Little Kids vs. Bigger Kids at the Playground

Parent Q&A

Unsure how to handle older children with my toddler Jan 11, 2019 (11 responses below)
Older kid bothering my toddler in playground May 1, 2018 (18 responses below)
  • 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.  

  • 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 none 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.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


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

Kindergarten Bullies 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

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