It Wasn’t My Kid: Mama Bears and Little Angels

That’s what moms are like – if you mess with their babies, they’re gonna bite you back.
Princess Ursa, Avatar The Last Airbender

When a group of kids come running up to you at a bounce house playdate, you know they’re not bringing good news.  I grabbed my bag containing the Band-Aids and Neosporin and prepared to play nurse when I heard the words:

“There was a fight.  David was punched in the face!” 

A PUNCH TO MY BABY’S FACE!?!  Band-Aids forgotten, the mama bear in me reared its ugly head. 

Mama Bear mode is great for survival situations but in play dates can lead to bad parental behavior!

As the boys and moms gathered, I heard what happened in a way only a group of overly excited boys can tell a story.  The boys were playing Star Wars.  A larger boy (aka The Boy) held David down.  David yelled for The Boy to let him up, The Boy didn’t.  David pushed The Boy off him.  The Boy punched David. 

David wouldn’t let me hug him, other boys were around.  But he stood there too shaken to talk (something is really wrong any time David is at a loss for words) and trying not to cry while the red mark on his face continued to grow.  At that moment The Boy and his mom walked up.  I put on what I hoped was an understanding face and waited for the apology:

THE MOM: David pushed him.

Shocked silence while I try to formulate words in my head that can be said in front of children.

ME:  Yes, David was trapped by him.  And he pushed him in a bounce house.  He bounced.

THE MOM: (looking at David) It’s not okay to push.

ME: Don’t talk to him.  (Counted in my head 1..2..3..4..5..6..7..8..9..10, trusted myself to speak again.)  I think you and I need to talk away from the kids. 

At the time, I didn’t want the kids around as there was a chance I would not be using tact in my explanation of the situation.  However, in hindsight and taking into consideration the fact that I was in mama bear mode, it may have sounded a bit like a threatening, “Let’s take this outside.” 

End of the story:  The Boy and his mom left the bounce house while we stayed and continued to play.  David ultimately thought it was very cool that he’d been punched.

Let’s face it, I did not give birth to angels; I gave birth to children.  Interestingly enough, other parents share in my fate and also gave birth to children, not angels.  In this instance, David (in my opinion) was on the side of angels; however, he was not angelic.  He and the other boys were playing too rough.  The question is not are kids going to misbehave but how are we, as adults, going to react.

We’re prepared for when our own children misbehave.  But how do we handle the situation when it’s not our kid misbehaving? 

  1. Do not discipline a child in front of their parent.  As tempting as it is, it’s not your job. 
  2. Do not discipline a child in front of their parent UNLESS the issue is one of safety.  Safety trumps etiquette every time.
  3. Do not discipline a child in front of their parent, but if you have to (see #2) do not touch or yell at the child.  Just tell them to stop their behavior.
  4. If their parent is not around you can step in and correct.  However, disciplining is still the parent’s job.  In the parent’s absence your discipline options are limited to distraction, a brief time out (for a breather from the situation), removing the toy in play if it’s the source of conflict, or calling the parent.  If the child’s behavior becomes too much of an issue you’ll need to stop having the child around without their parent!

 Kids will remember how their mom or dad reacts in these moments.  They will learn to justify bad behavior, respond in anger, or make threats if that’s what they see mom or dad do.  What did David learn that day?  I know he learned that his mom has a momma bear inside.  He also learned that he can take a punch.  Hopefully, he also learned that reacting calmly is effective. 

 (And thank God he didn’t hear the words in my head.)

18 thoughts on “It Wasn’t My Kid: Mama Bears and Little Angels

  1. Interesting… this has come up a couple of times recently for me, too. I handled a situation with my toddler daughter (who was subjected to ball snatching and right-in-the-face-screaming by an older boy) by asking him what he was doing (calmly) and picking up my daughter. He burst into tears and ran off to find his mum who then muttered to all her friends about “that woman over there”. Hmmmm. We were on our way home by then, so I let it go. Within my older daughter’s circle of friends is a boy who frequently makes trouble but is never disciplined by his parents. This is trickier, but the parents of the children most affected now feel their only option (having tackled the parents) is to correct the boy whether the parents are present or not. It’s never easy, is it?

    1. Hi Vicky!
      Sounds to me like you handled the situation with your younger daughter perfectly. Regarding your older daughter, I agree that it’s never easy. Despite the tips I give, I also feel that there’s never a cookie-cutter answer that works in all scenarios. You’ve talked with the parents and they’re apparently oblivious to their kid’s behavior so what are you supposed to do? It sounds like you’re handling a very difficult situation really well. Is it possible just to not invite the problematic boy?

      Thanks again, Vicky!

  2. I know all about “mama bear” mode…when Anna was walking home from the Community Center one night, she was the victim of an unprovoked attack by a middle-schooler (she was about 10 at the time). This girl actually bit Anna on her hand hard enough to leave teethmarks. Unfortunately, Anna had no idea who the kid was, so there was nothing I could do. I don’t think I would have been quite so under control as you were if I’d been there when it happened!

    Good advice, though (I actually sent a link to your Freshly Pressed post to a blogging buddy of mine who was having trouble with his almost 5-year-old)!


    1. Wendy,
      Thank you so much for sending the link. I read his blog and need to read more!

      Oh my goodness – poor Anna! That is horrible – criminal, actually. I wouldn’t have been controlled either had I known the attacker. What a world we live in …


  3. I am impressed with your ability to keep those inside words in your head. It is very hard to not just react when in Mama Bear mode.

    I must admit, I tend to raise my voice when in that mode (whether at someone else’s child, or my 3.5 year old picking on his sister). My words appear to fall on deaf ears otherwise.

    A child at least five years older than my 3 year old once ran full tilt into him at a bouncing place. He didn’t even pause in his stride and continued running. I yelled, though in my defense, it was so loud in there, I doubt I would’ve been heard otherwise. He came back along with his posse. I informed him he had to watch out of the little ones and then to apologize and help my son up, which he did.

    I’m not sure what etiquette rules were broken, but I know those words were said in full Mama Bear mode. And the child did appear to keep an eye out for younger ones.

    What do you do in a scenario where the other child obviously has some mental handicap, that results in him (a much larger child) starting a shoving/pushing match with mine? Naturally, no parent appeared to be paying any attention to him (once again, at a bouncy place). When that occurred I broke it up, consoled my son, directed him as far away in distance as I could, and searched in vain for the parent, which I was unable to find (i.e. finally saw someone pay attention to him) for a full 30 minutes. I then informed him his child had began a shoving match which my son (at 3) then reciprocated in defense, and keep a close eye on his son. Which he did do from that point on.

    Meanwhile, I’ll work on counting down and attempting to lower my roar into a growl. Brownies for trying? 🙂

    Great post.

    1. Have to love bounce houses!

      I don’t think any etiquette rules were broken with the older child — I think that one goes along with the safety trumps etiquette. Also, yelling is the equivalent to normal tones in a bounce house. Even with all the blowers going, ours insists on playing loud music in addition. Deafening.

      Regarding the child with the mental disability – what a difficult situation! My advice would be to do exactly what you did: stop the altercation, tell my kid to stay away from him, and find the parents. (And where the heck were they anyway!?!) The only thing I would add is that it would be okay, when the parents remain MIA, to find a manager or employee. Then they can help find the parents or just help keep an eye on the kid.
      Keep your roar loud. I think our Mama Bear instincts are normally right on. 🙂 Mucho brownies!


  4. *breathe* *breathe* Ok…I’ve stopped laughing enough to post a comment. Here goes:

    Thoroughly entertaining and vivid. This is indeed relatable as I am clearly the Alpha Wolf when it comes to my precious gem, my 2 y.o. daughter. These tips, though painted in humourous hues, are very useful and worthy of many other readers. Always a treat reading your blogs. I’ve already forwarded this link to quite a few parents in my circle.


  5. Ooh, do not mess with mama bear mode. I’ve seen it all too often, and it is not pretty. Papa bear usually says something like “well, why didn’t you punch him back?” Sounds like you handled that well. Quite the challenge for a woman of tact! Good job.

    1. It’s as if you just quoted my husband!

      Thank you and it did take every bit of my restraint. Although I think my facial expressions may have been hinting at my true feelings because The Boy and mom left fairly quickly. 🙂

      Thanks again!

  6. Very relevent topic Amy! We’ve all dealt with it. I’d like to see you more broadly address the subject of others correcting our children: grandparents, neighbors, churchgoers, etc. My “mama bear’ starts growling when people correct my kids (without invitation) for faux pas like sitting incorrectly, or other minor infractions. Also, because someone is from an older generation, do they automatically have rights to correct children—or touchier yet…parents? Any suggestions for gracefully handling pushy people on this front?

    1. Hello Melia and thank you for your comment! Also, excellent suggestions for my next post. It’s such an awkward situation when someone else corrects our children. The mama bear in us wants to tell them, in a less than tactful way, to stop. However, the friend/respectful adult in us doesn’t want to appear overly protective or abrasive. Sounds like a topic that you’ll be seeing soon as a post from me … truly appreciate the suggestion and questions.


  7. You reacted so calmly! I would have had such difficulty keeping my cool in that situation. You’re right about what David hopefully learned though, so I will try to bear that in mind if the situation ever arises. And count to 10.

    1. Thank you! And I can assure you that on the inside I was not calm. 🙂 I asked David today what he learned from “the bounce house fight.” I’m glad I didn’t ask him before I wrote this because his answer was, “I don’t know. ” Maybe the lesson is still in there somewhere!

      Thanks again for reading,

  8. Hi Amy-

    I’m kinda lucky in that #1 son just turned 9 and is 5’3″. But there are still incidents and having a long fuse serves all parents well.

    I saw a real poor parenting moment at basketball practice this weekend. An over zealous parent who was not the coach was barking out orders to his kid from the sideline. It was a bit too much. Then his wife barked orders to the kid and he barked at her to shut up. Twice. In front of about 10-15 other parents. I pretended like I needed shade and moved. Sad.


    1. Wow! He’s a tall guy. David is 8 so they’re close in age but David is definitely not that tall. (Although I was amazed and a bit sad to discover the other day that his hands are almost the same size as mine.)

      Your basketball story is disappointing. That poor kid must have been so embarrassed. Sometimes you just want to yell at these parents that they’re missing the point! Sounds like a future blog topic for me. 🙂

      Thanks again for reading, Mike! Hope all is well in your world,

  9. Well done, Mama Bear. It’s always an awkward situation to feel like you should correct a kid’s behavior because his parent, who is standing right there, isn’t. We especially see this with boys about Slim’s age. Kind of a “boys will be boys” mentality by the parents, and we’re just not into that. Our crew is active, and they’ll smackdown on each other in that loving, sibling way, but not other kids.

    Great piece, Amy.


    1. Thanks, Chase! My crew sounds like yours – they’ve also given a loving smackdown to each other a time or two. There are definitely different codes of conduct between siblings. I’m just glad Emily wasn’t around David at that moment. She’s fierce (in an awesome way) and I would have ended up being the mom needing to apologize!

      Thanks again,

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