Parenting Advice Column
This is my first time contacting a counselor for parenting advice. I am doing attachment parenting with my 19 month old daughter, and something troubling happened to her and I in church today. I could really use some advice on how to deal with this type of situation:
My husband, daughter Anna & I went to church today; it was my turn to care for her so he could listen to the service without interruption. We have decided not to leave her in the nursery there, unless one of us is with her. I decided to take her up there and let her play with the toys while I stayed in the same room. She was staying near me, watching the one other child there and the babysitter. The woman who was babysitting started to talk to Anna, asking her why she was looking at her (the babysitter), asking why she was just sitting on my lap, saying "why are you looking at me like that?" "why don't you come down and play?" "why do you have that look on your face?" and similar questions.
I was uncomfortable with Anna being bombarded with these questions - I replied that Anna was just checking her out, and to just let her be, she would join in when she was ready. But after a couple minutes the babysitter again started asking the same questions, and again I said just let her be, she's fine, I'm her mother, I'm taking care of her, etc. This time the babysitter got upset with me, said she had to get to know the children in her care (I told her I planned to stay with Anna), said I was rude, said she'd been working in daycare for 9 years, and always spoke to children that way. She said she wanted to understand; I then asked her how she would feel if she were questioned that way; she replied that people often asked her those kind of questions, which I find hard to believe. I did not want a confrontation, I just wanted her to not harass my daughter. We ended up not having an understanding; I feel very badly about that and am wondering how I could have better handled this situation.
My husband pointed out that this babysitter perhaps felt I was invading her turf; yet, she's been an employee of my church for less than 2 months. I've been a member for years, and also work at this church occasionally as organist.
I have a hard time with people saying/doing annoying things to my daughter. The foot-pulling, cheek-pinching, seems so disrespectful; also Anna dislikes it when people get "in her face" such as when they come within inches of her face and loudly say "Hi" and other things, especially when she doesn't know them. People have made her cry sometimes by doing these things to her. I don't know how to get people to be respectful of her; I am frequently shocked at how babies are treated as though they have no feelings. I have started asking people who are new to Anna to go easy at first, to leave her alone and let her get to know them first. Sometimes people are gracious, sometimes not. I don't seem to have a good way to deal with these situations. Today's situation was the farthest I've gone in standing up for what I think is right. But it didn't go well. Any advice, sympathy, pithy comebacks, would be greatly appreciated.
I'm so sorry to hear that you had this frustrating experience! It's always hard to know what to say in these awkward situations, especially in a fellowship like a church where our relationships are important to us, in a place that we often attend, and where it is expected that we will be polite and flexible.
From your description, it sounds like you did a great job of standing up for your daughter! You recognized that her personal space was being invaded and you said the right kinds of things to stand up for her. We all hope that we can do this in a way that is 100% non-confrontational, and that no one's feelings will be hurt and no one will be upset or angry. The reality is that it just won't always be possible to avoid confrontation, but over time it does get easier to speak out in a way that protects your child without hurting the other person's feelings. It also gets easier to accept someone's reactions without taking it personally! Standing up for our child is often the first time in our lives where assertiveness becomes a necessary skill. But this skill takes time to develop, whether by trial and error or through assertiveness books and classes.
Let me assure you that no parent knows right from their child's birth how to handle these tricky situations! I have been a parent for 19 years now and I still have difficulty knowing how best to intervene on behalf of children. I'm sorry to say that sometimes I just lose it, despite all of my best intentions. But even at those times when I haven't spoken out on behalf of a child, or have spoken in a less than caring way, I always think of things I should have said, and that has helped me the next time. We all need experience to learn how best to deal with people who don't "get it" that children deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It can be very difficult in our society, because for the most part, children are not taken seriously, and their rights are not well understood or respected.
Adults who prod, question, badger, or otherwise bother a child don't expect to be stopped or even questioned, because what they are doing is considered "normal". Standing up for children is a new skill for a parent to learn - and it's also a new experience for the adults whose behavior we are questioning. Because of the newness on both sides, we just won't always know the very best thing to do. But it's important to do our best, and to realize that our child always counts on our help. It's like the slogan we're considering for a bumper sticker: "If you aren't on your child's side, who will be?"
One practical way to discourage people from intruding on your daughter's space is to carry her in a sling or hold her close to you. Most adults are less likely to invade your personal space than your daughter's - even though she deserves that respect no less than you do. Toddlers are usually happier to be carried or held, and that should ease the situation that much more.
For good "comebacks", I would say you're right on track - it's best to keep things simple, honest, and straightforward. It can be helpful to memorize a few key phrases, such as these:
- "Thank you for your friendliness, but she needs some time to warm up with new people." (try to avoid labeling her as "shy" which has negative connotations in our society)
- "I know you just want to be friendly, but this is something she doesn't like us to do."
- "She needs quiet time right now."
- "She need to rest now. Please come back later."
Unfortunately, many adults in our society mistrust and actually dislike children, even those who are in professions working with children. And many adults don't make the effort to understand the causes of a child's behavior - they focus on the behavior alone and jump to the wrong conclusions - in large part because they simply don't know our child as well as we do. If you have trouble getting through, it can help to use the "broken record" technique. Just keep repeating the phrases. Eventually they will stop what they're doing. But if they can't, then the best answer may be to avoid that person as far as possible. In the situation you describe, it may even be appropriate in the future to call this behavior to the attention of the minister if it persists.
It's important for your daughter - and for your relationship with her - to let people know that she needs and deserves her own personal space. This is an appropriate request even if the person doesn't understand or like what we are saying. Unfortunately, there will always be some people who will be offended by our statements no matter how carefully phrased. But most people will respect our requests if reasonably expressed and explained. And even if they don't "get it" immediately, it can sink in over time. The babysitter will have a week to think over what you told her, and may surprise you with more understanding behavior next time.
If you feel that something needs to be said to the babysitter the next time you see her, you might try something like this: "I know we have some different ideas about children, but I'd really like us to work together to make Anna's experience in the nursery as happy and positive as possible. From what I know of Anna, she needs some time to warm up to a new person or situation. It would help if for the first while, you just let me watch Anna while she plays. I'm sure she'll be more comfortable with you when she gets to know you."
I commend you for standing up for your child and for wanting to do that in a way that avoids hurting anyone. With these good intentions, you can't miss - you'll develop the necessary assertiveness from future experiences, and it will get easier!
I'd like to add a caution about something here, even though you didn't ask about it. In many church nurseries and day cares, parents who are not present are not always told when their children have been crying, hurt, or distressed. I have seen this happen often in church nurseries and classes. It's ironic that we can't always trust adult caregivers to be honest with us, even in a church setting. It's good that you stayed with your daughter!
These articles may give you more ideas:
- "Intervening on Behalf of a Child in a Public Place - Part 1: Is It Our Business?"
- "Intervening on Behalf of a Child in a Public Place - Part 2: Is It Our Business?"
- "Intervening on Behalf of a Child in a Public Place - Part 3: A Counselor Intervenes"
- "No Room for Kids?"
- "Age Discrimination Endangers Human Rights for Young and Old Alike"
There is an excellent web site on handling verbal abuse in an assertive yet kind way at www.DrIrene.com.
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