Dear Therapist: My wife and I love taking our toddlers to the park to socialize with other kids. Recently there has been a child that constantly bullies the other children, and their parents never step in. It's hard to sit back and watch. Are we supposed to intervene, or do we let our child fend for themselves?
Frame Therapist Eli Weinstein weighs in…
This is such a great question, which I feel hits on so many different levels of parenting that I would love to touch on within this answer. As a parent, we always want what's best for our kids and become hyper-attune to the ups and downs of what works and doesn't work for our kids—obsessing over books, Instagram accounts, and experts to learn all the best tips and tricks and tailor-make them to our wonderful children.
We hope that all other parents are doing the same, but I must admit, as someone who specializes in therapy with parents, this is not the case.
I'm going to touch on a few points of how to be compassionate about other parents as well as look out for the care and concern of your children.
Safety, Safety, Safety
One of the cardinal rules for caring for our kids is their safety. It can be a responsibility that is very hard to watch over 24/7.
I first would say I am going to do my best to assume that this parent isn't purposely not caring, but might be overwhelmed and unaware of their children's actions
If at any point this child puts your kid's safety (that includes emotional) at risk, you have every right to step in and intervene kindly and with grace, and then go to the parent to inform them what has been happening. Make them aware, without judgment or attack/blame.
I will add a caveat to this idea: If it is more of a preference of how you want your kids to play, but the other child isn't actually bullying or doing anything wrong, it’s just not up to your standard - I wouldn't go and educate or lecture a parent on how to parent or raise their children… that is a disaster waiting to happen
Lastly, if this becomes a trend and you end up chatting with the parent, and nothing changes, that's the time to talk with the other parents of your children's friends and maybe go to another park for the safety, calm, and joy of what these outings and playtime is all about, fun.
The Other Side
I need to touch on the idea that we “need” to educate others on their parenting or add our two senses to how we feel others should be parenting their own children. How we parent will never be how another parent will. We as adults need to learn to set boundaries for ourselves if another style of parenting irks or pushes our buttons as a parent, causing the interactions and friendships to be strained. We know what is best for OUR children, not for ALL children.
In this case, you gave, there is a problem being caused to not just your child, but many. It falls on us to not stand by and let our children be hurt or bullied. But, there might be an excellent opportunity to educate our children on how to deal with bullies and hardships in life. Be careful not to become a hovering parent or a parent that becomes hypervigilant of our kid's "safety" without giving them a chance to show up in their own lives and learn empowering life lessons.
To wrap up, if you feel your child is struggling and cannot handle it on their own. Speak up, don't sit by and watch. Just remember, just because you say something to the other parent doesn't mean they will hear, internalize or change anything; they may even become defensive or combative (no one likes to be told their kid might be causing issues or hurting others).
Tread lightly, with compassion and empathy for the other parent's situation, but at the same time protect and look out for your kids' needs.
About the author: Eli Weinstein is an LCSW licensed and runs a private practice in NV + NY. He specializes in relationships, anxiety, trauma, and parenting. In addition, he hosts a podcast called The Dude Therapist and runs events and speaking opportunities across America. To learn more about Eli, or get in touch, visit his Frame profile here.
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