Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Most parents don't have too much trouble reminding their own kids about basic etiquette. But when it's someone else's child acting up, things get stickier. How should you respond to rudeness? What if the other child's parents are there but not taking charge?
Try to keep your emotions in check in such situations: It's possible to respond politely to even the rudest behavior. Here are some common scenarios you'll encounter and ways to handle them diplomatically.
When another child insults yours, it's tempting to jump right in to defend your child. But first, take a moment to suss out the situation. How is your child dealing with the insult? Is he extremely upset, or does he seem to be taking it in stride?
"Children learn by taking care of things themselves," says Alex J. Packer, a psychologist and author of the How Rude! series of books for children and teens. "When you step in before you're needed, the message can be that they need someone else to take care of their problems for them."
So watch for a minute to see if your child is responding in a way you find appropriate rather than hitting or screaming insults in return. If so, take him aside later and praise his behavior. Specifically mention what you liked about it: "I thought it was great that you told Jimmy not to call you 'stupid' and didn't say anything mean back."
The same wait-and-watch rule applies when you're a witness to another child's rudeness: Maybe one kid kicks over another's sandcastle on the beach, or a child in a restaurant is racing around the tables while his parents ignore him.
If your child is there, you don't want him to think this behavior is just fine. But many times, you won't be able to stop what's happening.
"You're not in charge of the whole world," says Betsy Brown Braun, a child development expert and author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents. "But you can use almost anything as a teaching moment."
If no one else seems to be getting hurt, just explain to your child why you disapprove – out of earshot of the other family. "That kid over there is putting his feet up on the train seats. Boy, I sure would hate to sit in that seat next and get all dirty."
Or maybe you're taking several kids on an outing and one of them says something nasty to you. Again, try to set aside your hurt feelings and consider the situation as calmly as you can.
If the offense is mild, a simple correction is in order. It's best not to humiliate the other child in front of your own. You can just pull her aside and say, "You know, Ava, when you tell me your house is nicer than ours it makes me feel bad."
Sometimes the other child may not even be aware that what she said was hurtful. Maybe she can say anything she wants about the food at home and didn't know that you consider complaints about what you serve for dinner to be rude.
A nonjudgmental explanation is in order here: "It hurts my feelings when you tell me my casserole is yucky." Follow up with a request to not do it again: "You don't have to eat anything you don't like, but please don't complain about the food I give you."
On the other hand, if the situation is escalating, someone will have to step in, particularly if the children involved are under the age of 4. If the offending child's parent is nearby, get her involved.
"Don't tell her that her kid shouldn't do this or that, because that's telling her she's a bad parent," says Braun. "Stick to telling her what happened and wait for her to react."
First, describe what happened in as neutral a way as you can: "Bobby called Joe a 'big stupid-head.' I just thought I should let you know." Then wait to see what she says or does. In most cases the parent will talk to her child about what he said, and your work is done.
However, a few parents will automatically get defensive when told their child has misbehaved. If this happens, it's usually best to try to control your indignant response and simply repeat neutrally, "I thought you would want to know." If possible, you might want to remove your child from the situation.
If the child's parent isn't around and the situation warrants intervention – say one child is bullying another who's not in your group – another useful approach is to enlist authorities: movie-theater ushers, for instance, or the host at a restaurant.
If all else fails, just tell the other child that what she did was inappropriate and why: "When you call someone 'smelly,' it hurts his feelings." A watchful adult presence is generally enough to make even the most headstrong child dial down the rudeness.
But unless you've been asked to act as another child's guardian or caregiver, it's wise not to discipline the child with time-outs or other punishments. If the situation is intolerable and there's another adult in charge, leave with your child rather than trying to punish someone else's.
When you have kids, it's often easier to socialize at friends' homes than at restaurants, malls, or movie theaters. But even at someone else's home, you'll probably have higher expectations of your child than in your own home, especially if you're visiting friends who don't have kids.
A few suggestions for managing a friendly visit:
Lay down the ground rules. Explain to your child before you go that you'll expect her to keep her feet and shoes off the furniture, and that running indoors is not allowed.
Reduce surprises. It can be helpful to brief your child on what will likely happen during the visit: "Mommy, Daddy, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones will sit in the kitchen and have coffee, and you and Jane will probably play in the family room."
Create distractions. If you're visiting a home where no kids live, it's smart to bring something for your child to occupy herself with, such as books, small games, or coloring books.
Know the code. You might want to establish a signal beforehand to let your child know that a behavior isn't appropriate and must end. Show her that when you tug at your ear, for instance, that means stop. This way, you can warn her without embarrassing her.
Be ready to move. If your child doesn't notice your warnings or really goes off the rails, you may need to forget about avoiding embarrassment and take her outside for a nerve-soothing run around the yard before gently reminding her of your expectations.
Avoid collateral damage. While you can't expect your hosts to childproof their house for you, take a glance around the area where your child will be to check for breakables or hazards.
"Just say, 'That's a beautiful china bird, but I know my daughter will want to touch it. Can I put it up on this shelf to keep it safe?'" says Cindy Post Senning, Emily Post's great-granddaughter and the author of the manners picture book Emily's Magic Words: Please, Thank You, and More. If there are too many treasures to deal with, it's fine to ask whether you can all sit outside or move to another room with fewer breakables.
By age 2, many kids can:
- have a general understanding that the rules for other people's homes can be different from the rules at their home
By age 4, many kids can:
- comprehend and follow many of the rules of someone else's home – usually with some prompting from you
- understand and obey a nonverbal signal to stop doing something (but sometimes they'll be too excited to heed your cue)
- usually remember to keep their feet off the walls and furniture
- refrain from running in the house, although sometimes they'll need a reminder from you
- refrain from touching fragile objects – especially if you remind them
By age 8, many kids can:
- join in adult conversations for brief periods of time (15 minutes or so)