By Beth Levine – Woman’s Day Magazine – 02/09/2011 – 10:12pm
Teaching manners to my now 18-year-old son was always clear: Say thank you, use your indoor voice. What was, and still is, harder to figure out was the proper way to deal with other parents and other children—like the dad who made a crack about my son’s lack of athleticism at our kids’ soccer game. (Would it be OK to slug him? I know, I know, it wouldn’t.) Or the mom at the store the other day who was oblivious to her child’s tantrum. (Can a total stranger say something?) When it comes to parenting, it’s a virtual manners minefield. So here’s what to do if…
…an adult criticizes your child. Like any parent, you’ll immediately want to go on the offense and come to your child’s rescue. But before you say anything to the adult, take a minute to step back and “assess whether the criticism is earned,” says Michele Borba, EdD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. If the comment is about your child’s behavior—say, she was being mean to another child and the adult called her aggressive—that’s something you should know. Respond with a simple, “Thank you for telling me.” Then deal with the problem.
Sometimes, however, you’re too caught off guard to respond at all. Say a friend makes a snarky comment about your kid, like calling your moody preteen a “sulky little thing.” You’re too stunned to say anything in the moment, but after thinking about it, you become upset. What should you do? “Never try to give as good as you got,” says Dr. Borba. Instead of engaging in a confrontation, remind your friend of her comment and pointedly ask, “Why would you say that?” advises Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies. That question, and your sense of hurt, shines a light on the inappropriate nature of her comment and may prompt an apology.
If your child overheard the dig, reassure her, adds Dr. Borba, by saying, “Some people forget that words hurt and they need to think before they speak.”
…you see a child misbehaving. When it’s a friend’s kid, your first instinct is probably to get involved. But if the mom is there and sees the misbehavior, don’t. “Allow her to discipline in her own way,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Boston. However, if she’s not aware of what’s going on—and her child’s bad behavior is affecting your child—then by all means, take action. Just be sure to get your friend involved, too. For instance, say to her, “It looks like Tiffany and Madison are fighting over the slide. Let’s move them to the swings.”
If your friend isn’t around, take the lead, adds Smith. Say, “Tiffany, we do not hit. If you hit again you’ll get a time-out.” Make good on the consequence, if necessary. If your friend asks later why you disciplined her child, say, “You know I love her, but she wasn’t listening to me.”
What if you don’t know the parent? If a child is about to get hurt, you need to intervene whether she is there or not, says Laurence Steinberg, PhD, professor of psychology at Temple University and author of You and Your Adolescent. “The aggressor himself can be injured, so intervening is for that child’s sake, too.” If things haven’t become physical, keep an eye on the situation and step in if it escalates.
What if it’s just a kid acting up—no one’s getting hurt, but everyone’s annoyed by his antics? “It’s not your job to confront the child or the parent,” says Smith. “You can tell her what happened if she didn’t see it, but let her handle it.
…someone’s parenting style clashes with your own. Your son goes to his bud’s house to play Wii. You think the friend’s sticky situations CON T’D Whether the other mom is a friend or a complete stranger, say something only if your child is affected or if you are concerned for another child’s safety. mom will be home the entire time, but find out later that she left for a few hours to run errands. Apparently, she has no problem leaving tweens home alone. But you do. The question is, did she know that?
To prevent this type of sticky situation, says Smith, tell parents ahead of time where you stand on issues that are important to you, such as whether you allow junk food, violent video games and Internet use. Say, “We don’t allow x, y and z. Do you?” If they allow behaviors that you don’t, ask them to make sure your child adheres to your rules when he’s at their house. If they don’t honor your request, have their child over to your home for future get-togethers.
Also be sure to clue in your kids. Be clear and consistent about your rules—at home and at their pals’ houses—and explain your decisions without bad-mouthing any other family. (A good way to put it: “Everyone does things differently and this is what works for us.”) Otherwise, kids have to figure out which rules to follow, says Joyce Munsch, PhD, professor of child and adolescent development at California State University, Northridge. Tell your child that if another parent gives him the OK to do things you don’t permit, he should say he’s not allowed. And if he does it anyway? “Then decide on an appropriate punishment,” says Dr. Munsch.
…someone insists on hugging and kissing your child, who clearly hates it. “Gimme some sugar!” screams your friend Frieda, as she smothers your son in kisses while he squirms and winces. “You don’t ever want to make children feel that any adult has the right to touch them, whether it’s a pat on the head or a kiss on the cheek,” says Dr. Munsch. If your son is young (age 10 or under), it’s your job to get his message across to Frieda. Take her aside and gently say, “Jesse isn’t a big hugger or kisser, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t glad to see you. I know I sure am.” Then give her a hug or kiss yourself—almost as if you’re filling in for your child.
If your son is older, teach him that it’s OK to smile and step back—as long as he’s polite and greets the adult somehow. If possible, discuss ahead of time what would make him feel comfortable: Saying “hi” while also blowing a kiss, waving, giving a high-five or offering a handshake? Most adults understand how complicated it is these days to teach kids about who can touch them, and they may be gracious enough to help affirm your son’s greeting choice. But, unfortunately, a handshake may not always do the trick. “Any adult outside the family who continues to insist on this type of familiarity is being rude and disrespectful toward your child and needs to be told firmly that his or her behavior is not appropriate,” says Dr. Munsch. If it’s a stranger or a mere acquaintance, physically stand between that person and your child, and say, “Lisa doesn’t really like to be hugged or kissed. I’m sure you understand.” Of course, when the adult is someone like Grandma, who can become terribly hurt when your child pulls away, the situation can get complicated. Assure her that her grandson adores her, but if she wants to establish—and maintain— a good relationship with him, she needs to respect his boundaries, suggests Dr. Munsch.
…your child doesn’t want to invite your friend’s son to her birthday party (awkward!). First, ask why. Maybe the other child has picked on her before, in which case, you can’t really blame her. “It’s OK to exclude someone if your child is going to be adversely affected,” says Dr. Steinberg, who suggests calling the parents to explain. You don’t want to ruin your friendship with them over this, though, “so say something like, ‘Lately the kids haven’t been getting along very well, and it might be disruptive at the party. Let’s brainstorm ways we can get them to play better and try again.’”
When it’s simply a case of your child not liking the other, “use it as an opportunity to teach her kindness and acceptance,” suggests Fox. Say, “I understand your feelings, but I think that Jonathan and his parents will be hurt if we don’t invite him. So we need to make the best of it.” Adds Dr. Steinberg, “Children have to learn that in life, we often have to do things we don’t really want to do because it’s the polite way to behave.”