When Parents Invade Childhood (A Lesson in Distrust)

Trust is essential to raising capable, happy, self-confident children. Belief in our children’s competence is vital to their sense of self-worth and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yet, trusting kids to handle even the most benign, age-appropriate situations is sometimes difficult for parents. 

What are we so afraid of? This is the question that came up for me when Karen shared this discouraging incident:

Hi Janet,
I had a very unfortunate experience taking my 3-year-old to his first Easter Egg Hunt. The announcers insisted many times that no parents cross the tape with the kids (except for the ‘babies’ age group)… So in the 2&3-year-old group, I waited behind a line of a few kids and parents and got ready to video my son when they said, “Go.” Next thing I know, parents stormed the field, pushing their own kids to go faster and picking up the eggs for their kids. My son didn’t stand a chance.  He got zero eggs.  He wandered around for a few moments looking but then just stood there confused. Luckily, I was more bothered by the whole thing than he was, but I couldn’t help but think how sad it was and how the scene epitomized a very negative aspect of our parenting culture.

We will have our own Easter egg hunt at home from now on, actually hiding eggs. I thought of you, though, because I don’t blog, and this is worth discussing.

The video ends abruptly because I stopped shooting when I realized what was happening. Now I wish I’d kept the video running longer.  A picture’s worth a thousand words. I know I don’t have to explain what is wrong with this scenario — you already know.
(Sigh)

Karen and Hughey (3)

Hm. Well, off the top of my head, I would point out that rather than enjoying an age-appropriate adventure, an opportunity to socialize with peers, and possibly finding an egg or two, these children learned:

  1. You can’t do it yourself, so you need parents to do it for you
  2. Don’t bother following directions
  3. Egg hunts are about competing to get the most “stuff”

Your thoughts?

(I share a somewhat similar experience in my post: Why Not Draw for a Child?)

Photo by Ian Burt on Flickr 

32 Comments

Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. avatar Dazed in Galway says:

    This video is so symbolic of children’s pressurization and therefore sad.

    1. It was nice to read an article about this. We also have our own Easter Egg hunts at home with family. Some Easter Egg hunts are starting to be organized differently. The children are told…if you have a cat at home go pick one red egg, then everyone who has a dog or another pet etc. It continues in a way that allows all children to participate and get eggs. It is sad to see parents teaching children to behave this way.

  2. I have had the same thing happen before. It was seriously disappointing to both of us lucky i always pick 2-4 things did w them each holiday. I just point out when its not kand move on.

  3. So very sad. My boy is only 9 months and I already face this face of difficulty with his little friends parents… I really hope I serve him well in not being this way!

  4. avatar Tracy Napper says:

    I find this distressing. What a terrible, horrible way to spoil what should have been a wonderful memory for those little people. The adults should be ashamed of that disgraceful herd mentality.

  5. Doing to, Doing for and Doing with…. Although Doing with is clearly a win-win for parents and kids, this case obviously indicates the contrary! What would Alfie Kohn say this time? :))

  6. avatar Kimmy Seguin says:

    I second what Tracy said above. It breaks my heart for your little boy and the other kids who should have had a magical time and memory of hunting for eggs without adult interference and gluttony.

  7. Wow, this is pathetic. I have made my share of mistakes as a mother, but the behavior of these parents is a whole new league.

  8. He looks so sad and forlorn out there among the grown-ups!

    I was just thinking about RIE at Easter. My son is 22 months. After he found his first egg, he was delighted! He proceeded to run around the field with it. Other adults were shouting at him to get more eggs, and I felt like I should, too– but he was just so happy, I didn’t. We joked that he is a minimalist (which we aspire to be). It’s alarming to me how hard it can be just to let kids play in their own way.

    1. I keep a happy memory of my middle child’s first egg hunt at 21 months: she got an egg in her right hand, she got an egg in her left hand, she walked over to a third egg, and she couldn’t figure out how to pick up her newest find. She spent the rest of her time trying to figure out putting three eggs in two hands. It was precious.

  9. Yes, I’ve witnessed this too! Heartbreaking. What concerns me is the normalization of this behavior. I often wonder what my own child will think of my lack of involvement. Will she be grateful? Or will she think I was weird or somehow unsupportive? If all the parents around her are helicoptering, will I seem uncaring in comparison? Madness lies this way, I’m sure. But I hate this mob mentality so much!

    1. avatar Kate greenway says:

      Oh Emily,
      I struggle daily with this as well. With so much of my family in my surrounding area, no matter how well I implement RIE, I can’t help but wonder if my family’s ‘good intentions’ are contradicting all I am doing with my son. I never say ‘good job’ to him. It’s always praise and encouragement specifically about the situation at hand. But I witness every time my parents/ inlaws/ great- grandparents are around, after time spent together he gets ‘good job, good boy, NO’ etc etc. It doesn’t matter how many times I try and explain to them what were doing- it takes a conciosus effort not to say these things and I think they’ve stopped trying. There’s only so many times I can politely correct them before I start stepping on toes. I know this is a real issue because recently my son and I were at home and he did something he was proud of. He looked at me in delight, and I said “you did it buddy! You worked so hard on that tower” he looked at me confused and said “good job mama” as if he was telling me he was waiting for me to say it. These are Very difficult situations at times but it is well worth sticking to the game plan.

  10. avatar Helen Clarke says:

    How strange – I have never seen this kind of behaviour before! We went to an organised Easter Egg hunt the other week and, because we were early, my older son hid the easter eggs for the little ones, and they all went off to find them – safe, large but enclosed space with trees and bushes, perfect for some independent adventure time for the kids. They don’t need us in their hair all the time right? Win-win – all the parents enjoyed some adult time, drinking tea and catching up, one or two parents and the older kids keeping an eye on the little ones, but not intrusively, incase they got stuck (my son hid eggs in some good places :-)).
    I just don’t get the mentality of the parents in this video and it actually scares me on quite a deep level!! The message, don’t follow the rules, playing fair isn’t as important as your own greed, enough isn’t enough, we’re not in this together to have fun.. looks like the parents barge this younger child out of the way in order to push their child into the lead. Ug-ly!!

  11. I’m mixed on parental involvement in egg hunts, for the age group they are speaking of. My recollection is that my son didn’t really get it last year at 2 1/2. This year, he totally has it down. It seems wrong to have a 24 month old and a 47 month old in the same category, cause they are at such drastically different levels. Maybe with a 2 and 3 age group, the 2 yr olds should be allowed a parent to act as a spotter/support person to guide them through the activity (so it’s not over before they figure out what’s going on).

    We do a hunt with friends, where everyone brings a dozen, and leaves with a dozen. When my 3 1/2 yr old looked like he had enough, we stopped and counted together, and he threw the extra two he had back out on the grass. I was kind of sad we didn’t squeeze in a big, community egg hunt this year, but I think we might intentionally skip those in the future, after thinking about this more. That video is so sad!

    1. But why are we counting the eggs at all? It shouldn’t matter what age the children are or how many eggs they collect. My ideal hunt would be one that encourages teamwork where the older children support the younger ones and all of the eggs end up in one basket to be shared later.

  12. I have had the same experience, and it’s ghastly. I’ve literally had a parent almost take an egg from my daughter’s hand. It’s deplorable. It fills me with rage and sadness. I’m sorry we are all going through this. What’s the real prize?!

  13. I experienced the same thing last year with my son in the 2 yr old Egg Hunt. He had just turned 2, so he needed some guidance as what to do. But I was very frustrated that all the other parents were just grabbing as many eggs as they could for their child. My son didn’t end up with very many b/c I refused to do it for him. Plus, he insisted on opening each egg he found once he realized there was something in them.

    This year we weren’t able to make it to a community egg hunt due to illness. We did our own egg hunt at home and semi-hid the eggs (as opposed to just throwing them on the ground like they do in the big community egg hunts.) He had a blast looking around our yard and finding the eggs. Again, he had to open each one he found before moving on to the next egg (which I find adorable).

    Let kids be kids and enjoy a real egg hunt. I enjoy my memories of egg hunts when I was little. Then helping hide the eggs for my niece and nephews once I was older!

  14. Janet,

    I’m so glad everyone here is shaking their heads after watching that video. You’ve really made a huge difference by sharing your wisdom! It warms my heart.

    I remember this kind of fearful parent behavior being normal back when my kids were little 25 years ago, and I can confirm that almost no one trusted their child. A second contributing factor was, and probably still is, a lack of trust in other parents and the community at large.

    Once you see this happen (as most of these parents probably did the year before), in order to participate in this community event again, their reaction to protect their children from the other parents is understandable. I remember feeling it myself. Thus an age-appropriate adventure devolves, just as you said.

    What inspires me is that this herd mentality can be redirected by a even a small group of informed parents. For example, a couple of parents could work with the community to prepare TWO designated areas for a toddler egg hunt: a large one for protective parents who want to lead their children, and a small one for self-guided toddlers.

    My experience tells me that after seeing proof that toddlers can do this on their own in a safe area, more parents will gravitate toward the smaller area and be content to just watch. Year after year, more small areas could be added until eventually the big parent-led area is no longer needed for parents to feel safe, and child-led egg hunts are the norm.

    In a scenario like that, parents would learn that they can trust their children (and maybe each other?) almost by default! Having trained parent volunteers on hand could speed the transition.

    I have lots of dreams like that as I know you do. I am so grateful that you are here to help parents make a more trusting world possible for our children.

    1. avatar Jen Norris says:

      Love the idea of having a “both” “and” approach to the egg hunt. I will share this with my neighborhood association. Our egg hunt was similar to the vid. We arrived 7 minutes after the ‘start’ and there were no eggs left for our active 15 month old. Lots of lessons for all to learn.

  15. We had a similar experience this year taking our nearly 3 year old daughter to her first egg hunt in town and within 30 seconds, the up to 4 area was swarmed with parents. We let her go in by herself and she shared her eggs with other kids who didn’t get any, but I was really surprised and disappointed. The area was maybe 10×20 and could have been easily supervised from the sidelines.

  16. avatar Anja Mitchell says:

    The video made me cry. I can feel so with the little boy. Yes, something is very wrong with the parenting culture. I experience things like this all the time in the playgrounds. Instead of going home upset, sad and demoralized I chose to speak up now. I name it: entitlement, shaming, racism and all such things.

  17. avatar Jennifer Wyman says:

    While this video saddens me, it doesn’t surprise me. At my daycare last year I organized an ‘Easter Party’ and an egg hunt for the kids. The parents stood back, as I asked them to do, but verbally pushed their kids to get the most eggs.

    The moment a 3 year old child ran up to his mother and proclaimed “Look mom! I got the blue egg before Josh* did!” and the mom exclaimed “Good Job!” will forever be burned into my mind.

    1. avatar Jennifer Wyman says:

      *Name has been changed.

  18. Devastating video. I actually shed a tear on this. Our LO is 10mths old and we have been isolated in raising her in the RIE way. Recently we invited another mama and her bub to a RIE playgroup (having found an ALMOST qualified practitioner in Sydney who is willing to guide us) and this mama said it wasn’t for her… It left me a little in shock. How could anyone say RIE isn’t for them?? Watching this video made me realise. We don’t know what other people’s belief systems are, how competitive they think the world is, how much interaction they believe their child should have from them… it’s disturbing and so sad. I guess that’s why this video made me cry, oh and I’m having a little PPD too so it all makes sense. I WISH YOU RIE PEOPLE WERE CLOSER!!!!

    Love from,
    Feeling RIE isolated in Sydney Australia

    1. Awww, I wish we were closer, too! My blog statistics show that there are many RIE enthusiasts in Sydney. Have you joined my community forum? There’s a “Parents Connect Locally” section that is only visible to registered users. Here’s where to register: https://janetlansbury.com/wp-login.php?action=register

      There is also a FB group for Australia and New Zealand (a vast area, but still): https://www.facebook.com/groups/127261650815324/ I think there may be another one as well. I feel hopeful you’ll find a community of like-minded parents… so please don’t give up!

  19. Just found this site/post. SO glad there are people out there that want their children to do things on their own! I always feel like the odd one out because I try to treat my children like capable little humans. Encouraging them to do things on their own is how they know you believe in them – then they know they can believe in themselves. They are capable of so much more than most people think – sad to see that video above, but not surprised. To be honest that is why we no longer put in the effort to attend such events.

  20. Videos like this inform my preschool teaching. I am committed more than ever to defend a young child’s need to play and explore. So much of my job is to artfully prepare our classroom space and step the heck back. Did these parents think their children couldn’t hold a basket and pick up eggs on their own? Perhaps the parents are play deprived.

  21. this is sad but typical i have found in every aspect that concerns children, no matter what age.. starts with things as innocent as easter egg hunts, then goes to contests within the school system, then little league etc.. anything competitive parents are the worse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. It happened the same thing to my 2.5 year old son. He only got 1 egg while others had their basket full. I was felling bad for him until I noticed how happy he was with just that egg. Then I realized that is all that matters.

  23. Wow – thank you for this post. It captures one of the most negative aspects of our parenting culture so succinctly. Hopefully it will get people talking and parents thinking about their behaviour.

  24. This happened to us this weekend. Not as bad, as it was 2 and under, but I was still disappointed. Every single child except my 1 year old had a parent go in with them, rushing them along. My daughter went in and was doing great on her own, but when she got to the middle, it was so crowded with adults that I couldn’t see her anymore, so I had to go in after her. I smiled at her, she showed me her eggs, I said “look at those eggs you found! Let’s go show daddy.” and led her out of the crowd (as by then the eggs were all gone). I totally get going in if your little one is in the egg hunt looking upset and asking for you, then gently modeling putting one egg in the basket and backing up again…then taking them out if they’re still upset. But these parents all went in from the very beginning, rushing their children along and making it so crowded with adults that the little ones probably couldnt see much anyway.

  25. So sad!! Just had an Easter Egg hunt today with my son’s four year old class. What we did was have all the kids put the eggs they found in the same box and we then distributed them equally amongst all the children present… it worked quite well. Perhaps for next year try organizing amongst friends and with kids of a similar age and agree to do something like this?

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