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Should Parents Get Involved In Playground Arguments?

30/12/2013 10:02 | Updated 22 May 2015

Parents' argumentRex Features

Playground arguments still seem to unfold in much the same way as they did when we were kids.

It all starts with a petty squabble because someone has been pushed off the slide , then there's name calling and childish insults. At this point various mates usually gather round to watch and there's always the risk it could end up with pushing, shoving and hair-pulling.

And that's just the mums.

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I assumed I'd seen the last of playground fights when I left school - but that was before I started making regular visits to my local park with my daughter.

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It's all quite friendly and relaxed when your children are small - after all, it's hard to upset anyone as you toddle between the baby swings and the sandpit.

But by the time children hit the age of three, the vibe starts to change.

This is the age when they start to squabble, shove each other out of the way and develop an obsession with climbing up the slide rather than coming down it.

Most of the time it's trivial stuff and everyone's happy to leave the kids to sort it out among themselves with a few prompts from parents to 'play nicely.'

But it's a different story when you see another child deliberately hurting your own - and when you witness your (school age) baby being bullied it feels natural to intervene.

And this is where things get complicated.

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No one feels comfortable with telling off someone else's child - ideally we want the other parent to intervene, tell their child to behave themselves and say sorry. But what should you do if that doesn't happen?

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We all want our kids to feel like we'll always stick up for them, so it feels wrong to do nothing.

And that's why I found myself having words with a small boy who had tipped my daughter off a hammock and then sat on top of her so that she couldn't climb back on.

As I pulled my screaming daughter out from underneath him, I told him that he wasn't being nice, that he'd hurt her and made her cry. And that's when his mother arrived on the scene.

I calmly explained what had happened and pointed out my sobbing daughter's bumps and bruises.

Her response: "No, my boy wouldn't do that. And you've got no right to have a go at him."

I pointed out that I hadn't had a go at him, just asked him to say sorry.

That's when she told me I was a liar and that "he wouldn't do a thing like that."

She then pointed out that my (average sized) daughter was bigger than her son and asked her age.

When I said that she was five, she replied: "Well she's fat then. You need to put your fat daughter on a diet."

I saw red.

If she'd been having a go at me then I probably would have just walked away.

But I didn't.

So although I'm not proud of the fact that I then called her a b***h and pointed out that she should spend more time keeping an eye on her son rather than playing on her phone, I'm glad that I stood up for my daughter.

I was bulled for a couple of years at junior school, I didn't want to send out the message that it's okay to let people call you names and push you around.

Nevertheless, I felt shaken and upset and phoned my partner in tears, worried that I'd handled it badly.

But would I have set a better example to my daughter by just walking away?

"We can't always do what's best when our emotions take over and it's perfectly natural to slip into fight mode when we want to protect our child," says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus. "In this situation I've often found myself just removing my child and then sitting down with them to talk about what happened. If they really don't want to leave, that's a good indication that they are robust enough to handle things themselves.

"Having said that, children do need to know that there's someone there to protect them so make it clear that they can always call you over if they feel worried. Quieter children are more likely to need to learn how to be assertive, so teach them how to stand their ground by saying something like, 'I was here first so I'm going to have my turn then you can have yours.' The earlier they learn to do this the better, as it means they are less likely to have problems with conflict or bullying later on."

So it seems like it's not the end of the world if we step in to defend our kids, but it's far better to teach them how to diffuse the situation themselves.

Maybe next time I'll take a deep breath and count to 10 instead...

How do you handle playground arguments? Weigh in or leave?

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