Monday, February 24, 2014

When Strangers Discipline Your Children

How do you feel about strangers disciplining your children? My two year old, Claire, and I had such an incident recently. It started innocently enough...

We stepped onto an elevator behind another man. The three of us took our places and waited for the doors to close. In the beat before we were moving, Claire reached up to push a button.

The man yelled, “Don’t push that!”

The volume of his voice filled the small space of the elevator car with import. Stunned, Claire pulled her index finger out of the air and hid it in the palm of her other hand. She turned around and looked at him, her brow knitted in confusion.

I took a deep breath and said to my daughter, “It’s ok, Claire. Go ahead and push it.” She did. I turned to him and said, “She likes to push the buttons, so we’ve taught her how to press the 'close door' button.”

He responded, “Oh, I thought she was pushing a random floor.”

There you have it. We were on our way up. No apology from the man for yelling at my daughter. We rode the rest of the way in silence.

disciplining children
My head wasn’t silent though. Inside, I was roaring. I tried to remind myself of other encounters with strangers, the ones I’m grateful for. The time when someone stopped my daughter when she’s broken away from me in a crowd. The time someone picked her up after she has fallen at the park. The many, many times that people have simply returned her friendly "hello". I tried to remember that this man's behavior was an aberration, or to look at things from his perspective. Telling myself these things was not enough to counteract the other voices in my head.

I was thinking about how much I wanted to tell the man that he had crossed a line.

I was thinking of saying that, unless my daughter is about to set herself or someone else on fire or something of that ilk, discipline is my domain and privilege as her mother.

I was thinking, “Dude, I get the terrible repercussions of accidentally having to stop at another floor on an elevator (dripping sarcasm here), but keep your big, fat trap shut. Try picking on someone your own size, you selfish bully!”

Instead of saying these things, I’m writing them here. Perhaps, I didn't say anything in the moment because Claire was with me. Or because I was trying to take the high ground. Or because I'm a wimp. Perhaps, I was worried that if I got started, I wouldn't be able to stop. Perhaps, this blog is my place to vent; where I go to find support from like-minded moms or to see if others have a different perspective to offer.

It’s not Claire and my first encounter on the elevator either. About a year ago, I wrote a post about a stranger who ignored Claire's hello on the elevator, and how angry and sad the interaction made me. I didn't say anything to that man either. That post brought out particularly impassioned opinions from readers. People on one side believed that the man was small and pathetic, and that ignoring the friendly gesture of a child is the lowest of low. People on the other side believed that I shouldn't have been angry at all, who told me that I should have given the man the benefit of the doubt or considered that he might have been having a bad day or, worse, a bad life.

So folks, what do you think? Have you ever had an adult behave in a way towards your children that rubbed you the wrong way? How do you feel when strangers step in to tell your child what to do? How do you think I handled this man? Should I have flat out told the man not to discipline my children or that his tone was aggressive? Or should I have let it go? Should I have given him the benefit of the doubt and gone on with my day? Now that the incident is over and I have time to reflect, I find myself filled with questions…

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26 comments:

  1. I think we've all been in your shoes. I'm usually a keep my mouth shut and stew inside kind of girl, except once when a single sentence fell out...."That's my job, thank you". I can't stand adults that expect/anticipate poor behaviour from children. They're not all being raised as random button pushers.

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  2. That's just awful! What a mean man, it's not like she was hurting anything.

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  3. It sounds like he was probably just someone not used to kids or who doesn't like kids. I would have been like you, silently stewing inside, perhaps because if I started to say anything I would have ended up screaming and seeing Mommy flip out would make the experience even worse! You did the right thing, being there for your daughter, setting the right example. :)

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  4. I love this post and can relate to every word. I have two beautiful, active (i.e. rambunctious) daughters, and strangers have felt inclined to discipline them on more than one occasion. The thing is, as their mother, I have my own guidelines for what's okay/safe/appropriate/being good. And my guidelines might be different than someone else's. I know my kids' limits and capabilities. I'm their mother and it's my job to raise them and discipline them. Like you said, if they've set someone on fire or are in obvious distress - then yes, I appreciate the help of concerned strangers. But otherwise? NO.

    But with all that said, I have to admit that I'm rarely brave enough to say something to the stranger. I'm most likely to glare and silently seethe. That's something I need to improve so that I can set the best possible example for my kids.

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  5. Is it wrong that I want to jab that guy in the throat with my elbow? Seriously, Rachel, that made me mad. Who does that??? Who? Definitely worse than the person who ignored your adorable toddler, although, what was up with that guy, too? Toddlers are supposed to make everyone smile. Sigh.

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  6. I think he crossed a line. It can be tough call, though. Perhaps he reacted without thinking - on impulse. However, in that case he should have apologized. I fI was in your shoes, I probably wouldn't have said anything either, but I would have been thinking many of the same things you did.

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  7. I think I would have been irritated too. At the very least, he shouldn't have yelled, but he may have felt like a boob afterward and was just too embarrassed to apologize.

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  8. My rule-of-thumb is to ask myself what I want to role-model for my son. I rarely say anything because it takes too long to think about it, but my ideal response would have been "please don't shout at my child" in an even tone.

    That said, I'm a stay-at-home dad, and people react differently to me than they would with mums.

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  9. Oh jeez, Rachel. That's SO hard. I probably wouldn't have said anything OR I'd have said something really bitchy. I'd have stewed and questioned myself over and over about it either way. The fact is, the world has a bunch of assholes in it. People should NOT yell at other people's kids, unless they're like you know, hurting our kid or something (in which case I'm totally not above telling another person's kid to be nice). Plus, that man must have a dreary life if he's so worried about an adorable little girl pushing the button on the elevator. Would it have even mattered if she pushed the button on EVERY floor? Sigh. Sorry that he yelled at her. That just sucks.

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  10. clearly, this elevator guy was totally rude, but in some instances, i think it's appropriate to discipline misbehaved children...even if they aren't your own. if their parents can't do the disciplining for them, then i have no problem stepping in! granted, it's got to be behavior that really is inappropriate and needs to be corrected.

    in a similar vein, you must read this post and the comments at this blog: http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2014/02/why-im-okay-disciplining-other-peoples.html.

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  11. clearly, this elevator guy was totally rude, but in some instances, i think it's appropriate to discipline misbehaved children...even if they aren't your own. if their parents can't do the disciplining for them, then i have no problem stepping in! granted, it's got to be behavior that really is inappropriate and needs to be corrected.

    in a similar vein, you must read this post and the comments at this blog: http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2014/02/why-im-okay-disciplining-other-peoples.html.

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  12. Once again, I think you handled it perfectly!! Telling your daughter it was okay, to go ahead and push it, and then letting him know very politely that your daughter has been schooled on in elevator button pushing (haha) was fantastic. A). Your daughter had it reiterated to her that she is important, and is being taught the right things to do B). Your daughter had it reiterated that her mom's got her back and C). You were polite to the man, but let him know he was in the wrong, and you didn't even have to say it. That you did it politely allowed him to be corrected, and in keeping your cool, he might actually have taken that lesson to heart. High five to you. :)

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  13. I absolutely don't think that you're a wimp. I actually think that encouraging Claire to go ahead and finish what she was doing was a perfect reaction. I spend my life in fear of breaking unwritten laws and I would probably have just shut up and then hated myself for it. I'd also be too surprised to think of an appropriate reaction. A similar interaction had this week when a woman shushed my four-year-old at the elevator at the museum when he asked her an innocent question. I was shocked and so was my husband then we realized she also jumped at her toddler when he spoke to her. I completely relate to your reaction while this incident is still fresh in my memory.

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  14. I hate when I believe that I SHOULD have said something but I didnt. Then I rehash it over and over and cant let it go.

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  15. But seriously, no one should snap at kids. Not cool.

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  17. I usually use sarcasm in these instances. A "Wow. Are you always this friendly or are we just lucky?" would have probably slipped out. That's not the high road, though... I think you did the right thing. Ignoring the nasty tempered bear is better than poking it.

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  18. I don't think what the man did was disciplining your child. He was just being plain rude and dismissing your child as a person. If Claire had been doing something genuinely naughty like I don't know, smearing her faeces on the buttons (at the age of two there aren't many things that are genuinely naughty are there) and he disciplined her you might think, well I wouldn't have done it like that but OK he had a point. But he didn't have a point at all, he didn't even wait until she did the supposed naughty thing, before yelling at her. He basically didn't respect the fact she is also a person with rights. If it had been an adult who pressed every button in the lift he probably would not have spoken to them the way he spoke to Claire would he.

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  19. I don't get the big deal. Lots of kids get on an elevator and start playing with the buttons. How was this man supposed to know that your daughter has been trained to Janis which button to press??? His tone may have been off, but you were in a public space.

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    1. I think that the big deal is that how does he NOT know she's been trained to push the right button? Seems to me he freaked out unnecessarily. Public spaces still deserve respect and kindness.

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  20. In all honesty, I applaud you for saying nothing. I know I probably would have said something, but nothing productive or helpful. I was thinking about an ideal response for the guy after you said she was closing the door... I think extending forgiveness would have made him feel bad, but if you feel sincerely about that, to do it... Does that make sense? I'm not sure I'm saying it how I'm picturing it because it really throws me off... idk, glad you got it off your chest. This is really helpful for me in the future. I appreciate you.

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  21. I think you probably handled it the right way because what it taught your little one was that not everything needs a response. I, on the other hand, probably would have reached up and pushed all the buttons myself! ;)

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  22. He crossed the line. That being said, I have corrected other people's children, particularly when they are being rough with/bullying my much younger and smaller child--and usually the other kids in the play area too--and their guardian is just ignoring it. I agree that in your situation and as a general rule people should not correct other peoples' kids. But I don't care if you are trying to teach your kid to work out and resolve their own interactions with other children, or whatever your reasoning is. If your 3-4 year old is shoving down my barely walking 11-month old (and the other kids), the first time I might say "oops!" and pick my kid up. After that if you do not correct your child I will. It is not fair that I should have to make my kid stop playing because yours is being a bully.

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  23. My head wasn’t silent though. Inside, I was roaring. love that line and feel like this is me a LOT (and also sometimes I don't remain silent but then i sort of am capable of turning into a psycho - not able to stop, like you say, so I try not to do that too often). I try to remind myself that it is inevitable and it helps toughen the skin of my kiddo, something that is hard for me to do, but it HURTS our hearts to have encounters like this, for sure.

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