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When Someone Else’s Child Hurts Your Child

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When Someone Else’s Child Hurts Your Child

If you have ever gone to a grocery store or a park, chance are you’ve seen firsthand what it looks like when someone else’s child misbehaves. Whether it’s throwing a tantrum in the store or throwing sand on the playground, you’ve also had a chance to see how different parents choose to handle the problem behaviors. Of course, every parent is free to choose how they discipline their children, and it can be a touchy subject for many.

What happens, however, when the “problem child” is affecting your child? We’ve all heard and seen plenty of this. For example, Mikey is hitting and kicking Jake at school, leaving him covered with cuts and bruises on his body. Jake has tried telling Mikey to stop, and has even asked the teacher for help, to no avail. You have called the principal, but still, the school does nothing. In your desperate attempt to solve this problem, you reach out to Mikey’s mom to let her know what is going on. But instead of empathy and concern, she becomes defensive and declares an all out war on you.

Is it really impossible to talk to other parents about their kids behavior without it backfiring? Are there ways to handle these types of situations delicately and effectively without causing WWIII? Yes, it is possible to communicate in a way that gets positive results, but it’s not always possible.

Certainly the way you choose to discuss the matter will have an impact on the outcome, but all conversations involve at least two people, and you only have control over one, yourself. Some people, no matter how careful and thoughtful you are, will take offense and get defensive. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about that. These are the people you might choose not to be friends with.

Generally speaking, though, the way you choose to communicate the problem will set the tone for the conversation and the resolution. Here are some tips for the best chance of a positive outcome when addressing someone else’s child.

  1. Do not speak to them while you are still angry. Do not call, do not text, do not email, do not communicate at all in the heat of the moment. If you are present, simply make sure your child is safe. No dirty looks, no nasty comments, nothing like that. Just take your child and comfort them, or leave if you must. This is not the time to engage with the other parent.
  2. Jot down some notes about what happened and how each child reacted to it. Do this until you have a clear understanding of both sides of what might have happened, and do this until you have completely calmed down. This typically takes up to 24 hours.
  3. Write a letter (do not send it) saying everything you’d like to say to this other parent about their child and even about their bad parenting. Say whatever you want in this letter that will never be sent. When you’re done, destroy it. Delete it, burn it, destroy it however you want. It should feel good.
  4. Write a new letter or outline of how the behavior hurts your child. Avoid making accusations or using harsh, blame laden words. For example: You could say, “When Mikey scratches and pinches Jake, it leaves cuts and bruises on his body. This really hurts him a lot. He also feels very angry and sad because he really likes Mikey.” Do not say, “Mikey has been scratching and pinching Jake all school year. It’s enough already. What is wrong with him?”
  5. Ask for help in resolving the problem. For example: You could say, “What do you think we can all do to help put an end to this problem?” Do not say, “If you don’t get Mikey to stop, I’m going to get him kicked out of the school”.
  6. Thank the parent for their time and their help in listening and trying to resolve the issue. Be kind, and keep the lines of communication open.
  7. Empower your child to speak up and ask for the help he needs from anyone and everyone that he can. Ultimately, you must help advocate for your child if he needs your help.

Clearly, dealing with a problem kid can be very heated and requires you to tread delicately. But, obviously, your own child’s well-being has to be your driving force. And you should not give up until you have a satisfactory resolution to the problem. When approached properly, it can be possible to communicate effectively with other parents about these types of problems. Furthermore, it sets a great example to all of the children about how to deal with difficult situations in an appropriate way.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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