There are peace-loving dads who’ll tear across a playground and throw themselves between squabbling two-year-olds before a push turns to shove.
More laidback mums wander over to a brawl once the tears start to flow and order the winner to say sorry for taking things too far (by winning).
Then there are parents who stare at their phone, or look on with a smile, as their pride and joy unleashes elbows and knees that wouldn’t look out of place in the ring.
My reaction depends on how the fight is unfolding.
In the playground I took my son to as a two-year-old, parents dumped unwanted toys. It meant there was always a reason to fight.
Kids would wrestle over a deflated football or a scooter with no front wheel. If I knew the kid my son was arguing with, I might encourage them to take turns, but usually, I let the action play out. It wasn’t like I would be hovering around, refereeing my son’s bouts – he had to learn to negotiate these conflicts himself.
My boy is a pretty scrawny redhead. Seeing him shape up against bigger kids, it reminded me of something I read about miniature pit bulls, not realising they’re miniature. It can lead to some terrible mismatches.
If he returned from a wrestle teary-eyed after coming off second best, I’d tell him not to worry about it and that he should play with other kids. Learning to steer clear of someone who can bash you isn’t a bad lesson to learn early in life.
The main time I’d intervene was when he was getting one over someone else – particularly if they were smaller than him. Once he was getting rough with a toddler, and the mum told me, “Don’t worry, she’s got big brothers, she’s used to it.” I was glad her kid could stand up for herself, but I was more concerned about my kid turning into a ratbag, bullying anyone he was bigger than.
Now my kid is four – or four-and-a-half, as he insists on reminding me. He and his preschool mates are enjoying wrestling and fighting more than ever. I reassure my wife that it’s just a phase they’re going through, that will end in about ten years.
There’s one kid, let’s call him Biff, who always comes out on top. Short of a thumb in the eye or a punch in the privates, two attacks my kid doesn’t need to learn anytime soon, he’s damn near unstoppable.
When my kid complained he got hurt by Biff in a recent rumble, I told him that he didn’t have to join in. I said the best way to win a fight is to walk away (something I don’t quite believe but which I thought sounded fatherly).
Things got even more serious a few weeks later when he revealed that there were a couple of “teams” forming at preschool – one that fought and one that didn’t fight.
Biff had confronted him and asked him to join the fighting team. “What did you do?” I asked. Had he taken my advice, I wondered.
“Well, I didn’t want to fight, so I said I don’t like fighting,” I felt a little pride, knowing he’d been confident enough to tell Biff that he wasn’t going to join his gang. And it was good that he seemed pleased about it.
But my kid wasn’t finished. “Then I did a fart and said I only fart fight.”
Biff drew a line. He told my kid that fart fighting was the worst kind of fighting and retreated to his gang.
And the final decision
You win some, you lose some. I’m chalking this one up as a parenting victory.