Have you had to step in when adults overwhelm your child? It may feel awkward or frustrating, but here’s why you need to intervene—and how.
Imagine a family party and everyone is playing with the younger member, a two-year-old child. Grandpa is bouncing her up in his arms in what started as a game but has now been too much for her. Unfortunately, grandpa is oblivious and thinks she’s still having a blast.
How do you know when to intervene with family and friends—adults who may overwhelm your child but not know it?
It’s tricky dealing with family and friends with setting boundaries for many reasons:
- You may not be close to everyone. Sure, you can tell your mom to back off, but what about a distant aunt or your co-worker’s husband? You may not feel as frank with them as you would those closer to you.
- Some people can be easily offended. We all know people we skirt around or phrase our words carefully. One word or action can offend them, even if your intention isn’t to.
- You want people to feel comfortable. People might start feeling like they’re walking on eggshells around you. You want to stand up for your child without being that person who scares people into think you’ll make a big fuss.
- People disregard your requests. Some people, despite your constant interventions, continue to disregard what you say. They might think you’re making a big deal out of nothing, or that they know what they’re doing. You might even feel like they’re parenting your kids.
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Why you should intervene when adults overwhelm your child
Despite the challenges you face with intervening with adults, doing so is crucial if your child feels overwhelmed. Take a look at several compelling reasons why:
- Young kids can’t speak for themselves. Infants and toddlers can’t say they aren’t enjoying the hugs they’re forced to give or that they don’t want raspberries blown on their bellies. Even kids slightly older may not know it’s okay to speak up, or don’t know how to phrase their feelings correctly.
- Adults don’t always take kids seriously. Even if your child can tell others to stop, adults can still assume that they know best. They might brush her off or continue to have a laugh at her expense.
- Your child feels reassured of your support and trust. It’s tough facing adults, so when she sees you stepping in on her behalf, she knows you’ve got her back. You’re reinforcing the trust she has placed in you.
- You know your child best. What seems like fun to others is actually overwhelming or embarrassing to your child. Some kids can feel anxious or withdraw when they’re the center of attention. What works for one child may not work for another, and you’re the best judge of how much yours can take.
Typical scenarios you might need to step in
So, when are some of the instances when adults can overwhelm your kids? Take a look at these common scenarios to watch out for:
- Tickling: Kids can still laugh even if they’ve stopped enjoying being tickled. That’s why you’ll sometimes see the laughs explode into tears because they’ve had too much.
- Rough housing: Adults may not listen to your child when she’s had enough. Grandpa could be having the time of his life raising her in his arms up in the air, unaware that she’s actually terrified.
- Teasing: Teasing can be simple banter between adults and kids or even among children, but it can also one-sided entertainment at the child’s expense. I once saw an adult poke fun at my son while he remained completely clueless. Before it could go any further, I told my son, “He’s teasing” to make sure the adult didn’t continue.
- Forcing kids to take a photo: With smart phones and social media, kids will only know a world filled with photos galore. And while they often let us take their photos, sometimes it’s the last thing they want to do. Well-meaning adults can force them to stand in front of the camera, pressuring them to smile.
- Forcing kids to kiss and hug everyone: In many families, good manners mean hugging every adult, regardless of how the child feels. I’ve moved away from this tradition and instead invite my kids to give kisses and hugs if they want to. They usually enjoy giving hugs on their own, and will settle for high-fives when they’re not in the mood. Honoring your child’s emotional and physical boundaries reminds him that his body is his. Rather than forcing him to hug, encourage it, model it yourself, and give an option if he doesn’t feel like it. He’s not being rude. Instead, he should want to hug others without his parents forcing him to.
Intervening when adults overwhelm your child can be tricky, but doing so is important. Your child may not be able to speak up for herself, or feel that she can. Even if she does, adults may not always take her seriously enough to stop.
She’ll also feel reassured that you have her back, no matter what. And finally, you know her best—while another child could flourish with the attention, yours may not.
It’s a tough balance between stepping on others’ toes and telling them “that’s enough.” But if she isn’t having a good time, feels frustrated, or is the object of others’ laughter, then step in.
Because if not you, then who?
Get more tips:
- Teach Your Child to Be Assertive
- What to Do when Your Toddler Prefers One Parent
- 4 Reasons Kids Need Downtime
- What to Do When Your Child Doesn’t Like What Other Kids Typically Do
- 4 Things You Shouldn’t Say about Other People’s Children
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