Playground politics and angry parents

HE shouted “HEY!” in the unmistakable tone of a father who’d just seen his young child get barrelled over by another, much larger, kid.

Every parent waiting in the wings of the “baby water slide” flinched, watched on concerned and chewed on their lips to see how the dad played out his instinctive anger.

His little girl appeared unhurt but he scooped her up, spoke softly to her and she soon broke into tears. Yes, she had been hurt. Her dad bore witness to it and she was given permission to howl in delayed dismay.

There’s always a delicate art of diplomacy in the playground, or water park, or anywhere children can run smack into another child, of how one parent handles another person’s children.

I’ve written about it before – as I circumnavigated my own clumsy way into parenthood – but something was different this time. I think I’ve managed to reach a reasonable peace with it.

It’s no surprise given how many hours I spend per week in a playground, playgroup, kids’ gym, etc. And I can watch, with some detachment now, the parents not quite at ease with the unsteady etiquette of reprimanding another’s child. I can even dole out some teacher-style lecture for the children – mine and others – when the need arises.

But I began reading The Slap this week and started thinking about the “modern world” of parenting. Don’t for a second think I would condone anyone smacking someone else’s child (especially anyone with such simmering aggression – someone who is one bad day away from causing serious bodily harm to another human being… but I digress), but I did begin to realise just how dramatically the landscape of parenting – in particular, discipline – has changed.

I smack my children.

I smack small bottoms when I am breaking up a physical fight and I smack small hands when they’re playing with garage door remotes while their sibling wanders about under it, completely oblivious. It’s a scary thing to confess because, of all the mummy bloggers I read (and I read a few), they’re predominantly anti-smacking. I haven’t always done this and I doubt it will be carried on into school years.

I also grew up with the cane. Physical discipline was not uncommon to my primary school peers and I.

So, in my measly 30-odd years, we’ve gone from the cane allowed to be used by teachers to parents not even feeling they can smack their children.

It’s a major leap from older parents who see a tantrum-throwing child and whisper “that child deserves a good smack” to the helpless young mother of the child having a meltdown feeling judged by her own peers if she handles it with anything less than reasoning and concern.

I don’t have any answer to this. I certainly don’t judge parents who don’t smack, I don’t judge parents who give time-outs (which I also do), I don’t judge parents who bribe with chocolate (because I’ve done that too). I do believe each parent knows their child – and exactly what they’re dealing with at any given moment – better than anyone standing on the outside.

I think it’s a shame that such criticism exists in the parenting sphere because, let’s face it, it’s a tough gig and we’ve all had days where we could have done a better job.

I felt for the dad, schlepping his miserable daughter around on his hip at the water park. Because he seemed so out of his depth. What can you possibly do with that red swirl of emotion when you’re dealing with a mere child? A child, overexcited at the bottom of a water slide who wasn’t watching where he was going and happened to collide into his little daughter?

I watched him throw angry glances around, undoubtedly looking for the offending child’s parents. No 0ne seemed to “own” the kid and he was left with an impotent anger.

Perhaps it was a good thing the child’s parents weren’t nearby and the incident was allowed to slip into obscurity.

It’s one thing to shout “hey” at a kid, another to impugn an unsuspecting adult – perhaps with their own pent-up parenting frustrations – with deriliction of duty.


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joanne
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 23:17:59

    I’m with you Peta, on everything, well said 🙂


  2. petajo
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 23:22:30

    Thanks Jo – that’s a relief!


  3. Simone
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 06:35:29

    Well said Peta. Maybe it’s the way I was bought up with discipline in the form of smacks … my fuse runs out way too quick!


  4. Sheeple Liberator
    Jan 18, 2012 @ 12:52:59

    My Grade 1 teacher washed a kid’s mouth out with soap & water for swearing. This was the 1980s! All our parents were outraged, but no one actually made a complaint. Interesting how much things have changed in a relatively short time.


    • petajo
      Jan 19, 2012 @ 05:36:51

      Ah, soap… if only my daughter didn’t already eat it, it could be a handy bit of discipline!
      Though, truthfully, swearing isn’t exactly the biggest no-no in my house.


  5. Nicole (SportyMummy)
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 00:51:34

    A great post! I too, wish that there was not so much judgement and criticism of other people parenting.


    • petajo
      Jan 20, 2012 @ 06:03:15

      Thanks Nicole… It’d be nice if people were like that in general. But it’s a whole other pain if someone criticises your parenting methods.


  6. Becky
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 01:49:19

    Great post. I am a non-smacker, purely because it doesn’t work on my children. I was smacked as a child and don’t feel it caused me any negative ailments. The changes in discipline and the fact that everyone thinks they’re not only allowed to have a say but that they are free to quickly pass judgement makes this whole parenting gig much more stressful than it needs to be.
    And I fear the day I am that man. Or the day I am approached by a parent at the park.


    • petajo
      Jan 20, 2012 @ 06:00:28

      Thanks Becky… Smacking didn’t work on mine either for awhile, but it has its place now. And undoubtedly the day will come when smacking isn’t suitable for them. I just try and do what I think’s best… and remember that so is everyone else!


  7. Donna @ NappyDaze
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 04:06:24

    This is a great post! The politics of playgrounds and parks is a tricky one… I for one dont feel comfortable disciplining other children, but then again nothing too bad has happened to him at the hands of another child that has gone unnoticed by the parent or carer. I also baulk at the idea of someone else (except for a teacher or babysitter) doling out the discipline but me.

    But man oh man, playground’s are just a minefield no one warns you about when you are a parent to be…


    • petajo
      Jan 20, 2012 @ 05:57:00

      Exactly, I was no where near prepared for that kind of conflict and took it (someone else reprimanding my son) too personally when I first started out.


  8. inspirealissa
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 11:21:15

    Well said. An interesting post 🙂
    things alissa knows @ look.find.inspire


  9. Cranky Old Man
    Jan 21, 2012 @ 03:39:10

    A smack delivered properly does not hurt a child, it merely gets their attention. Most children only have to be smacked twice. Once to get their attention, the second to confirm you will do it again. (I define a smack as a slap on the back of the hand enough to sting but not leave a mark) I incorporated the smack with a sharp “EH EH” and soon all I needed to stop an activity was the “EH EH”. To this day I can still stop my children, 3 are older than 35, with a sharp “EH EH” and they have no idea why!

    Cranky OId Man


  10. petajo
    Jan 22, 2012 @ 07:18:36

    You should write a parenting manual, Cranky! 😉

    At least you just grunt at your kids – I can remember my dad saying: Go get me the strap!


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