I think you did the right thing by leaving, as it doesn't sound like the parents or children could be reckoned with on any level. Hopefully the children themselves are not being abused, because, as we all know, toddlers act out and repeat what they are seen and shown.

I haven't been in a situation that bad, although we did have a run in with more obnoxious than violent children at the Kensington Circus Pub not long ago. Basically, the parents were not watching their children in the small play area and their kids were running around, throwing things, and knocking over the toddlers trying to play nicely. When a little boy starting hitting our toddler in the face, we broke it up and brought it to the parents' attention. They blamed us for not telling them sooner, as if their kids behavior was our fault. We promptly left and probably won't return.

It's a shame that parents don't take responsibility for their children early on and teach them how to behave properly. I completely understand that small children will be small children who don't understand sharing or playing together. Aggression and violence are a whole other thing, however. Anyway, I hope you don't have an encounter to that magnitude ever again and I think you did the right thing.

p.s. I am a ''young'' parent for the bay (under 30) and consider myself to be a very attached mama, so saying the parents in your situation were ''young'' doesn't carry that much weight with me. It's fairly easy to see how ''good'' parents are by the way they respond to their child(ren). anon


I've had a similar experience with 2 siblings. You did the right thing by leaving. Obviously, dialog would be pointless. You probably had a gut feeling when you walked up or were caught so off guard that another response would have been impossible. Taking your child out and away was the right thing to do because who knows what else would have happened or what else had happened that day with this family in the park to other kids/ families/ etc. Crummy experiences with other parents and kids are rare but also remind us to keep aware and listen to our gut instincts. Let it go and use it to gauge your environment in the future. I'm sorry this happened to you. I think you did the right thing


I don't have any advice to help those ''bad'' children, but I can sympathize -- there is a park that I and my toddler do not go to anymore because of the bad children and their worse parents. I don't like my kid getting hit, and there are enough parks around that I don't have to put her in that position. I just avoid the situation. kevin


How stressfull this must have been. There you are enjoying a nice day with your baby and doggie and this happens. I hope you feel better now and I hope your dog is okay. Please don't let this family keep you from enjoying your outings. I recommend taking Kid Power to learn how to protect yourself and your children in any situation and learn empowering skills for when you need to tell someone to leave you alone. I can't help feeling that there must be something really wrong with these children's mom or family. I pray they learn to behave better with people and animals some day and become peaceful people.

When you go back to that park, and please do go back to that park, look out for these children and avoid them. If they approach you, try to distract them with a friendly statement. Something like, ''Hey look at that bird, do you know what kind it is?''. You would be surprised at how this can reset a child who has malicious intent. Jeanne


Ick! I think that your experience is an aberration rather than the norm. I would find a new park if you are uncomfortable there or go with other parents.

Not all young, sketchy looking parents are bad. I spent a lot of time with one that fit that description last year at a playground. Her child was lovely. She has a steamer trunk full of issues, but really, she is nice and her child is wonderful. -anon


Just when we moved to Berkeley, at a Berkeley neighborhood ''kid park,'' we encountered an old drunk who appeared to be homeless. He came into the fenced and gated neighborhood park as though he owned the place. He touched children, some of whom objected to being touched, but, to our great surprizzzzzzzzze, some parents told their children to tolerate touching because ''He means no harm'' and such.

Because I always carry a small self-focusing camera, I took photos of this man. When he realized he was bing photographed, this large smelly man assaulted me, declaring, loudly: ''This is MY park ! I live here ! Give me that ! I'll kill you ! (while he grabbed for my camera) [etc.]'' We left, leaving behind great confusions.

Compassion for those who have fallen on hard times is, in our opinions, no excuse for any homeless person to habituate a children's park ! ! ! Compassion and empathy for a homeless person's hard times will not stop us from protecting our children from inappropriate touching and/or other inappropriate conducts ! ! !

As soon as we got home, we sent these photos, including the photos I had taken while this large man screamed threats at me while he tried to take my camera (eg: assault), to the Berkeley Police. We have no idea what happened, but that man and his very inappropriate conducts have not been in that park for about a year. We have absolutely no idea how some parents had not only put up with the inappropriate conduct of this man, but, far worse, we had no way of explaining to our children how some parents had scolded their children for their appropriate reticence to be touched by a strange adult.

We continue to go to that park, we have not seen that man in or near that park (and there have not been other habitual homeless that we know of) and, occasionally, a neighborhood parent will thank us for ''handling'' this man's habitual intrusions. Why did it take a new neighbor to ''speak up'' ? ? ? New neighbor


Toy thief at neighborhood toddler park

June 2008

We live adjacent to a pocket park in Rockridge that has a small play structure and which is frequented by mainly toddlers (most days it's nanny central with kids everywhere, and it's a central gathering place for families on weekends). People have traditionally left toys like ride-on cars, buckets and shovels, etc., which the kids love. Some of us neighbors remove broken toys from time to time and buy replacements.

Unfortunately, another adjacent neighbor has recently decided he doesn't like the noise of the kids and has therefore started removing (stealing) the toys in an effort to discourage kids from coming to the park (apparently he's unfamiliar with the Grinch story...). The night before Mothers' Day, all the ride- on cars, a picnic table, basketball hoop, teeter totter, and all the buckets and shovels disappeared. We confronted the neighbor, who admitted having taken toys and refused to engage in any kind of neighborhood dialogue or try to come up with a compromise that would take all the stakeholders' interests into account. Our city council person's office said they monitor the park and do not consider the toys to be a blight; rather, they think the toys keep toddlers coming, which keeps drug dealers away.

We replaced some of the toys last week, only to have them disappear again last night - very frustrating. Has anyone dealt with something like this? Any suggestions? To top it all off, this man's family owns a very popular and successful childrens' store in Rockridge, so it's doubly ironic that he would be acting this way towards neighborhood toddlers. Feel free to email me directly.


although I don't have advice about specific procedure I would start a police report either filed by you or if possible on behalf of the neighborhood in general or at least several families. It is a theft of communal property- clearly not stuff left out on the street for free. chris


You have the answer to your own question - tell him, or better yet just leave him a note that says you will ask everyone you know, which is the thousands and thousands of parents on this list, to boycott his store until he stops stealing toys. Negotiating with him isn't going to work, because he is not being reasonable. If he doesn't want to hear kids playing, then he shouldn't live near a park. Its simple.


What a despicable neighbor! I wish I had some sage wisdom for how to deal, but I don't think there's anything that will change his mind. Has anyone mentioned the fact that drug dealers (and other criminal activities) are minimized by having the park full of kids? Does he realize, that even without the toys, the kids will still come? Anyway to set-up a ''sting'' operation and catch him in the act? An arrest might make him re-think his strategy. He should know better, moving into a house next to a park! Shame on him! I hope you can come up with solutions to fix the problem, what a rude neighbor! momma to 2 toddlers who love their local park with donated toys


If talking to the person (what a grump!!!!) isn't working, can't you just work out a plan with the other parents to put the toys safely somewhere else at night. Maybe taking shifts to go to the park at dusk and collecting the toys. I don't know if this is possible depending on how many there are, but it's an idea. Also, if you know that this particular person is taking the toys, why don't you put an identifying mark on it (return address label or something) and then call the cops on them. I know this is drastic but if all other amicable options are failing, then it may be necessary. Jessica


If you have witnesses to his admission re: stealing the community purchased toys, threaten to file a police report. Also, let the family member who owns the Rockridge toy store that you will ''out'' this anti-social behavior on community blogs if it doesn't stop and the toys aren't replaced. anonymous


Older child with developmental issues is frightening my toddler

Sept 2007

So- I have a difficult question and am looking for some sensitive advice. My 19month old's favorite playground is also frequented by an older child (11 or 12?) who has some developmental problems. The issue is that the three times we have seen him, he will come over and put his hands on my son- not in a bad or unkind way, but in a way that because he is a stranger to my son, frightens him greatly. I was not at the park during this last incident, but when he frightened my child, my husband tried to explain that because he was a stranger it was scary and perhaps he should give him some space. The child then introduced himself and said, ''I am not a stranger anymore'' and tried to pull my son out of my husband's arms. Then he saw my son's nose was a little runny and wiped it with his hand, which caused my son to scream. So my husband pulled him closer and explained that he needed some quite time with dad. The child waited about 10 seconds before trying to pry my husband's arms off our son. Once free, our son, crying, just wanted to go home. This time, the park was not that busy, so it was clear who the father was, but in the past, there wasn't anyone nearby who clearly was watching this child. But, I must add, the father watched and did nothing this time. My husband wanted to go over and talk to him, but our son was so upset that he couldn't justify it- and this is what always happens, so there is no good time to try to track down the parents. So how should we deal with it? I know we can just go to a different park, but somehow that doesn't feel right. We are not angry with the other child, just frustrated that we can't communicate effectively with him, and that his parents aren't providing guidance. We do need our son to feel safe. Suggestions? anon


I think the only solution is to find a way to talk to the parents. Even if you have to do it when your kid is upset. Or else find another playground. --Been there


It sounds like the boy you describe is, as you say, a sweet kid who's having some trouble learning about personal boundaries. Now you know what his dad looks like, why not talk to him next time? Just a shortened version of what you posted, along the lines of: ''I know your son doesn't mean any harm, but he's scaring my child. Could you please talk to him about personal space?'' katy


You need to confront the child's parent. If you can't spot the parent, ask the child to point him or her out to you. You also need to be quite blunt to the boy. ''Please don't touch him. He isn't ready to play with you. Please go find something else to do.'' You can do this kindly but firmly. As an aside, I am so sick of children being let loose in parks while their parents, guardians, nannies don't pay any attention to their behavior. I am also sick of older children playing at parks that are meant for younger kids (can anyone say TOTLAND??) I no longer have any problem discipling someone else's kid if there is no adult nearby watching.


It is your responsibility to do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe. That includes, unfortunately, parenting others' kids, or establishing boundaries. Next time the child comes up, say firmly, ''Do NOT touch my child. It is not okay with us.'' Granted, he's just a kid, and that's why you feel funny. But would you allow some adult to just come up and manhandle your child? Absolutely not. There's no reason you have to let this kid do it either. It may seem harsh or hurtful, but better to be firm and look him square in the eye, and get this behavior to cease. anon


This child may be autistic cause he's so hands-on. Can you try to engage the child? If you see the father in the future, I would suggest you go immediately to him and explain the situation, past and present, and how your child is dealing with it. It's nice of you that you're not angry at his child but the father needs to be aware. Nothing will change if you don't speak up. I hope you can make it a win/win situation for both of the children's sake. Good luck!! anon


You'll get lots of responses on this one!! I don't care if a kid has developmental problems or is just plain rude. Your job is to take care of your kid and make sure that he learns and feels safe. There's no way in hell I would tolerate ANYBODY trying to yank my kid out of my arms, or violate my kids stated boundaries. It's important for your son's mental health to feel supported in establishing and protecting his own personal boundaries, and if another person (kid, adult, stranger, ''friend'') doesn't get it, then YOU need to take care of it. Who knows what's up with the kid's parents? They obviously aren't going to intervene, and at best, the parent probably feels like this isn't a problem. At worst, he doesn't care. No matter. If it were me, I'd say to the kid, ''If you come within two feet of me, I will have to push you away.'' And if I saw the parent there doing nothing, I'd probably yell at him to make sure his kid isn't behaving inappropriately. If the kid continued to behave that way, I'd look into a restraining order, if that's possible. And if you continue to go to that park, I'd check around for the problem kid first, and if he approaches within 10 feet, I'd warn him away. If he keeps coming, I would stand between him and your son, and scoop up your son and take him away before the kid has an opportunity to touch him. Don't allow your son to feel terrorized. And this is not about being ''angry'' with the other kid. It's about making sure your son feels safe. And really, the behavior you describe is unacceptable in any realm. Don't let this kid anywhere near you. And don't feel like you're ostracizing him. His behavior is NOT your responsibility. and it's not within your control. His behavior IS the responsibility of the parent. It's unreasonable for a parent of a special child to expect that others would tolerate physical contact that scares a child. And his complete lack of understanding of boundaries, and complete lack of empathy, make me question whether the kid wouldn't become more aggressive as he gets older and stronger, or more frustrated. I realize that some on this list will take offense at my strong stance, but it's really not ok for strangers to put their hands on you or your kids, particularly after you've told them not to. If you want to be extremely kind about it, then you'll have to be proactive and make it physically impossible for the kid to get close enough to terrify your child (although I suspect that your kid already has a gut-level terror of this older kid just if he sees him.)


Now that you know what the dad looks like you can go sit near him. that way when the child approaches (seems inevitable anyway), he will have to interact when the child doesn't get the picture and it will be easier to ask him directly what you should do. anon


In addition to his boundary issues, the boy you describe would appear to have some social language deficits as well, which is why he is taking you very literally at his word when you are very politely trying to rebuff his advances without hurting his feelings. If you are very firm and direct, and say ''I am sorry , my son does not want to play with you, can you please find someone else to play with?'' You may have more luck. It is true that your son needs to feel safe and protected by you. You can also use this as an opportunity to teach him how to stick up for himself while still being tolerant and compassionate toward others. You also are going to have to talk to your father even if the your child is upset and crying. It will only take a few minutes.

To the person who suggested yelling at the kid to stay away from 10 feet back and looking into a restraining order - this boy is not being malicious, he just does not understand. You can not equate that with being rude. And there is nothing in the situation described to suggest he would become violent. Making a commotion over it would probably just reinforce in the younger child that there is something to be afraid of. Yes, the boy needs to learn how to live in society, but that is sometimes easier said than done.

My 4 year old is very mildly autistic, and has similar issues. His teachers and I have been working on teaching him the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touches for over 6 months and have made no headway. I cannot explain or justify the father's inaction, and yes - I would think that he would want to get involved. However, I have learned not to be judgemental of other people's parenting techniques because you truly do not know what that person is up against until you have been in their shoes. Traditional parenting techniques do not work with non-traditional children. It could be that the only way for his son to learn social behavior is to deal with the natural causes of his reactions (people don't want to play with you if you touch them inappropriately). Or maybe he really is just that oblivious. Again, I don't know what the situation is there, but neither do you. In fact, you sound like someone who has absolutely no experience with developmental disorders.

Conflicts really can be resolved without resorting to yelling at people. Please, just have a little compassion. Anon


Toddlers' bottoms in the water play table at Totland

May 2006

Enjoying a nice day at Berkeley Totland today... and it's hot! There were a few mothers/caregivers with their children at the water table (supposedly a table meant for water play with hands) and inside an inflatable pool. There were two toddlers IN (like sitting in) the water table, at one time naked, at other times in non-swim diapers (at least they looked non-swim... very saggy and full of water). The children in the pool were either naked, or in diapers.

I moved to Berkeley a year ago, and sometimes I wonder whether it's me or not. Isn't this really disgusting? Is this what happens every hot day at totland? So I have to spend the summer making sure my son keeps his hands out of the water table? I just don't know what to think. Should I have said something? Or is this another one of '' let the spirit of the kid run free'' things that my jaded, non Nor-Cal mind can't wrap around? Looking for some guidance,
Sign me as Yuk


I don't think you're uptight, everybody has different comfort levels with regards to what's yucky, but I'm afraid that yes, this is a ''let the spirit of the kid run free'' thing; especially at Totland. It will happen on every hot day and if you want to keep your son away, you're going to have to watch him. Sorry Jill


I agree with you 100%! I am amazed at what some parents allow their children to do in public spaces with little or no consideration for the other children at the park. To allow your naked or dirty diapered child to play/sit in the water in indeed gross! I believe it puts ALL the children at risk for who knows what! I'm also pretty peeved at those that allow their children to slide down public slides with no clothes on (we all know how clean most toddler butts are, right?) I think this is definitely a problem of being too ''Berkleyish'' . The idea that kids should keep their clothes on while in public places seems completely alien. Maybe getting the word out that there are some of us out there who do not appreciate the health dangers you are exposing our children to will get people thinking Not a fan of feces


You are not uptight; it is GROSS! I imagine here in Berkekey my resonse with be in the minority... I think that if there are naked toddlers or toddlers in non-swim diapers in the pool or on the water table, anyone playing there is, in all likelihood, playing in urine tainted water. In a place like Totland, which we've decided to stop visiting, I don't see any way around it. Some mothers and caregivers just don't care or don't know that their child is contaminating the playspace for others Elizabeth


OK. That is totally gross. So your kid is supposed to play in the same water that is swooshing around some other kid's butt? Yuck. Sometimes Berkeley moms are just too ''free spirited'' and crunchy for their own good. I wouldn't say anything but I would probably look at them a little oddly and then move my kid away (I know, I'm a little passive agressive I guess) anon


Hi, I haven't made it over to Totland, yet. But if what is happening is just as you described, I will be keeping my daughter away from that area. I have lived in this area all my life and love it. I also don't consider myself too uptight about these things. I can assure you that there are many native Nor-Californians that do not consider this appropriate for a public place Anon


Ah Yes, the disgusting water table and seathing germ bath disguised as a wading pool. It is gross, and I, not being a let it all hang out, live and let live Berkeley native have had a very hard time deciding when to allow my toddler to splash around in the muck. What I can tell you is that we've done the drill for 3 seasons and so far we've all remained healthy. I do however make sure my child wears something on her feet, has a clean diaper or swim bottoms and never, ever let her go naked. The naked issue is more about protection from pedophiles than from germs. Law inforcement professionals (and I have worked with many of them) will tell you that pedophiles have a tendency to focus on particular children. And letting your child run around naked in a public park is putting them at an increased risk of being targeted. So in our family we keep our clothes on in public places. We also scrub like the dickens when we get home! Yuk too, but we enjoy just the same


I grew up in Berkeley and I don't think I'll ever quite understand some of the outrageous things I've witnessed there. I admit that parents everywhere have different styles but you'll see a lot more of this uniqueness and anything goes attitude in Berkeley. Anyway, I'm in your boat and I would work hard to distract my kids away from the scene you describe. I think it's quite inconsiderate of the parents/caregivers to allow their children in full diapers to sit in standing water where other kids have access. I know public pools probably contain quite a bit of urine but they also have a lot more water and are chlorinated AS


The Totland park is unique in this area in terms of ''Berzerkeley behavior'', and no, I do not think that you are being uptight. It is not safe nor hygenic to allow toddlers to put their bottoms in a public water play area! It is fine at home, or in a place with chlorinated water, but not at a public park. Last year on Memorial Day my son got Rotovirus from that very water play station- he was fully clothed, and only splashing around with his hands, but put a wet plastic toy in his mouth before I could stop him. Rotovirus is transmitted via feces, and lives a very, very long time in water. And it is a really serious bug. When we do go to Totland, no water play for my son. We have our own water table and inflatable pool at home. You can't tell the other adults there what to do, that would be a pretty ugly scene, so just keep your kid as safe as you can and follow your own good judgment safe, but not uptight


It may be gross, but I don't think there is much you can do about it but to avoid Totland on hot days or keep your kids away from the water (that's what I try to do, I tell them we'll go to the pool or lake some other day to help them stay away from the water...) anon


That is totally disgusting. You are not uptight at all. It is totally wrong to let your child with with their dirty bottom or dirty diaper in a small watertable meant for other children to play in. Its not like a pool with gallons and gallons of water that are treated with chlorine. Kids DIE from e coli poisoning. Even in kiddie pools that are treated with chlorine. Other things to think about are pinworms and other bacterial infections.

I think parents, probably including myself, have trouble remembering that other people may think their children's naked butts are anything but cute. We had a similar situation where certain friends would come over and their daughter would always strip naked. Then she would sit naked on our couch, our carpet, on our beds on our laps. The final straw came when I found her naked sitting on my bed directly on my pillow! Her parents saw nothing wrong with it. She was 4 years old and we all know how 4 year olds wipe! Like you, I didn't know what to say so made sort of a joke about it which they didn't pick up on then promptly washed my sheets before I went to bed. Needless to say, they were friends who were also inconsiderate in other ways, so we don't hang out with them anymore.

After seeing what you did, I don't think there is any way you should let your kid play in that water table. There are a lot of other nice parks around besides totland that don't have waterplay. In the mean time, these situations just make me try to be more conciencious about making sure my own kids don't gross others out. disgusted too!


EWWW....to me that is really gross. I would not have allowed my kids when they were toddlers to go anywhere near that water. That is how lots of diseases and bacteria can spread, including e-coli. E-coli is now showing up in bagged lettuce due to unsanitary workers and situations. You wouldn't let your kid play in toilet water, and who knows, a naked child can turn any water into toilet water! Anon


I think it's gross. There are a lot of things that children can catch from feces if those kids have pooped in the water. Even in swimming pools, you are required to dress your child in diaper-style swimwear. In any case, these tables aren't meant for baby/toddler soaking. If I were you, I'd say something to the nannies when/if you see them doing that. It's really unsanitary baths should be in pools and tubs


Yeah, it is inappropriate that diapered and naked children play in the same water that other children will play in with their hands. But the water would be fairly yukky anyway. Public, wet environments that children use like water fountains are primary hotspots for transmissble disease. I would suggest avoiding these things altogether, and invest in a water table, pool, sprinkler slide etc for your own kids at home


I was born and raised here in the Bay Area and yes, I too find it to be pretty nasty. In fact, I read your post this weekend and the first thing I did this morning was ask our nanny NOT to let our kids sit in that nasty water at Totland - especially in a diaper or naked! I hope it wasn't my kids you saw there!!

When I was a SAHM, on hot days I thought that water looked a bit questionable. I usually told my kids that they could play in the water table at home. My nanny told me that they change the water pretty frequently??? I never thought this. I guess I don't mind if they put their hands in it or if they play with the running water there but I don't want them sitting in that water! Grossed out too by totland water area


Yeah, it's gross. I'm from here, by the way, so not all of us are complete hippies.

From a scientific standpoint, just so you know - urine is sterile so your child shouldn't catch anything if kids are peeing in the water or have pee in their diapers - but again, gross! However, you really don't want your kid playing in water contaminated by feces.

Honestly, I've given up on most parks altogether. If it's not your water table issue, it's the politics of toy sharing - see recent agonizingly long discussion on that - or the oneupmanship (oneupwomanship?) about how organically you are raising your child anon


You are not uptight. When my child was a toddler, I was completely grossed out by the sight of kids' bare bottoms sharing a common (and self-contained) pool of water, and even further grossed out by the sight of toddlers in non-swim diapers submerging their bottoms in same body of water. I stopped taking my toddler to Totland on hot days shortly after seeing this happen on more than one occasion. And don't even get me started about parents/nannies that change their kids' diapers on the picnic bench tables! I'm pretty sure that a Berkeley health inspector would have a thing or two to say about Totland on a hot day. I don't have a problem with letting the spirit of a kid running free as long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of other kids to play in a park that meets basic sanitary conditions Totland No More


Sitting IN the water play table, naked or in a diaper, seems out of line. You're right, it's for playing in with your hands. The germs on everyone's hands are bad enough, without thinking about all the rest...

But if there's an inflatable pool, of course kids are going to go sit in that, so I think you have to let that go. A swim diaper is not stopping urine from getting in any pool. It's only purpose is to not become a 10 lb. weight on your baby, compared to a regular diaper. So if you're sharing a ''public pool'' those are the hazards...

Maybe this post will open a few people's eyes who hadn't considered the other side fan of reasonable cleanliness


Playground bullies (the parents, not the kids!)

March 2006

We were at Willard tot playground with our 22-month-old son on a recent windy weekend morning when a father and his two kids entered the gates. The son (7 or 8) was bored and started hurling a frisbee around. As the frisbee whistled past small children, I asked the father if the son could take the frisbee elsewhere. The father (a husky middleaged man) launched into a tirade about ''overprotective parents'' and told his son to keep playing frisbee. When my husband told him to show more respect, he tried to goad my husband into a physical fight. My husband did not take the bait. The question is, how do we react when we next encounter him in the park? Willard tot playground is a weekend sanctuary for us. Yet this man also frequents the place and clearly enjoys conflict. peaceful playground seeker


Do you really not know what to do? Just ignore him. Pretend that you never had this previous encounter with him. This may entail ignoring any offensive frisbee throwing, but as you have learned, confronting him doesn't work anyway. I hate jerks too


Mean (and rude) people suck! I would kindly reiterate my concerns for my child if you see this man's child putting other kids at risk. Be nice yourself. If he continues to act out of line, I would seriously give the Berkeley Police a jingle to show him you are serious. Provoking a physical fight in the park in the presence of children is unacceptable. Why can't we all just get along?


Annoying kids with rude parents at the playground

March 2006

Is it ever worth it to get into an argument with somebody at the playground? I recently started regularly taking my only child to a fantastic neighborhood playground. Most of the other parents are at least polite, and many are even friendly. There are toys lying around that people have brought and left, and there is an unspoken rule that an unattended toy is pretty much up for grabs. It's been a great place for my kid to learn about sharing. I usually bring along a spare truck that I can use in trade; for example, if he's playing with another child's toy and the kid needs to go home I'll swap the borrowed toy for the truck. Today, another child actually went through my bag and took out the truck to play with. When he eventually took the truck to his mother, I approached her and asked if I could get it back. She asked if I was leaving and I said no, I just wanted to put the truck away and she rolled her eyes and told her son that my son didn't want to share though neither of our kids is of talking age. I took this as a personal insult but controlled myself and just put the truck away. I didn't think anything would be gained by pointing out that her kid had gone through my bag... it just felt like she was looking to pick a fight. Now at the end of the day I feel that she's won somehow and I wish that I had told her to control her kid and keep him out of people's bags, or that I had taken the truck away from him when I first saw that he had it. What exactly is the playground ettiquite for a situation like this? Do you enforce the same rules for other kids that you enforce for your own? Do you ask the parents to control their kids? I never let my son go through other people's bags or stroller baskets, why should I let other kids go through mine? Also, I'd never seen this family before, so I'm wondering why I was so concerned about looking like a bully in the first place, or why it bothers me so much that she disapproves of me. I feel like I'm in the 5th grade again and one of the cool kids just told me that my favorite sweater is ugly and now I want to hide a snake in her lunchbox. Nerd Mom


I've been in your situation many times and I feel that you handled the situation perfectly. I don't believe there is really anything to be gained by lecturing other parents about their children's behavior, even when I don't agree with what they are doing. I also think it's important to note that I didn't always feel this way, especially not when my child was younger.

I've been on both sides of this issue: having the out-of-control kid with terrible behavior and being subjected to the same. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just walk away, especially with pre-verbal children. You asserted your boundaries, got your property back and walked away: kudos to you! You might ask yourself what you would like to gain from lecturing the other mother.... My experience is that everyone has their own tolerance level for playground behavior, so I would just try to seek out people that seem to be on the same wavelength and let the others find their own friends as well. Don't Judge Me Please!


Dear Nerd Mom,

You are not alone. I've often thought that political summit meetings have nothing on toddler playgrounds: the negotiations are equally volatile, and they both require lots of backup (toys, that is). That said, I think the mom you're talking about was a boor. Boor, boor, boor. Her kid was wayy out of line to get all up in your bag, and the way she handled it was wrong. If I'm at, say, Thousand Oaks or Totland and my toddler touches someone else's stuff, I gently tell her, ''That belongs to someone else,'' or ''That's not ours,'' and I redirect her immediately to another one of the toys there. Heaven knows, there are enough!

I think it's perfectly ok to calmly tell another parent that you'd prefer their child not go into your things. Let her eyes roll right out of her head, girlfriend: it's YOUR stuff. One time, at one of these parks, a little boy had been hogging a very popular little cart for an entire hour. My daughter had been obviously crying for it, repeatedly trying to get in there, and finally, after a full hour of the mom totally ignoring (and that's a whole other issue - this mom did not interact with her son the whole hour I was there) the interactions and my exasperation with trying to distract my daughter, I kindly went up to the mom and asked if my daughter could sit in the car for a minute. The mom looked at me, smirked, and then went back to reading her book.

Oh, man. My inner Rambo wanted to chuck that book of hers into some cavity where the Berkeley Parents Network would surely censor me, but you get the picture. We do what we can. We are bag stuffers and emptiers. We are tooth gritters and grinders. We are moms.

See you at the parks. Live Long and Prosper


Argh! I feel your frustration! I haven't had _exactly_ that experience but I've sure run across some obnoxious parents since taking my (now 18 month-old) son to several local playgrounds.

And from the way you describe it, your instinct sounds about right -- this woman wanted to pick a fight and you happened to be the first opportunity. She was also passive-aggressive enough to make you feel it was your fault.

Unfortunately, I think you just have to eat it. Not to go completely ''Dear Abby'' on you, but it's just not worth it. When a stranger has interacted with me this way, I've either just ignored it completely, made a non-committal ''uh-huh'' (which is pretty passive-aggressive but seems better than a heated argument), or have made some sort of other non-committal comment.

The few times I've responded to show how peed off I am about how someone's spoken to me, it hasn't made things any better....

I bet you're nervous about what to do when you see her again. (Well, I would be! That bottom-rung of the schoolyard feeling is horrible.) But just ignore her. Really. You can be sure she isn't exactly loving being herself anyway. Her being mean to you has got to be a sympton of how unhappy she is about her world. And _that_ might be enough to make you feel better, too :) Not a snarky parent


I could have written your posting! Upon reading your submission, I exclaimed, ''It's great knowing there are other parents out there who struggle with this issue!'' I immediately had my husband read your posting, because I describe similar situations to him often.

Many a park day, I have found myself in jaw-dropping situations, which left me overwhelmed and questioning my parenting abilities. So many times, I have discussed these situations w/ my husband, who is (thank goodness)a magnificent sounding board and voice of common sense. Who would have suspected that innocent trips to the park would put you in such a confused state? I think I could most definitely write a book entitled, ''Everything Your Child Will Need to Know in Life Will be Revealed in the Sandbox.''... Required reading before, ''Everything I Need to Know in Life I Learned in Kindergarten.''

I have two young children myself -- a 5 + 2 year old, so I am still in the midst of park scenarios, yet have some experience to speak from. What we have come to ''teach'' our children about park toys is that if we bring a toys to the park, other children may play with them if my children are not playing with them. If, however, my children would like to play with their toys and if other children are playing w/ them, I (now my older child is able to ask on his own) kindly assert that those are indeed my child's toys and please may we have them back, thank you very much. Likewise, we play w/ toys that are out and about but if a child approaches us and lets us know that it his, we oblige by returning his toy.

Things don't always go ''perfectly'' and I believe that to be a valuable lesson as well... Things may not always go as we like. And sometimes it is better to ''let it go'' than expect to share each and every thing precisely all of the time. Because that is not realistic. We just have to try to get along, and unkind words in response to rudeness and selfishness may put you in an akward situation down the road.

Nice children come from nice families where cooperative behaviors are modeled. It is obvious from your posting that you care about park ettiquite and making your park fun for all. Been there, doing that


People will be people-is my first response to this incident. I know it has happened to me also but I believe you had a problem and it was solved surely you can't expect others to react the same way as you would? As long as you are polite i.e. please and thank you, you have done all you can do. We all have different ideas of sharing and perhaps she did not see all that you saw or maybe it was not you at all maybe she had a bad day but because she said nothing verbally you must not assume anything- or take defense. Had she not given you the toy back then I can see the offense.

Also I think you confuse things when you say you want to teach your child how to share but arent willing to share yourself also you said the child was not of talking age so for you to want the child to ask for the toys seems odd.

My last words are relax its a park!!! kids will interact with one another and they will use each other toys don't penalize the child (''you or your did not ask or apologize for the toy therefore you can't play with my toy'') for his mother's thoughtlessness --when faced with such a situation try not to be defensive try to be positive solution solver! Have fun playing! zee


Hi Nerd Mom, You were absolutely right; the other mom was rude and the kid was out of line going through your stuff (though if the child was pre-talking, that behavior is natural, and stopping him was the mom's job.) Period. You did the right thing, and I hope that other mom reads this and realizes she was rude, and that no one will want to play with her and her kid if she treats other people like that. Hope to see you at the playground! Me and my (mostly) well-mannered kids would love to hang out with you! Heidi


The playground atmosphere is like life. You will run into a lot of great people and some real lemons. Don't take it so hard. You will probably have more of these encounters before your child ages out of the playground system. Blow these types of encounters off as quickly as you can and focus on the many friends you'll find at the park. -anon


It is common at most playgrounds that if children bring toys, they put the toys in the sandbox. If the child is playing with it, that's nice, but if the child isn't playing with it, they can ''share.'' This is what our culture does at playgrounds.

In addition, children have simplistic concepts at this stage. The other mother was right. You (and by extension) your child didn't want to share right then.

Sharing is a pervasive concept at that age. If the child gets the toy, that is sharing. Not everybody wants to share all the time. This business of keeping a toy ''for trade'' is not done.

It sounds to me as though your intuitive approach is a controlling one and that you have a bit of a thin skin. Have you thought of hooking up with an experienced mom and asking her what she does about things?

You will make yourself miserable if you don't kind of go with the flow for these things. If you only want one toy at the playground, only bring one toy. If you want two or three, then share them. This isn't a bad rule, and it's one that children can understand.

You mention that the children aren't speaking yet. So how would the other child understand the social niceties of ''yes there is a fun toy in the bag but you cannot have it. Bobby's mommy wants it to stay in the bag.'' ?

If you don't want children going through your bag, stop them from going through your bag. This is a fine thing to stop a child from doing. You can phrase it like ''ooh. Watch out. There are things in there I don't want to spill.'' at which point the child's mother is supposed to say ''Sheila, we don't go through bags.'' I swear, you can CHART these interactions.

Once you figure out how it works, you'll do fine, but IMHO you'll have to really look for advice and mentoring so that you don't pound your head against the wall and make yourself miserable. It was smart of you to post on this list. experienced mom


Short answer: Don't put your bag where kids can get into it. Another short answer: Don't bring toys to the park.

More thoughts: Like you said, there are toys already there that ''live'' at the park and having to collect your toys to take them home can cause the annoying drama you described. In my opinion, going to the park is for seeing other kids, playing on the equipment there, etc. If your son is going to play with his toys from home, what is the point? I also think you should not have taken the other mom's saying, ''That boy doesn't want to share'' as a personal insult. That is a valid explanation. Would you have been happier if she said, ''This big lady doesn't want to share?'' The other mom probably thinks you are just as annoying for bringing a toy that you were willing to share and then collecting it at a random time. She probably would have been quite willing to give it back when you were leaving. She was no doubt not aware that her son got it out of your bag which you assumed was safe. Finally, your philosophy of trying to pawn off one of your toys to other kids if, when that other kid is going home, your kid still has their toy, is weird and unfair. It it not to early to teach your son that you can borrow things but have to give them back when the owner wants them. Hands-free park goer


While I do not approve the behavior of that mother, I think she's got a point--provided the truck was pretty visible in the bag or the child had seen your child play with it and put it away in the bag. If you are in a park where there are toys to be shared and you bring a toy from your home, I think the same rule applies: everybody can play with it. It's true a child should be taught to respect other's possesions, but if there is a bag and a truck is highly visible... it just seems too much temptation for the little one! Yes, it's true the little one went over your bag, but it's also true you didn't want to share in a place where the understated rule is that all toys are to be shared. So while I agree her manners were not appropiate, I also think if you bring something to the park from home it should be shared with everybody. Anon


I'm sorry you had an upsetting encounter with another parent at the playground. However, no offense, but the whole incident does not sound like that big a deal to me. Question - are you sure the other parent saw her child take the toy truck out of your bag? Perhaps all she saw was that you wouldn't let her son play with the toy, without knowing how he got it? Also,if neither child is talking yet, that's pretty young - not old enough to understand that it's not ok to take a toy out of somebody else's bag. Sure, the other mom should have corrected it if she saw it, but maybe she didn't, and even if she did, it doesn't seem to me like something to get all upset about. I also don't understand why you didn't just let the child play with the toy -- given the short attention span at this age, he would have abandoned it soon enough, you could have put it back in your bag, and you could have avoided an unpleasant encounter. Having said that, I do think it was a bit rude of the other mom to roll her eyes and make the comment about not sharing-- if it had been me, I would have just given the toy back without comment.

As for playground etiquette -- no, I don't think you need to stand by while somebody else's toddler goes through your bag -- you could, in a very friendly voice, say to the child, ''oh no, that's not for sharing'', (or something like that) as you gently take the bag away. If I were the child's parent, I would jump in at that point and say ''no, Johnny, we don't go through other people's things''

If, on the other hand, you march up to someone and angrily demanded that they ''control'' their child, you will be putting them on the defensive - you're effectively implying that the other parent isn't doing their job - you're likely to get an angry, reactive response. Instead, if you must say something, again I recommend doing it in a friendly way, and assume the other parent just hasn't noticed the unacceptable behavior, for example ''excuse me, I wonder if you've noticed that your child is going through my bag?'' That's if you must say anything at all. Frankly, in this situation, I would just let it go. Diane


First of all, remember that the kid is just a kid... Yeah, it's rude to go through someone's bag but I wouldn't worry too much, I mean did you mention this to the other mom? She probably was just being consistent when she said that ''you didn't want to share..''. I wouldn't think too hard about it. Whenever I go to the park and leave a bag somewhere I try to put it up where kids cannot get to it. They're just curious (think curious george...).

Just think ''I'm a duck and whatever this other mom said is just water off my back.'' Think, she needs to live with herself, and you can leave her and her kid at the park. Further, I think it is best to just be really kind to everyone because we're all going through a great struggle--you don't know, maybe she's ill or has a a really difficult struggle. Just think you have school and PTA to look forward to! Duck Mom


The proper etiquette would have been for her not to ask you why you wanted the toy back. For your own sanity, let it go. I tend to ruminate about that kind of stuff too, thinking of what I ''should have said'' long after the situation is over. It's not unreasonable for you to want to keep track of your things and not have to monitor which random kid has your kid's toy. Liz


Just wondering why you got so upset over the event. It doesn't seem that big a deal that the toddler accidently grabbed a truck that wasn't being played with and wanted to play with it. I know the park you're talking about. If it were me, I would've simply told the mom 'Oh I actually brought that from home. Can you make sure I get it when he's done playing with it? Thanks.' I don't understand why you needed it back in your purse.

I do agree that the other mom was rude when she rolled her eyes but I understand her point. You weren't leaving the park so why did you need the toy? Also, if both your kids are too young to talk how was she supposed to discipline her kid about not taking toys out of bags after the incident was over? My 2+ year old would just look at me blankly if I tried to tell him not to do that 5 minutes after it occurred. Just sayin


When she accused your child of not wanting to share, you should said with a big smile, ''No, *I'm* the big meanie who doesn't want to share. I just don't feel like sharing my truck right now. And I never ever EVER share my purse.''

This sharing business has gotten out of control -- it's become some kind of constitutional right to use other people's stuff. Just because someone asks for something doesn't mean you have to give it to them. Sharing is supposed to be a voluntary act that you do to make others happy, not because you're pressured into it. If someone doesn't want to share, for whatever reason, what's the point of shaming them into it? Perhaps I'm bitter -- I lost my husband's $30 basketball at the playground because I shared it and wasn't paying attention when the person I shared it with left with it.

I think it's fine to tell the mom, no, I don't know when I'm leaving, but I need to keep my stuff in my bag or I'll forget it and leave it here. She was just pissed at you because she couldn't face the terrible act of taking a toy away from her kid. Not being able to do something because it might make your kid cry is, of course, an excellent parenting strategy that will work out really well for her later on. Fran


The kid shouldn't have been rummaging through your bag. If the mother saw it, she should have stopped it. If she didn't, then she should have apologized for her childs actions. The kid isn't being annoying, just a kid. I can't tell you how many times I have had to leap tall buildings with a single bound to preserve some other mother's purse from being taken hostage by my one-year-old (my three-year-old did the same thing until about a year ago). I would chalk it up to a 'bad day' on the part of the other mother. Maybe she was up all night because her child was screaming with molars coming in...or maybe her husband just announced that he was leaving her for his 20-year-old secretary. If it happens again, just ask her to keep a closer eye on her son in a friendly sort of way. kids will be kids, but moms should be better


I may be in the minority, but in the amount of time I've been a parent, I have gone from a ''never interfering'' policy to developing a pretty nervy willingness to corral other people's kids. I try to be straightforward, and not blaming. I know many times it's hard to keep a precise eye on what your kids are doing, and I try to assume innocence on behalf of the adults in charge, and the kids themselves. But when other kids have trampled my own, or swiped a toy that my kid brought to the park and actually wants, I talk to them as I would my own (ideally, kindly but firmly). I actually have this problem more with older kids who tend to be less supervised (or not at all) and I just step in and say, as I just did last weekend, ''hey-- please don't throw the redwood bark. There are lots of little kids around and someone could get hurt.'' I buy into the communal parenting idea, and hope that if I miss my kid doing something that offends, someone will call us on it-- kindly but firmly.

However, I also buy into the communal toy idea. And I try to get my kids to share what they bring to the park, in the spirit of having more available for everyone. So in your situation, I guess I would have mentioned to the mom that her son had taken it from my bag, but at some point you need to let these things go otherwise you'll make yourself crazy. And yes, the whole process of becoming a parent-- in terms of social interaction with other adults-- can be frighteningly like being in Junior High. Say what you need to but hold the snakes.


It's perfectly fine for you to approach the parent of the wayward youngster about getting the toys back. While you will inevitably find (here in the Bay Area) a few parents at each playground who think ever saying ''no'' to their kids is wretchedly cruel and poor parenting, it's perfectly fine for you to say (nicely) ''whoops, your little cutie is fascinated by stroller bags. ;) Can we please have our truck back? Thanks!''. This is less likely to put someone on the defensive, but also lets them know what their child is up to.

It's natural to feel like we're all back in junior high when this stuff happens; there's nothing like other fussy parents to make you feel awkward, in my experience. But you're not crossing any line of etiquette or decency by being politely firm about issues like this (and it's a good message to the little one to ask before rummaging). - Appreciative of Consideration and Niceness at Playgrounds


I think you have every right to be angry! I would have been upset too. I have been lucky to not have a situation come up like this at the park. BUT you had every right, it was your bag. I had a situation that made me feel similar at Costco a couple of weeks ago. Another member picked up the orange juice that had fallen off our cart, I saw him putting it in his truck!!! And he was incredibly rude when I approached him about it. I had to get the manger involved, and while the end result was I got a shiny new orange juice, it sure left a bad taste in mouth and this man was old enough to be my grandfather! People can be incredibly rude in the most strange circumstances! I'm not sure what the park ettiquite is, but I don't let my child rummage through other people's belongings either, it's rude! I would have said something to that order, though it sounds like she was trying to pick a fight...lame! people can be unbelievably rude!


I have two kids who are now ages 10 & 7 and so looking back at these types of situations I may have some insight. I think you can't change people like that and it isn't worth the stuggle. But having said that, I think you can sometimes politely state your case (unless the other mom is crazy-- which is also a learning lesson to your kid that some people are best avoided.) can say that maybe she didn't see, but he grabbed it out of your bag & you guys are glad to share, but he found this one in your bag, and that you brought one he CAN have-- here it is.

So many people out there have so many issues, just feel good knowing that your kid has a mom who cares, and if someone is mean to you it's a good time to show how you can let it roll off your back, because your kid will run into ''meanies'' his whole life, at the playground, at preschool, at college. I still don't understand how some parents are so oblivious to what their kid is doing and then assuming their kid is always ''right'' I try to remind myself how lucky my kids & I are that I'm not like that. And now I see the fruits of my ''niceness.'' Mainly, communicate with your own kid about what happened. been there seen that


I'm the original poster. Thanks to everybody for their responses. Some folks missed the point that I DID wait for the child to finish playing with the toy, after which he handed it to his mother and that is when I asked for the toy back. So yes, we did share the toy with the kid. I do not have a problem with sharing, I have a problem with parents picking a fight. I'll take the advice of many posters and just let the issue go. There are plenty of nice parents to play with. Nerd Mom


You got lots of advice already, but I wanted to reaffirm that the creepy mom at the park only ''wins'' if you let her get to you.

The line I've always used (in my head -- not out loud!) in situations like that one is, ''OK, you have to deal with her --- but at least you don't have to BE her....'' somehow it always helps me pull out one last ounce of patience or humor.

If anything I'd feel sorry for the kid and probably let him KEEP the truck to make up for having such a cranky mommy. And yes, I'd take a bag that closes tightly, or no bag at all. Been there. Pretending I'm bigger than That.


I read your post and waited anxiously to read responses b/c I have been in very similar situations at the park with my 2 and 3 y.o. After reading some of the responses, I felt compelled to write in your defense.

The part about sharing toys...I've just given up taking our things to the park..too hard to keep track of, monitor, referee, etc. Even my very easy going husband has stopped bringing things from home b/c he felt like the bad cop.

We only play with what is there, and if my kids pick up something that belongs to someone else, I loudly say ''that's not ours'' and wait for a cue from the other parent who often say ''he can play with it, Johnny isn't'' I then make sure that if Johnny returns, we give it back and thank him for sharing.

The part about thinking about what you should have said after the fact...I am a SAHM and sometimes the only adult I talk to all day might be another parent at a park, and so, yes, if that interaction was less than ideal, I might ruminate about it more than on a day when I have lots of other adult conversations. Don't be too hard on yourself!

And take YOUR toy back whenever you like, no explanation needed. I feel you