Author Topic: Where to politely keep your eyes when someone's kid is being a brat? (long)  (Read 6778 times)

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ThistleBird

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So I have a good friend with whom I live in a fairly close-knit community of neighbors, and she has a three-year-old son. I'll call them Paula and Joey. When I say close-knit I mean we interact almost daily. It's a rural area, we are often out in our gardens which are near each other, we see each other socially, she drops in to borrow stuff or give me extra veggies or whatever.

The thing is, Joey is... strong-willed. It's actually a bit of a mystery to me, Paula's parenting, because she's always been *such* a no-nonsense kind of person, and she's shown herself pretty competent at certain aspects of child training--it's her son's reflex to clean up after himself for example--and yet she acts relatively unconcerned when Joey yells at her angrily and hits her because he didn't get his way. She says things like "We don't hit" (well, one of 'us' does! regularly!) where I would use the Voice of Doom: "You NEVER hit your MOTHER, go to your room RIGHT NOW", etc. (I keep thinking "Don't you know he'll be bigger than you someday?") Now, that's her parenting choice and I was raised that you don't give advice unless someone asks, especially about parenting, because my word, how personal is that. But I've worked with kids quite a bit and I think and analyze a lot about parenting and child training--now more than ever since I'm pregnant with my first child--and I am always noting things I would do differently, and I'm afraid it shows on my face.

Tonight DH and I ate with Paula and Joey, and though it wasn't one of the hitting times there was a great deal of "I want this!" "No" "BUT I WANT IT!" or "If you keep doing that I'll have to take that away," "NO!" "Okay, then stop doing it" <Joey keeps doing it and Paula turns a blind eye> and it made me feel squirmy. I just didn't know where to put my eyes. If you completely pretend it's not happening, is that *more* obvious than acknowledging it? I think that I can't in courtesy say anything, but does anyone have any idea if there are subtle hints I should drop, or if I really shouldn't, or just what attitude, look, reaction or lack of reaction on my part stands the best chance of being helpful or at least not offensive? Extra confusing in all this is a story from a mutual friend who keeps Joey in her home daycare: once when Joey was pulling a fit, our mutual friend's husband--in front of Paula--reprimanded him, scooped him up bodily and carried him to the car (where Paula had told him to go)... and Paula appeared grateful. She works full-time and is pregnant, and her husband is... a decent guy but just not the most helpful ever... and it may be that she just lacks the energy to stand up to Joey all the time and may sometimes be grateful to have someone do it for her. But still I'm super scared of stepping on her parental toes.

Incidentally I've kept him for a day here and there myself, and I can make him behave. You have to get the upper hand, in a friendly but firm way, from the start and keep it, holding the line hard as soon as he starts to push it. It does require a fair amount of energy. But I have never used the same techniques when she is present b/c obviously when she is present I am not in charge of him.

Also, because I am about to have a son myself and am looking to the future, a serious question. Mutual friend also told me (we do not usually gossip, this was one conversation and we kept it to a minimum but I think sometimes this kind of info is necessary) that she's had issues in her daycare with Joey hitting other kids. I wasn't surprised; I'd been worried before that, given that he hits his mom and that his approach to the world is that he's in charge and if someone questions that he's angry. So my question is: do any of the experienced moms out there have tips on how to teach my son to stand up to a bully, while also teaching him not to hit people himself? And how to deal with the situation when the bully's mom is one of your good friends? I don't want to assume what is going to happen, and I will be ecstatic if Joey learns to behave better... but I do want to be prepared. I mean, living the way we do, Joey is going to be a daily reality in my kid's life.

LeveeWoman

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So I have a good friend with whom I live in a fairly close-knit community of neighbors, and she has a three-year-old son. I'll call them Paula and Joey. When I say close-knit I mean we interact almost daily. It's a rural area, we are often out in our gardens which are near each other, we see each other socially, she drops in to borrow stuff or give me extra veggies or whatever.

The thing is, Joey is... strong-willed. It's actually a bit of a mystery to me, Paula's parenting, because she's always been *such* a no-nonsense kind of person, and she's shown herself pretty competent at certain aspects of child training--it's her son's reflex to clean up after himself for example--and yet she acts relatively unconcerned when Joey yells at her angrily and hits her because he didn't get his way. She says things like "We don't hit" (well, one of 'us' does! regularly!) where I would use the Voice of Doom: "You NEVER hit your MOTHER, go to your room RIGHT NOW", etc. (I keep thinking "Don't you know he'll be bigger than you someday?") Now, that's her parenting choice and I was raised that you don't give advice unless someone asks, especially about parenting, because my word, how personal is that. But I've worked with kids quite a bit and I think and analyze a lot about parenting and child training--now more than ever since I'm pregnant with my first child--and I am always noting things I would do differently, and I'm afraid it shows on my face.

Tonight DH and I ate with Paula and Joey, and though it wasn't one of the hitting times there was a great deal of "I want this!" "No" "BUT I WANT IT!" or "If you keep doing that I'll have to take that away," "NO!" "Okay, then stop doing it" <Joey keeps doing it and Paula turns a blind eye> and it made me feel squirmy. I just didn't know where to put my eyes. If you completely pretend it's not happening, is that *more* obvious than acknowledging it? I think that I can't in courtesy say anything, but does anyone have any idea if there are subtle hints I should drop, or if I really shouldn't, or just what attitude, look, reaction or lack of reaction on my part stands the best chance of being helpful or at least not offensive? Extra confusing in all this is a story from a mutual friend who keeps Joey in her home daycare: once when Joey was pulling a fit, our mutual friend's husband--in front of Paula--reprimanded him, scooped him up bodily and carried him to the car (where Paula had told him to go)... and Paula appeared grateful. She works full-time and is pregnant, and her husband is... a decent guy but just not the most helpful ever... and it may be that she just lacks the energy to stand up to Joey all the time and may sometimes be grateful to have someone do it for her. But still I'm super scared of stepping on her parental toes.

Incidentally I've kept him for a day here and there myself, and I can make him behave. You have to get the upper hand, in a friendly but firm way, from the start and keep it, holding the line hard as soon as he starts to push it. It does require a fair amount of energy. But I have never used the same techniques when she is present b/c obviously when she is present I am not in charge of him.

Also, because I am about to have a son myself and am looking to the future, a serious question. Mutual friend also told me (we do not usually gossip, this was one conversation and we kept it to a minimum but I think sometimes this kind of info is necessary) that she's had issues in her daycare with Joey hitting other kids. I wasn't surprised; I'd been worried before that, given that he hits his mom and that his approach to the world is that he's in charge and if someone questions that he's angry. So my question is: do any of the experienced moms out there have tips on how to teach my son to stand up to a bully, while also teaching him not to hit people himself? And how to deal with the situation when the bully's mom is one of your good friends? I don't want to assume what is going to happen, and I will be ecstatic if Joey learns to behave better... but I do want to be prepared. I mean, living the way we do, Joey is going to be a daily reality in my kid's life.

If this child is not under control by the time your child is a toddler and interacting with him, the best advice I can give you is to keep your child the heck away from him.


Pen^2

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Don't parent her kid for her, even if she has appeared grateful in the past when someone else has done it. She may have been acting grateful out of courtesy but fuming on the inside, for all you know. And as you have quite rightly said, it is very personal to give parenting tips, either verbally or just by acting on them, to others. If she truly is too tired to parent her son, it is up to her to ask for help. It isn't up to you to interpret her silence: if she says nothing, you cannot politely tell her what to do.

When your son is born, keep him away from Joey. Unfortunately, if Paula has to come with Joey, then for your own son's safety, you can't be around them. That's all there is to it. If she asks directly, you can find a way to tell her politely, although I cannot think of any right now. I wouldn't wait until your son is a toddler, either: a boy who hits adults and children may well hit an infant. Your son's safety comes first. Keep him away from danger, even if the danger is associated with a good friend.

Nemesis

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I agree with LeveeWoman. Your baby will need your protection. Joey will have to find some other place to play.

Any visits from Paula and Joey must be closely supervised. If you can't or don't have the energy, just tell Paula that you don't feel up for visitors today, and usher her and Joey out.

My spouse has a very aggressive nephew. We never allow him near Angel. I do not know if his mother notices, but she has said nothing. If they are visiting us, or us them, we keep Angel in another corner or another room. If he comes close, we stay polite but move Angel to another part of the room immediately.

When I say aggressive, I mean he hits, pushes, bites and occasionally punches (when he gets angry) his other cousins. When playing with toys, he throws them around the room and at his cousins. He does this when he thinks the adults are not looking. He certainly makes sure that his parents doesn't see his behaviour. When we tell his mother, she talks to him or threatens to take him home. A lot good that does..he just repeats his behaviour when no one is watching.

Now I am not saying Joey will turn out like my spouse's nephew, but there is a chance you may need to keep your son from him indefinitely. Be polite, but remember that your son is a younger and smaller kid who may be get hurt by Joey's antics.

*inviteseller

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From the time your little one is born I would keep Joey at a distance.  If he slugs adults, he will slug a baby too.  At his age, impulse control is not a high priority for them..they want it and they want it NOW, but the adults in his life are supposed to teach him how to control that so he does not become a monster.  I have always hates the "we don't hit" line..I use the Voice of Doom.
My DD's both have had these kind of kids around them in day care and in their social lives, and it wears thin real quick.  Paula will either keep burying her head in the sand or she will wake up when she realizes she and her son have no friends because of his behavior and in inability to control it.  There is no parent that wants their kids around kids like that.

delabela

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In all fairness to Joey, no toddler/preschooler should ever be around a baby without close supervision - whether or not they are "aggressive" they don't understand a baby's fragility.

Most 3 year olds assume they are the center of the universe, and a lot of them hit, particularly if they lack the language to communicate what they are needing/feeling.  I don't necessarily think this kiddo is a budding monster - it sounds like he needs some more tools to use.  It also sounds like you set clear boundaries with him when you're in charge and he responds well to that, so I doubt he is just a "mean" kid. 

As for what you can do, probably not a lot - obviously he should be watched closely if/when he's around your child.  If you notice that there is a specific situation that is problematic, I think you can make a suggestion - like if he starts having problems at the table if he's been expected to sit there longer than is reasonable for a 3 year old, then you can suggest that you all move to the living room (or some place he can play). 

GSNW

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With regard to your original question, I think acting oblivious is the best thing to do in the moment.  Paula is probably embarrassed and it would be polite to ignore her embarrassment.  This assumes that Joey is not an immediate danger to other people or animals.

Frankly, though, I don't see how it can be any fun to have dinner or socialize with Joey going berserk.  I think that it will be necessary eventually to pull back from the friendship (if nothing changes) and stopping family dinners is a good place to start.

Hasn't the daycare provider addressed this?  Parenting advice might not be your place, OP, but the care provider laying out in no uncertain terms that Joey's behavior is unacceptable should be expected.

Hmmmmm

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Don't assume the way she parents in public is what occurs when alone. Some parents feel the constant re-in forcing or yelling in front of others makes the other person uncomfortable. And kids learn this early and will push the boundaries in public. Especially if the child wants the parents undivided attention but the parent is visiting with a friend instead.

Don't parent, but you can distract. Say your in your garden and Paula has told Joey to stop digging 3 times and he is ignoring her. You can step in and say "Joey, why don't you come show me your shovel." And then bring him into the discussion.

ThistleBird

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Thanks for all the replies.

In line with what delabela said, I should say that Joey is definitely not the worst kid I've ever seen, and can be a very sweet boy when he's behaving. Paula is also about to have another baby boy, so it's possible this will wake her up to address the hitting issue *much* more strongly... so there is hope. (I am also glad of the fact that Joey will have a little brother my son's age.)

It's true it's possible that she holds a firmer line in private, although I've seen patterns like the "threaten to take something away and then cave on the issue" thing done in semi-private (when she's over in her garden and it's not particularly noticeable that I'm in earshot.) I did wonder last night whether she knew standing firm would cause him to pitch a fit such that she would send him to his room (she does do that) and she did not want that during our dinner. Again, everything comes back to "how am I going to do it" for me... I think I'm going to try hard to be consistent in public and private. Yeah, I'm sure it is annoying to a guest if your attention is taken up with reinforcing child training, but it's less annoying than certain other things, and the outcome seems worth it.

I don't remember all the details of my talk with our daycare provider friend, but I think she probably has addressed the issue. Paula is not unaware that Joey is having behavior problems, she is just not responding to the issue the way (I hope) I would. She does talk about working hard on his behavior, etc, and I should note that I have not seen an interaction in which Joey's hit another kid--her response to that may be much more serious and effective. I've always felt that for some mysterious reason she has always taken his disrespect for herself much more lightly than any other behavior issue (not seeing that this would color his whole approach to life...)

I appreciate the advice about being careful about Joey around my son, and I will of course supervise him very closely around the baby and be ready to end the visit if necessary. Still, I'd like to reiterate my original question in case anyone's prepared to answer it: what tools you can give your kid to help them with standing up to a bully? I firmly believe there's only so much sheltering you can do--they will be out in the world someday after all--and honestly, while it's possible to minimize LittleBird's contact with Joey, it's not possible, unless Paula moves away, to erase the fact of Joey from his life. You have to see the way we live. There are no fences. There are in fact no property lines--it's basically a co-housing community, where Paula and I both rent from the same owner, some of the space is officially shared, and the lines of "this is your yard, this is my yard" are only vaguely defined. We also live outside of town, so historically the kids in this community have been each other's main peer-group, day in and day out. (It seemed to work out pretty well with the last cohort, whom we knew as teenagers when we first moved here--all gone off to try their wings as young adults now.) So yeah, I can distance myself and my son--everyone will notice--but Joey will always be there, one of the handful of kids that is available for my son to interact with daily, and someday my son will have to make his own choices whether to interact with him or not. I think that it will make him a stronger person if I allow him to do so if he wishes, and equip him in a healthy way to not allow anyone to treat him wrongly.

SPuck

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Safety and protection of personal property trump etiquette. You can't parent a child, but it is perfectly reasonable to stop them from causing harm to another person or your property in the moment if you catch. If Joey hits your kid, drag him way, tell him no, and send him back to his mother. If he is digging up your flowers or causing destruction if your plants (well first demand clarity of what is yours from your renter, that is perfectly reasonable), take whatever he is digging with, say no, and send him back to his mother. If he tries to repeat his actions, follow through with your own response. Be emotionless and stone cold, when he realizes he can't get anything out of you he will either stop, or get better at hiding it, but you won't be bothered any more.

ThistleBird

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Oh and thanks for confirming that I really can't interfere between her and him, and that with ordinary oppositional behavior the polite thing to do is ignore while she deals with it... that is what I thought but as I said I had started to wonder. Sometimes I worry about my own self... I have seen so many other moms having huge blind spots (expressing surprise that their kid was being labeled by an expert as "strong-willed", while I mentally rolled my eyes and went "I could have told you that the first time I laid eyes on her!" etc.) that I worry it's going to happen to me to, that my vision will become totally clouded because this is *my kid*... Maybe I had better just focus on making sure my own parenting is done right!

ps. SPuck--this is quite true (although actually property destruction is not an issue--as I said she's trained him well in some ways and that is one of them) and I've already half-instinctively gone in that direction on the rare occasions he's tried to hit *me*. I'll grab his hand and give him cold, hard eyes and an "oh *no* you don't" in a hard voice. It just seems natural that when he hits me it's my business and I'm free to respond directly. It's a good point that I will also be free in this way when it's my kid, and really, that makes me reflect: maybe the first step of equipping my kid to be strong is showing him when he's still small that he has the right to be protected by me.

LadyL

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If he's being particularly bad when they're visiting or having dinner, I don't think it's out of line for you as the host to say "little Joey seems to need a nap/some alone time/etc., do you want to finish catching up later?" or "I can pack up your food to go, it doesn't seem like little Joey is going to eat much!" This will at least clue her in that the visit is not fun for you, and depending on how strongly you feel you can "simply insist!" she take some leftovers to go, or you can give it some time.

I give kids and elderly people with dementia much more of a pass on behaving "properly" but even in those cases, there comes a point where no one is enjoying the visit and there's no point in prolonging it.

Pen^2

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If he's being particularly bad when they're visiting or having dinner, I don't think it's out of line for you as the host to say "little Joey seems to need a nap/some alone time/etc., do you want to finish catching up later?" or "I can pack up your food to go, it doesn't seem like little Joey is going to eat much!" This will at least clue her in that the visit is not fun for you, and depending on how strongly you feel you can "simply insist!" she take some leftovers to go, or you can give it some time.

I give kids and elderly people with dementia much more of a pass on behaving "properly" but even in those cases, there comes a point where no one is enjoying the visit and there's no point in prolonging it.

Yes. If he is hitting you, or attempting to, it would be reasonable to end the visit then and there. As SPuck said, safety trumps etiquette. Just because he's small doesn't mean he can't scratch or hit an eye while he's going at it. With a baby around, it would be an automatic end of visit for me. It just isn't worth the risk--even under close supervision, he can do some damage before he can be stopped, if he feels so inclined.

With the bullying thing... I have no children of my own, so take this with a grain of salt. I am a teacher. I've always given variations which pretty much boil down to, "get away from the bully as fast as you can, and make lots of noise to get people's attention if he's actually trying to hurt you, since this alone will scare most bullies off. If you know someone is a bully, always do your best to ensure that you aren't ever left alone with them, out of sight of adults. Find at least one adult you trust to keep up to date with any bullying incidents. And don't ever, ever feel like you're a bad person if you're being bullied."

rose red

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I agree when it affects you, you can do and say something.  That's not parenting, that's defending yourself.  If a 30 year old hit you, your child, or destroy your property, of course you would do something about it.  It doesn't matter if it's a child.  Same rules apply.

chicajojobe

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If the child hits you, then you can say something.
Otherwise, yes, just pretend it isn't happening. It's what I did for the year I worked at a children's clothing store and bratty kids abounded!

As for your own child, you can just make sure they don't spend time together.