Q. This article is the second part of our reader’s question yesterday on dealing with others telling you how to parent or engaging your child in an unwanted way.
A. Now that we all know the rules for strangers interacting with parents and children, it’s time to outline ways to control your inner momma bear. “Momma bear” is a term used to refer to that gut reaction mothers have when criticized for their parenting or when their children are criticized. Yes, it’s a gut reaction but it’s also controllable. With that being said, let’s review rules for moms:
Stay calm. You’ll make your best decisions if you can maintain your composure. Allow yourself a moment to think before responding.
Remember your child is watching. Parental confrontations with strangers can be downright frightening. Your child is your first priority so if you think your reaction will elicit any type of fear response, walk away. My favorite response? A smile & a sweet “thank you.” Children learn what they see and hear. This response ensures they are seeing a polite and respectful exchange. If it is a situation where you need to stand up for your child, do so as respectfully and calmly as possible.
Give a proportional response. Consider the source, timing and environment. Sometimes a minimal response is most effective although it can be hard to achieve. If a stranger suggests a coat for your child, there is no need to follow the stranger to the parking lot screaming the whole way. A prompt “thank you” or “Do you know us?” will suffice. Laughter is also excellent, allowing you to dismiss advice & reminding yourself to laugh it off at the same time.
Address the behavior. There are times you may feel a need to teach the stranger approaching you. That is fine as long as you can do it respectfully and calmly (children are watching!). Example? A stranger suggests a time out for your child and you respond “my child is autistic and that’s not appropriate in this situation.” Another example? A stranger begins lecturing your for lack of coat in a store, etc. You might respond, “I am her mother & know my child very well. She sweats the second it turns 60 degrees out so a coat would be wrong for her right now. You’re a stranger offering me advice so you don’t know this about her or about our situation.” A physical example? You turn to see a stranger lifting your child so he can reach a toy in the store, “You’re a stranger and should not lift my child. That is very inappropriate and scary for my child.” Pointing out stranger status often helps others realize they are overstepping a boundary.
Let it go. From the moment you announce a pregnancy you get advice and parenting only intensifies the advice free for all. Most strangers who irk you won’t even be thinking about the exchange moments after leaving the scene. There is no sense in you carrying anger or anxiety about the experience one moment longer. Your child can sense anger and anxiety better than you think so why put that extra stress on them or yourself? Never give that kind of power to a stranger. Let your inner momma bear hibernate instead!