Ask the Expert: Playground Confrontations and Feeling Left Out

Nov 28, 2012


Q: I’ve heard that some children eat strange things like chalk or dirt. Why?


A: It’s normal for babies and toddlers to try to eat inedible things. But if a child older than 18 months does this consistently, despite attempts to stop her, she might have an eating disorder called pica. Pica can develop due to a nutritional deficiency or, more commonly, psychological factors like emotional distress. Children with developmental disabilities or autism are more likely to have pica. If you suspect this problem, speak with a pediatrician. Source: Shari K. Neul, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist




Q: Every time I go to the park, this one toddler runs over the other kids, but his mother never does anything about it. It makes me soooo angry. Who do I say something to—the toddler or the mother?

—Claire B., Mound, MN

A: You see all sorts of parenting styles at the park, including many that will make you want to tear your hair out. When unacceptable interactions happen between children and a caretaker does nothing, it’s absolutely appropriate for the parent of the kid getting “run over” to step in.


Approach the toddler himself. Get down to his level and say to him in a soothing and calm way, “Sweetie, you may not have realized, but she’s still playing with that. I’ll make sure you get a turn when she’s done, OK?” 


Then follow through. Of course, while you can’t put another parent’s child in time-out, you can still deal with aggressive behavior head on: “We need to use gentle hands. Pushing is not allowed,” or, “I’m sorry, but she was waiting in line. I can’t let you cut, but I can show you where the end of the line is.” The reality is, kids are kids and they all need support to be their best selves. Your job may not be to parent the other child, but it is to make sure his behavior does not affect the way you parent (and protect) your own.






Q: In my daughter’s second-grade class, there’s a girl who excludes her from games and doesn’t let her sit at her table for lunch. I want to call this girl’s parents. Should I?

 —Casey T., Montrose, CO

A: Warning: You are wading into treacherous waters! As tempting as it may be to jump in and fix things, there are many reasons not to. Rarely—if ever—has a “mean girl” situation been solved by one parent calling the other. If you’re worried about your daughter’s physical safety, contact the appropriate authorities immediately. But nine times out of ten, contacting the other parent in worry or anger merely makes the problem worse.


Instead, calmly learn as much as you can from your child, seeing what her worries or wishes are. Maybe she hopes to find other friends. Maybe she wants to repair things with this girl. Listening to her will allow you to help her achieve her goals—and it’s her goals that matter in this equation. Once you have a firm understanding of those, arrange to meet with the teacher.


Use the meeting to get more information. Ask questions. There might be more variables at play than either you or your daughter are aware of. Share your observations and concerns with the teacher. If possible, include your child so that the three of you can problem solve together. While you cannot control the actions of any other child, you can support your own to make new decisions and learn new skills. 



Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D., is an expert in developmental psychology and co-author of Little Girls Can Be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades. Do you have a question for Michelle? E-mail it to



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Illustration: Isabel Nadal