What is an appropriate way to deal with someone else’s child at the play ground or play group whose behavior is aggressive and possibly hurtful or dangerous to other children and the parent doesn’t seem to be concerned? My child is aged 2-3 and the aggressor is 4-5.

—Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

Start by using the Four Steps to Winning Cooperation, from Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson with the other parent:

  1. Guess how the other parent is feeling. Get into their world, maybe they think children need to solve problems on their own. Check to see if your guess is correct.
  2. Show understanding, you don’t have to agree or condone to understand.
  3. Share your feelings about the situation in a non accusing manner using “I” messages. “I am really concerned about this and need your help, are you willing to help me?”
  4. Work together on ideas to avoid the problem in the future.

If after this the other parent is not willing to help you with YOUR PROBLEM (it may not be a problem for them at all) decide what you will do. For example you might take time for training with all the children and during neutral times role play how to respond when someone is crossing the line. Make a plan with your children and be sure to prepare them by practicing at home. Discuss your plan of action on the way to the park or play group. Let your children know that their safety is #1 and that you will intervene when they need help. Let them know that you might need to leave if necessary to maintain their safety. Show understanding if they are disappointed when you do have to leave AND STILL LEAVE. The bottom line is that you might need to find a different play group with parents who share mutual values and are also concerned with training their children to have social awareness and concern for others. That you have intervened to protect your children’s safety will have a much longer affect on them than missing some play time.