Monday, January 9, 2012

Dealing With Angry Parents

I wrote a post called “Judging Moms” and had a reader post this comment.  It’s a great question because there is such a fine line between not judging another moms and our social responsibility to stand up when we see something that is truly wrong taking place right before our eyes.  As anyone who has read my blog knows, I am a huge advocate of not judging one another BUT I also believe in reporting behavior that may endanger a child.  I believe that many kids who end up seriously hurt or worse killed by their parents could have been saved if someone had spoken up on their behalf.  Protecting a child is more important than any other message I could possibly send here.

Less Than Perfect Parents,
Good reminder. I try hard to remember that you never know the whole story and that most parents are trying their best to do the right thing. We all mess up from time to time, or have to "get through" certain stages where our children may not want to bathe, have their hair combed, eat healthy foods etc. I guess the only time I have a really hard time NOT judging is when I'm around parents who yell a lot or spank. It's upsetting to my daughter and really ruins the whole play environment when parents do this (or put their kids in "time outs" and let them scream while other kids are trying to play), so... just wondering since I struggle with this -- do you think it's ok to tell another parent that I don't appreciate their behavior? Or is that "judging" too?

Liberal Mama,
I think this is a tough topic.  We want to protect our own children, we don’t want to see another child being treated badly or even abused, yet we don’t want to offend another parent.  Here are a few of my suggestions:
First of all, if a parent is getting out of control and you suspect or witness abuse, do not hesitate to report it.  You may save a child’s life. There are many professions that are legal mandated reporters, which means that they legally have to report suspected abuse.  I think that morally we are ALL mandated reporters whether or not the law dictates that.  Here are two great resources for reporting abuse:
1.      This is a hotline that serves the U.S., its territories, and Canada: 1-800-4-A-CHILD.  For more information check out their website.
2.      This is a list of phone numbersand websites for each state in the U.S. to call if you suspect abuse.
My second point is from Grandma K of Guilt Free Parenting, if what the parent is doing is losing their cool and creating a tense display but not crossing the line into abuse, you can look at it as a learning opportunity for your daughter.  I know I’ve done that with my son.  When he’s gotten upset by a parent yelling at their child I’ve said, “Everyone loses their patience sometimes.  That person is not a bad person but do you see how hurtful it is when we yell at someone.  We do that because we are mad at the other person but when we yell we actually make ourselves look bad.”  You can then discuss other ways that you can express anger without losing patience.  An important lesson for children is for them to understand that anger itself is not bad and there are constructive ways to express it.  You could also talk about how to apologize when you do lose your temper.  We ALL lose our cool sometimes and knowing how to apologize is an important skill.
Third, remove your daughter from the situation.  If it's so bad that your daughter is really getting upset just walk away.  I know it seems that the obnoxious parent/child is controlling your day but if you are at the park you can just walk to another area and have just as good of a time there.  Plus if the parent is angry enough they may take it out on you in front of your daughter.  That would ruin your day more than watching them yell at their child. 
Consider putting yourself in the other parent’s shoes.  I know for me, my son had some major behavioral problems when he was about three.  We’d be out somewhere and he would start with his animal behavior.  I’d get more and more embarrassed as he got out of control and I couldn’t stop him.  I felt like the worst mother ever as I felt the other parents staring at me while their angelic children played quietly.  The more embarrassed I got the more enraged I’d get.  What was wrong with him that he acted like that?  What was wrong with me that I couldn’t control him?  Why was every other child perfect and I had a demon from hell?  Why was I such a terrible mother that I couldn’t stop him AND I lost my temper?  Many times I was able to wrangle him back into my car and take him home but there were also times when I finally lost my cool and let him have it in public. I didn’t care who saw or if it bothered them or not.   A few times I let him cry it out in public because I had my goddaughters with me and I didn’t want them to be punished by leaving the park because he had done wrong.  When a parent is to that point, they already know what they’re doing is wrong so pointing it out probably won’t help.  I think most of us can relate to losing our cool with our children, I don’t think it’s ever something we do on purpose or something that we are proud of.  I can also tell you that I was usually a loving, understanding mom.  I usually held him close and spoke sweetly and gently to him.  I don’t believe in yelling or spanking so I usually didn’t scream at my son, but I’m sure the people who only witnessed my parenting for that brief moment in time probably felt sorry that my son had a crazy shrew for a mother.  If they chose that moment to point it out to me things probably wouldn’t have gone too well.
Fifth, also from Grandma K, is to ask yourself, “What do I hope to accomplish by bringing this to the other parent’s attention?”  Bringing up another parent’s moment of bad parenting will probably only enrage them further.  They may leave you and your daughter in peace but the kid who’s getting in trouble may end up really getting it once they get home.   Also, they may end up screaming at you which will only upset you and your daughter further.
If you really feel that you want to talk with the parent here are some really great tips to help to calm an angry parent:
1.   Start by smiling and being friendly!  Make sure you are judgment free!  People can pick up on that!
2.   Start by showing understanding.  Saying something like, “It’s amazing how fresh kids can be at that age huh?  My child has embarrassed me by {throwing a tantrum, not listening, running away, or whatever else their child is doing}.  Luckily we all have gone through it and we all understand.”
3.   Next, compliment their child.  “Your daughter sure is beautiful though even when misbehaving.”
4.   Make a small joke to lighten the mood.  I often put the compliment and the joke together with something like, “Your daughter sure is beautiful.  Kids are so lucky they’re cute the way they misbehave.  It’s the only thing that saves them sometimes!”
5.   Offer to help but don’t act like you’re doing them a favor.  “I’m going to push my daughter on the swings if your daughter would like to come play with us for a minute.  My daughter does so much better when she has another child to play with so you’d really be helping me out.”
Thanks for the great question Liberal Mama!  I love anything that makes me think and creates good dialogue between parents.  What do you guys think?  Do you have any good tips when dealing with screaming parents or kids?

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At January 31, 2012 at 12:39 PM , Blogger The Holleys said...

These are really good advice. It's hard not to judge other people's kids when they misbehave but I think it's not good to judge at all.

At January 31, 2012 at 10:36 PM , Blogger The Zoo said...

When my son was throwing a fit today, I thought back to what "I would have thought" BEFORE I had kids. It's a LOT different than what I would think now.

I heard a great quote, "I was the best mother BEFORE I had kids". I think that's really true especially when judging others.


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