Helping other children…what is considered normal?

Jess McGlynnMarch 14, 2013

Today I took the kids to soft play after Meg’s gymnastic class.  There was a dad there on his own with a young baby boy, just toddling, so I’d estimate his age to be around 1(ish) 

At one point during the time we were there, the dad asked another mum if she would watch his son whilst he went to the toilet (which are not located near the soft play) – she agreed and as his son was happily playing with some blocks, he slipped out.  

About 2 or 3 minutes passed before the little boy looked up to see where his daddy was.  And, realising he had gone from sight began to cry.  At first the mum crouched down to try and comfort the little boy telling him that his daddy would be back soon but this didn’t really seem to help as he quickly became hysterical and reached wailing point.

I was surprised to see this mum looking so bewildered at the rapidly escalating situation.  She began to look around at the other parents, expectantly almost.  Would we do anything?  Say anything?

My first thought was “why hasn’t she picked him up?”  She’s a parent, everyone there was a parent…what would your first instinct be if your own child was crying? Pick them up, offer them some physical comfort.  I wouldn’t even have thought twice about it but this mum looked distinctly uncomfortable.

It felt like about 10 minutes passed of this poor boy crying with no one moving.  The room had fallen silent and all eyes were now on the mum and the baby.  My instinct to move and intervene had begun to wane and I’d actually started to get nervous.  Would it be strange for me to now go and pick him up?  No one else had done so.  I wasn’t even the one who was asked to watch the boy even though I was sitting closest to his dad.  Where was his dad?!?

My heart was beating fast and I felt like I was caught.  I wanted to go and confidently pick him up but it now seemed like a strange course of action.  As I stood there wavering,  I was saved by the appearance of Meg who, unphased as always, walked right up to the little boy, bent down into his face and said “don’t be sad, my mummy will give you a cuddle.  She gives the best cuddles.” and turned to look at me expectantly.  So, naturally, I had no choice but to go and pick him up.  He didn’t immediately stop crying (I’m no supernanny!) but his crying didn’t seem quite so shrill and within a couple more minutes his dad reappeared, and thanked me profusely.

The weird thing is, why did nobody else think to do this?  I could see it written across the face of every mum in the room that they desperately wanted to go and pick him up.  That it was a twitch all of us were feeling.  But the fear of the dad reprimanding us when he returned held everyone back.  I don’t know what I would have done if when he returned he had behaved as though I’d done something wrong.  Even thinking about it now gives me the quakes a bit as literally every eye was upon me as I walked across the silent soft play and picked the child up.  It could all have horribly backfired and it could have made the situation ten times worse, I feel lucky that it didn’t!

It has however really made me wonder: at what point did we all become so afraid of what is socially acceptable that we won’t even offer a child some basic human interaction when he’s upset?  

I often talk to other children at soft play and the park, I find other children seem to gravitate towards me out of all the parents to come and chat with.  I’ve seen other mums and dads literally tense up when a child chooses to talk to them as though somehow, in answering their simple questions they could be accused of something awful.  When did it get like this?

I can’t even judge if this is normal or abnormal.  If I saw a child had fallen and hurt themselves I would, and have, bent down to help them up in the playground.  I reacted without a second thought that perhaps the parent might be offended by my assistance.

Do parents really get offended by someone helping their child?  If I couldn’t get to Meg or Eli in time and another parent stepped in I would definitely be thanking them not criticising them.  Am I the only person in this camp?  

There must be a reason why parents are becoming afraid to help…a reason why our actions seem stilted and awkward…why we feel like if we do intervene we are judged by other parents.

I don’t know, I have honestly never thought about it until today but there was a very tangible feeling of tension in the room as we all stopped and considered what we would do about this upset child.  What would be the right thing to do?

And, had Meg not forced my hand, I don’t know if I would have built up the courage to step in.

What would you have done?

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