5 Things We Can Do Instead of Criticizing Other Parents

What Parents Can Do to Stop Judging and Start Helping

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If you see a parent struggling with her child, try to help, not judge. Getty Images/Sean Justice

Have you ever walked by a screaming child and frazzled parent and wondered what the parent could have done differently to avoid getting the child to that state or why he or she is unable to calm the child down? Or observed parents bribing their child to get them to do something, yelling at their child, failing to discipline at all, or making other common parenting mistakes and thought, "I could probably handle that better"?

It's easy to judge--that's why we all do it. But the fact is, most of us have probably had a less-than-ideal parenting moment at one point or another, and it's important that we try to remember that when we catch ourselves being judgmental. The next time you see a parent struggling with something, try to think of a way to make a positive difference and be a helper, not a judge. 

How to Help Out a Fellow Parent and Ditch the Judgment

Think about how it feels to be judged or criticized. Remember when your child was still a baby or toddler and you got some definite side-eye or outright criticism for not breastfeeding/breastfeeding in public/breastfeeding too long/not breastfeeding long enough? Or how about other hot-button issues like sleep-training/not sleep-training, or, as your child got older, navigating issues like picky eating, tantrums, bedtime battles, and more? Before you decide whether or not to help out a fellow parent, change your thinking and put aside any judgement.

Ask if you can help. It might be as simple as asking a parent if you can help load her groceries in her car while she calms down her tantruming child or if you can help distract one of her kids with an app on your phone while she calms down an upset sibling. We have all been there--that exact place where our kids are at their worst moments and we are at the end of our rope--and just having someone step up and offer to help can make a world of difference.

If the struggling parent is a family member or a friend and not a stranger, offer to take the kids for a while and let her have some alone time to get calm and relaxed before tackling an issue with her children.

Sympathize, distract, and support. You know how it can sometimes be helpful to step back from a heated situation to calm down and think about something else before turning back to the problem? It can be helpful for a parent to just have a brief chat about something--the weather, what plans they have for that day, how work is going, and so on--before turning back to the issue at hand. Engage the parent in a conversation about anything--the particular situation with her child or any other topic--and offer your support and sympathy. Just knowing that someone is listening and cares can sometimes be enough to help a parent who's stressed and stymied.

Remember that what you see isn't the entire story. If you see a child having a meltdown, keep in mind that it could be the result of a number of things that led to that moment.

Perhaps the child didn't sleep well the night before or wasn't feeling well or was hungry. It could be that he was looking forward to finding a particular toy and it wasn't there in the store. Keep in mind that as a bystander, you are coming into the situation without the entire story. Or it could be that a child has developmental issues that are making it harder for him to control his emotions and his behavior.

If corporal punishment is involved, consider asking the parent to talk to someone. (While many parents advocate spanking, an extensive amount of research has shown that corporal punishment is linked to increased aggression, diminished self-esteem, damage to the parent-child relationship, and other negative outcomes for kids.) If you see a parent hit a child out of anger, it's especially important to follow the no-judging, friendly, and supportive approach. Let that parent know that you are there to listen if he wants to vent his frustration, and later, when the parent is calm, let him know that he can talk to you or his child's pediatrician or seek out other resources to find out all about why corporal punishment doesn't work and may be harmful.

It's not always easy to know how to help--or if you should. But if you approach a situation in a positive, friendly, and supportive manner without any judgment or criticism, a parent is likely to welcome your support. And remember this: If you set an example of being judgmental instead of being understanding and helpful, your child is likely to follow right in your footsteps, and one day, perhaps judge the people around her, including you.

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