Little Bear was happily riding his bike in the garden at nursery the other day when another kid, let’s call him Steve, started following him. Steve got closer and closer until he started playfully bumping into Little Bear’s bike and giggling. Should I intervene?
Maybe not, Little Bear is getting cross with Steve but no one’s getting hurt. In fact, Little Bear might even be learning some life skills about dealing with annoying people without parents swooping in. Maybe it’s an opportunity for him to learn how to talk to Steve and persuade him to- Wait! Little Bear’s buddy, Suzie, has just stepped in and pushed over Steve’s bike. Intervene? But how?
Suzie then takes Steve’s bike and rides off in victory shouting ‘My turn! My turn!’ Intervene? Hell no.
Bewildered, Steve is now on the floor being told off with some serious finger wagging by Little Bear. ‘Naughty naught Steve, it’s impossible, oh dear!’. Steve now starts crying (understandably). Intervene? But against who? Didn’t Steve sort of deserve it? No! Poor Steve.
Luckily the nursery staff stepped in at this point. No doubt just before I was about to open up a whole load of parenting and fix the whole situation perfectly of course…
It is no easy task deciding on when to intervene in a baby brawl.
The moment your baby can crawl, they will probably start trying to gouge out the eyes of other children. But they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing at that point in their little lives. After their first steps they still have no idea what they’re doing to other kids when they grab, poke, scratch and bite them. They’re just exploring with unfortunate consequences for the others involved.
But at some point in the lead up to being 2, they understand that what they do has an impact on the other little tots around them. As parents we know that we can’t just pull them away from that situation anymore, because they’re learning in it. We’re going to have to somehow navigate the choppy waters of explaining to them why they need to be careful about how they play and why.
Knowing when to let them resolve the situation themselves (biggest win) and when we should intervene because things start going down hill (ok) is really tough, especially when there are other people’s kids involved. If you’re not careful, things will fall apart and end up in tears (worst outcome).
One approach I’ve seen parents (including myself) take is only ever intervene if your own child is at fault. If another child is in the wrong (stealing your kid’s toys are whatever) then you desperately search for the other parent, start telling your kid to ‘share’ (with thieves), and as a last resort extract your tot from the mess and promise them biscuits.
Another is to only intervene if not doing so might lead to a melt-down. So you let your kid take the toys they want from the other kids because your exhausted, have already dealt with 3 tantrums that morning and can’t be arsed to deal with another one for some moral lecturing opportunity. You even desperately look for replacement toys to try to placate the other kid.
Luckily there are also other better ways to intervene, when you and your toddler and more up for it.
But the hardest part by far is knowing how to deal with the other kid if they’re at fault and there ain’t another parent around to fix it. Have a serious chat with this kid who isn’t yours, and they might have no idea what you’re saying, then just dripple back at you before starting to cry. Repeating the words ‘share’ or ‘play nice’ and your kid might behave whilst the other sees an opportunity to run off with their stolen goods.
But more importantly, what if the other parent sees you trying to intervene and gets pissed off with you! We always feel we’re on dangerous turf telling off someone else’s kid. Unfortunately, there are no answers here. We just have to wing it and do what we can.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots