Sunday, 28 September 2008

Touch and go

Someone asked, the other day, how I was coping being the only man at all the parent-toddler sessions I attend. I told her, honestly, I'd hardly noticed; Charlie is too busy for my eyes to wander, and when you're sniffing at his backside to discover if he needs a change of nappy or wiping sick up off the carpet or yourself, you can hardly stand on ceremony. But there is one thing that I've been uncomfortable with: touching other people's children. You can hardly avoid it; they bump into each other (and need separating), race towards impending danger (and need saving) and whichever parent is the nearest is expected to step in. And that's the problem. At school we had entire policies on when and how it was appropriate to touch a pupil (and descriptions of the least litigious ways to do it). But working at a secondary school meant there were seldom any occasions when I had to put it into practise. Now though, suddenly, it's happening almost every day. The occasions when it's necessary to pick up someone else's baby or else grab hold of them to stop them crashing to the floor occur so frequently that I've stopped counting. There is no way of avoiding it (which is exactly as it should be, considering the circumstances). But as anyone who's ever worked with children knows, this has become an area of professional paranoia in recent years. The days of a friendly arm around the shoulder or - worse still - physically intervening in a fight (especially one between two girls!) are long gone. (And given the nasty bite I received on the one occasion I had cause to do the latter, that's no bad thing!) But I've noticed this hesitancy among fathers in the park, too; we won't be the first to go the aid of a child who's fallen down and scraped its knee; we'll wait and look around (for witnesses?) before we'll lift a child into a swing. And ultimately, that's something to be more uncomfortable about than touching other children.

13 comments:

  1. When I was ten our only male teacher at my (mixed) school was hauled up in front of the PTA, the School Governers and very nearly the police merely for putting his hand on the shoulder of an eleven year old boy who was messing around in the dinner queue and asking him to stop holding up the queue......the boys parents were "outraged" that he had "touched" their child.

    He wasn't sacked but was disciplined and left teaching about a month afterwards because he couldn't cope with everyone talking about him, he's still friends with my dad and still remembers exactly how he was made to feel for what was such an innocent gesture. This was twenty six years ago - he's a postman now.

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  2. This scares me, and makes me glad to be living where I am now where people are expected to be naturally tactile and nothing bad is assumed about it. Once I started a new job in London and asked where the nearest park was so I could eat my packed lunch there; the response I got (which I think was half joking, but only half) was "Park? Some kind of pervert are you?"

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  3. I think its sad that we have to feel this way but I guess everyone expects it with society the way it is - we are naturally suspicious, especially when it comes to our own kids. I caught some bloke filming me and Small Child in the park once. He kept putting the camera down when I turned to look at him, it was fairly obvious what he was doing. My first thought was to confront him but when I looked around and saw how few people there were about I decided against it.

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  4. It's really sad isn't it ? hard to foster a sense of community when we're all too scared to help a fallen child up.

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  5. Yes, its sad that we live in such paranoid times. But you have to protect yourself.

    Feel sorry for Dads in the playground at our school. They're not unwelcomed exactly but they're not included in anything either. Now full-time fathers are more common place, it does seem very strange. Yes, i would have thought toddler groups were worse

    JS

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  6. This is so sad. I don't have a problem with other dads helping my daughter if she falls over.

    However, my husband was asked to help my daughter's class with swimming lessons recently and I'm not sure. I'm very concerned about him putting himself in a vulnerable position.

    Sign of the times unfortunately.

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  7. Another sign of the times: my sons come home distressed from school because some of their classmates attack them through slandering me. They say the most appalling things, which the boys know cannot possibly be true, but which are hurtful to them. Used to be kids said "my daddy could beat your daddy". Now it is "your mum's a slapper" or words to that effect. Dads are so rare in their lives, these people attack mums.

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  8. these stories are sad. but a happy note from the land of home ed ... dig took our girls out today to the playground where dads and mums meet once a week to chat about events and swap ideas. it's mostly dads who turn up!

    (ok, the playground is in a pub garden... i'm sure that's just coincidence! )

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  9. I am not sure that I am qualified to comment on this subject as we do not have children. But doesn't it depend on the age of the child and the perceived danger?

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  10. Ooooo yeah. I understand this one. There are times when I’ve felt so out of place that I must have made myself look out of place, and therefore drawn the eye of suspicion.

    Actually I think it’s a good thing that everyone is so much more vigilant these days, and I’m willing to put up with the suspicion knowing that these same beady eyes would likely watch over my children too.

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  11. ...about ten years ago a kid threw some eggs through our living room window...I raced out, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, marched him into our house and made him clear the mess up. That's how we used to do it in the village I grew up in. But I wonder how long I'd get in jail for doing that now...

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  12. It's dreadful the way it's gone. Husband used to run the church footie team (for young boys) and if one fell he'd help him up or put an arm around him. That wasn't so long ago but now he'd be afraid to.

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  13. Yes yes... it's happened to me asa well, sadly. the accusations for simply helping a child up who's fallen over and scraped their knee. the whispers, the words, the accusations, the gossip. i got out of teaching for that very reason. it's really really sad. It's the children who end up the poorer for our societal paranoia :(

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