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Criticizing Other People's Children
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, June 2012

Have you ever been in places where there are parents and children? Specifically, in an airport or on an airplane, a doctor's waiting room, at a supermarket check-out counter, in a restaurant? Those settings are ripe for children to be tired, feel confused, cranky, scared, frustrated, and sometimes, they pick up on their parents' feelings of anxiety or fatigue. Either way, the children do what most kids do: they fidget, cry, act out. Kids, unlike adults, often do not have the internal resources to help them when they need them most.

Nobody wants to be the person with the screaming child; it just brings attention and often not the kind you want. Is our goal, as a society, to alienate parents who are doing their best, often under the watchful, scrupulous eye of strangers who know nothing about their circumstance, their life, or their issue of the moment? Why should parents be in a position to feel defensive about their parenting if they have a child who is whining, whimpering or dragging?

How people can be so rude to and about other people's children is something that defies imagination. Not only does it speak to a societal impatience but also, it goes to the heart of judgment and criticism. It is so easy to criticize another person's style of parenting, especially if you do not have children.

Instead of shooting eye daggers to a mom who is clearly overwhelmed, or shrugging your shoulders and exhaling loudly in dramatic exasperation, why not try making eye contact and let this parent know you feel for him or her, and if you are so inclined, engage the child, distract him or her, allow the parent to know you have been there or at least notice and feel for their situation. Just a simple smile and a non-judgmental, "you have your hands full. Can I help?" can make someone feel a little less stressed.

If it takes a village to raise a child, why not become part of that village wherever you are and offer support and understanding? You do not have to agree with the parenting style and unless you see a child being harmed, perhaps you can rise the role of compassionate witness. By appreciating that we are all connected to one another and believing that everyone's children are our children, you may be able to help reduce the stress surrounding this parent and the child.

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