We all want to bring back the village. We want to trust each other again. We want to help each other again. We want to lend a Band-Aid, a juice box, a helping hand. We want to chat at the playground instead of tapping away on our phones. We want to feel a part of something. We believe that it does take a village, and we want ours back.
We want to feel that other people are watching out for our kids: that all kids are not only their parents’ responsibility, but everyone’s responsibility. Part of that means that if your kid is acting like an a**hole, I’ll step in. Moreover, I hope if my kid’s acting like Johnny Jackass, that you’ll do the same.
I don’t mean I’ll grab your toddler and scream in his face for chucking sand at my kid. I wouldn’t allow you to do that to my kid either. That’s just plain rude, mean, and overall traumatizing. I’ve had strangers yell at my kids and try to step in about their so-called bad behavior, and all it did was piss me off. My kids have ADHD, so they may need gentle reminding and redirection, not some strange person snapping at them. Your kid may have the similar neurodiversity issues. So when I step in because your kid is acting like an a**hole, I try to keep that in mind. I hope you do the same.
Look, kids will be kids. On any given day, any given kid is going to act like an a**hole at least some of the time. It’s a basic fact of childhood. But some things deserve intervention from strangers, if you’re not looking, if I don’t know where you are, if I’ve asked around “who’s got the kid in the green shirt?” and no one’s answered me.
1. Overt meanness. If your kid is calling my kid names or bullying them, I’m stepping in. Sorry. we don’t put up with that in my house, and my kids have no room for it in their lives. They don’t deserve it. I won’t allow them to be subjected to it.
2. Physical violence. I don’t care who started what. If there’s shoving, pushing, punching, hitting, pinching, pulling, throwing, etc., I’m calling it out.
3. Obviously dangerous behavior. This gets tricky, because my definition of danger tends to be more narrow than other people’s (i.e., I freak out much less than other parents). So if I’m worried about your kid’s safety, chances are your kid is probably actually on the brink of disaster, as in, your two-year-old is staring down the edge of a precipice or something.
4. Discussion of age-inappropriate material. If your kid is standing behind the swing set telling my kid what a blowjob is, I’m going to walk over there and talk to them about it. Not because I’m sex-shaming, but because I don’t really want my 5-year-old asking me about blowjobs later.
5. If a child has repeatedly asked another kid not to touch them and they have not listened. We have a rule: no one has the right to touch you in ways you do not want to be touched. Full stop, end of story. When that gets violated, mama bear steps in.
6. If a child takes a toy out of another child’s hands, or takes a toy another child was clearly playing with. We call that stealing, and stealing is called “acting like an a**hole.”
Look, you don’t bust up in there yelling if a child is acting like an a**hole. I don’t care what the hell they did. You never touch them. You use a gentle voice. You get their attention, and you get down on their level. You say something like, “Hi, I’m so-and-so’s parent, Mrs or Ms or Mr or Dr or Whatever the Hell.” This is important: it takes you from a stranger to a known person. You have made yourself a part of the village and someone that kid can point to and say, “They’re so-and-so.” Even if they can’t recall your name, they’ll remember whose mom you are. And if you’re intervening, you damn well better be willing to have a kid call you out on it to their parent.
Next, you want to immediately name the behavior. “I see you called that kid a jerk/pushed them/keep touching them/took that toy from them. That wasn’t very nice, and I’m sure your parents don’t allow you to act that way at home. We don’t allow our children to act that way at home, either.” Then you’ve done three things: you’ve brought in the specter of their parent on your side. You’ve made it clear that you don’t approve their behavior and you hold your own kid to the same rules, so this isn’t a playing-favorites thing. Next, you say something like, “I’m going to have to ask you to (not do that behavior again)” or “I’m going to have to speak to your parent about it. Do you understand? If you have trouble playing nicely, I’ll be glad to stay here and help everyone play kindly.”
This statement is really important. It imposes consequences for the behavior. These consequences aren’t out of line. They aren’t overly threatening or mean. You’ve told the kid acting like an a**hole something that they won’t like — you might tell their parent — but that’s not crazypants. You’ve also offered to lend a helping hand. No one wants adults playing with them. But if you need to help (and my kids in particular may need gentle help and reminders), you need to help, and that’s okay. Yeah, pain in the ass on your end. But sorry, parent. That’s what happens when a kid is acting like an a**hole.
If my kid is acting like an a**hole, you best tell me. Stat. As soon as you figure out who the fuck I am. I wanna know what they did, what you did, how you handled it, and if you did it right, I wanna like, bake you cookies or something and we’ll probably end up friends, because, hey, village, amirite?
So don’t be afraid to step in when a kid is being an a**hole. Just do it the right goddamn way. Don’t march in there guns blazing because someone took your precious wookum’s shovel, then get into a tug-of-war. Remember: this kid may be neurodiverse in ways you don’t see. This kid may be suffering from trauma you don’t understand. You never know what’s happening under the surface, so give them space and grace and use your best positive parenting skills.
Make sure you step in when my kid is being an a**hole.
But make sure you’re a decent a human being about it. Because they might be small, but they’re still people. And they deserve some grace, because they’re still learning to be good humans, the same way your kids are. So have some respect for them. I promise to respect your kids as well. And I promise to respect you most of all.
We’re all doing the best we can.
Remember that one.