Monday, February 16, 2009

Disciplining other people's children in the wild

We use exceptional parenting techniques on Saturday mornings - we take the kids to McDonalds for breakfast after swimming to avoid getting-out-of-the-water tantrums. The particular one we go to has an undercover play area that Charlie can manage without help, and they always play for a good half hour after they wolf down a muffin and hash brown.

Last Saturday there was a boy, about 4 or 5, who was playing amongst the throng. He decided he wasn't going to let Charlie play with the sliding balls. I didn't see the beginning of the episode, so I have no idea who was playing with what first, so I let it all go until he started deliberately slamming the balls into Charlie's fingers. I then asked him to stop in some generic "Don't do that please" sort of way, but to no avail. I needed to step up to him and say "Uh-uh" quite close to him. He started to protest and this conversation followed:

Crash: Where is your father?

Kid: I don't have a father.

Crash: Where is your mother?

Kid: [now yelling] I don't have a mother! You're a stupid head!

Me: [silently] Oh Christ.

The kid bolted off and a little later I heard him telling a woman all about it - I don't know what he said, I could just hear the persecuted tone, and then I heard her say "Do you want me to speak to her?" and I thought "Oh dear, here we go."

So in she comes (on crutches, which probably explains why she wasn't in the play area to start with) and, with my heart in my mouth, she starts talking to me.

Her: Was there a problem with my child? [nice wording - still don't know if the kid was telling the truth]

Me: [Feeling decidedly on edge] Yeah, well he was deliberately smashing the balls into my kid's fingers. We asked him to stop a couple of times but in the end I had to go up to him.

Her: Well he has a hearing problem [Oh great, he may or may not have parents, his carer is on crutches and he has a hearing problem - I am an evil person], but that doesn't excuse his behaviour.

Me: [huge, silent, sigh of relief]

She then turns to the child and says, among other things, that she would have done exactly the same thing considering he was hurting someone and if he wants to play he needs to play nicely and next time they come he won't be able to play.

In the wonderful jargon of marketing departments everywhere:

Lessons learned:

1. Most parents (or carers or whatever) are reasonable and want their kids to behave as much as you do. Conspicuous outlyers notwithstanding.

2. Ask "Who is here looking after you?" and not "Where is your mother/father?". It protects you from either asking a cruel and heartless question of a child who has gone through hell or a child lying to make you feel like you've asked a cruel and heartless question. :)


  1. Love it! I was once at a local playground. It is in an odd spot and farily well hidden so we don't get many families/kids who play there.

    Nonetheless, one day I was there with my daughter, and there was another 5-year-old (approximate age) girl there as well (unaccompanied).

    A little boy (also probably 5) came to the park with his mom. he had a toy camera (or something like that). The little girl asked to play with the camera. The boy said that he wasn't going to share it. The girl told him that he HAD to sahre it. They went back and forth.

    Then, the mom politely explained to the girl that she told the boy that he could bring his favorite toy to the park and that he would NOT have to share it if anyone asked.

    I was shocked!!!!! If you bring a toy to the park then you know that you are going to have to share. If you don't want to share then don't bring your toy to the park.

    Maybe it's just me. Anyways, your story reminded me of that day!

  2. Interesting observations here Ariane. I haven't had to deal with this situation too often and it is always uncomfortable, I agree.