In the last post, I suggested that calling the police is probably not the first thing to do when you see unsupervised children. Well, at lot of my work involves helping people raise toddlers who are thinking, courteous, and becoming more self-reliant– you would need to help a toddler who was out in the world alone and unsupervised! But, school age children don’t necessarily require the constant adult supervision we tend to provide and an unsupervised school-age child may not need your help.
If you’re concerned, the first step is to observe without judgment to see if the children seem to be okay on their own. A second would be to inquire if the children need help.
We can be part of creating better neighborhoods and communities by taking a balanced approach to being responsible to each other. A balanced approach involves taking some action– it’s not a matter of complete avoidance and neglect. Neither is it a matter of trying to force our way onto others– especially if we know we tend to be Nervous Nellies! So, what does it mean to take a balanced approach, then?
Keep an eye out for each other’s children. I know from experience that it’s great to live in a community where you feel there are many adults who care about you and look out for you. Well, it’s great as long as they don’t impose themselves inappropriately, as in “OMG, I can’t believe your parents left you to walk home on your own– what is wrong with them?!”
Stand back to observe without judgment to understand what’s going on when children are out unsupervised. Do they seem to be okay or are they scared? Are they using (reasonably) good judgment? Do they seem to need help? If they seem okay and don’t seem to need help, you can learn a lot by continuing to observe. Notice how much children learn from playing unsupervised. It’s pretty remarkable, really.
Offer help in case it’s needed. Obviously, if you see a baby left in a basket in the park, that child needs your help! But many school-age children can handle a certain amount of self-directed play or walking. You can approach them in a friendly tone with Are you on your own at the park today? I’m here with my kids, so just let me know if you need any help.
Or, even, speak up to tell them their behavior is inappropriate. Last year, I saw a group of youth in the neighborhood park at lunchtime, sitting at a picnic table. There was a trash can 10 feet away but, as I walked by them, one of the boys, showing off for a group of girls, threw his lunch trash on the ground. I spoke directly to him– oh, no, you are not throwing trash on the ground in this neighborhood. You know better than that. He looked abashed and picked up the trash.
Many of my neighbors avoid the high school kids and look at them askance, just expecting them to cause trouble. This behavior makes our neighborhood less friendly. It communicates that we are not connected to each other. It communicates to the youth that we hold them in low regard, that we expect the worst of them and even fear them. There is a lot of research showing that children live up or down to our expectations of them– so expecting the worst of them brings out the worst in them.
The best caring for children in our community is grounded in respect for the dignity of everyone involved. We can make better communities when our caring looks like engagement, trust, and support.
Constantly hovering over and directing children is not dignified and it doesn’t bring out the best in children. It is certainly beneath our dignity to demand that other parents constantly hover over and direct their children. Instead, let’s do the hard, but rewarding, work of getting to know each other, being supportive, and making our communities better for us all.
What do you do to make your community better for children?
By Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., speaker, author, and parent coach
Do you worry that your worried, hovering approach to parenting may be holding your children back? I love to help parents develop greater trust, skill, and confidence so they can bring out the best in their children. If you would like to talk with me or have me come speak to your group, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org