I was interviewed by Martha Stewart Living Radio this morning on the subject of other people’s ill-mannered children and how to broach the subject with the little rascals and their parents when their bad behavior starts to rub off on your own children.
As parents we’ve all had our fair share of experience with other people’s unruly kids. If we’re lucky, we can steer clear of them by staying as far away as possible. But what can you do, when the offending children are your own family members or the children of your closest friends? That creates quite the sticky situation that requires the perfect amount of finesse. We all parent differently, everybody has their own set of priorities and values, but when little Timmy’s horrific manners start to rub off on my impressionable girls, then that’s where I draw the line. I don’t care if he is their first cousin or a friend from school. Something’s gotta give and someone’s gonna hear about it!
Unfortunately, regardless of how stringent we are with instilling our own children with good manners, it takes just one encounter with a child who is misbehaving to seemingly obliterate all the work we have done. It is part of human nature that our children be lured towards the boorish side of bad rather than the genteel side of good and there’s not much we can do about it other than to try to pick up the pieces and hope that, like riding a bicycle, our children will remember to find their natural balance again.
So what are our best tactics for eliciting the best behavior in our own kids as well as other children and how can we gently broach the subject with our friends and family members when their kids act out without turning it into a scene from “God of Carnage?” Here are our top tips below.
· Tread lightly on the subject. You don’t want to feel helpless, but it can be extremely frustrating trying to communicate the gravity of a situation when it is falling on deaf ears. This is especially true when you encounter parents who ignore their children’s rude behavior and think they can do no wrong. Before launching into a tirade however, first remember to give others the benefit of the doubt. You never know if a parent is having a particularly rough day and therefore their children are too. If the parent appears plain irresponsible, then your next course of action is to speak up, just be careful to tread lightly so as not to offend. Many parents will become quickly defensive and tend to blame the accuser for being too sensitive. Chances are if the children are a certain way, so are the parents. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
· Our control is limited. No matter how hard we try, we cannot control other children’s behavior, we can only control the behavior of our own children. If you discover that the uncontrollable actions of your friends and family members’ children are beginning to affect the behavior of your own children, you have a few options. (1) You may schedule future outings with the children at a neutral location rather than in the home. (2) You can advise your child to befriend other children (this works with friends only, unfortunately we do not get to choose our family), and (3) You can politely decline future plans with the child when asked (again this works much better with friends than family). With family, you should not have to stand on ceremony or make up excuses. A calm, straightforward conversation might do the trick and even bring everyone a little closer in the end.
· Know when to speak up. If another unruly child is hurting your child, either physically or by being verbally abusive, then a parent must step in. It is our duty as to make sure our children are protected and unharmed. This communication should be handled by phone or with a face-to-face conversation. An email, text or any other form of electronic communication would be detrimental to the situation as it is crucial that facial expressions, body language and tone all be considered during the exchange.
· Eliminate the drama. Without placing blame or adding unnecessary drama, parents can get their point across in one of two ways. (1) Befriend the parent and feign camaraderie with a tale of how your older child used to do the same terrible thing, but thankfully grew out of it or (2) Hitting the subject head on and explaining in very simple terms your personal rules for conduct and behavior. The first way is advised if you care to have a future relationship with the parent and the second is for those parents you intend to stay far away from at all costs.
· Addressing the child directly. The easiest place to address the child is when they are playing in your home under your roof. Before the play date even begins you can sit both parties down and go over house rules: no jumping on the furniture, no throwing balls, no running in the house, all food is to be eaten in the kitchen or dining area, etc. If the child ignores the rules, you can give them a warning that their parent will be called and then 3 strikes you’re out. At a park, if a child is invading your child’s space, you may suggest to the child to play nicely and then keep a close watch to make sure they stay in line.
The bottom line is, it is truly the parent’s responsibility to teach their children good manners by setting boundaries and instilling consequences for unacceptable behavior. It is not about being their child’s best friend, but rather about teaching them guidelines for living that will boost their confidence and increase their self-esteem. They may not love you for it in the moment, but they will learn to respect you for it in the long run.
Have any nightmare stories to share about other people's unruly children and the tactics you used to restore order? We'd love to hear from you!