Monday, September 29, 2008

"Your kids are nice to have for a visit, but I wouldn't want to raise them!"

Ever felt like saying that to the parents of your children's friends?
The problem is that while you can choose your own friends, your children will become old enough to choose their own friends.
And, all kids go through a phase where their choices are completely indiscriminate. Ah, the innocence of childhood! At least, the innocence of your child's childhood.

What prompted this particular subject today? Another one of my readers' suggestions: "Do you dare discipline the neighbor's child? How about offering discipline advice to the kid's parents? Do you let them know their child is bad influence on your kid? Should I just pack up and move?"

And, although I haven't had this exact experience (our neighbor's kids who are playmates to my kids are wonderful!), I can imagine the situation becomes even more sticky with a neighbor.
Probably due to the fact that you can't hide from your neighbors, and you can't distract your kids' from asking to play with kids whom they see all the time.
How do you use the "usual" excuse of "oh, we're busy", or "we'll be out of town", or "my family is coming over", when it would be blatantly obvious to them that you are sitting home alone?
My thoughts exactly.

So, because you can't put a cloak of invisibility over your house, let's address the first question: "Do you dare discipline the neighbor's child?".
In a word, "yes".
Then again, I dare to do a lot of things that most people wouldn't. (Tongue-in-cheek, people!)
The way that I look at it:
My kids are not always perfect little angels, even when they are in someone else's home. At certain points, they are going to misbehave while they're on a play date. I'm not going to be there to discipline them, so it's going to have to fall to the adult that is there. I hope that adult treats my child with firm kindness, and I'll try to do the same for her child.
Here's how I try to handle things:
If it's a small infraction (i.e. burping the alphabet), it's totally appropriate for the adult present to say, "Wow, Freddy, that was really rude. In our house, we always try to be polite. Can you say, 'excuse me'?".
If it's a mid-sized infraction (i.e. calling another child a "dummy-jerk" and taking a toy away), an explanation similar to the one above, along with the reminder that the play date will be over immediately if it happens again is usually sufficient.
Now, for my favorite: a BIG offense! Let's see.... a good example would be something like an unprovoked violent physical act. That is an automatic "game over". Child goes home immediately. Let the child know that, in your home, this kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. When he goes home, give his parent a very brief, unapologetic explanation and let it fall to the child to give the details.
This accomplishes two things:
1) It lets the child know that while he may or may not be able to act like this at home, that
kind of behavior will never be tolerated in your home.
2) It sends an virtually unspoken message to the child's parents which says, "Kids will be kids,
but I will not allow any child under my care to be harmed; even if it's your child."

So, I guess that answers part 2 of my reader's question: "Should you offer discipline advice to the neighbor's child?"
I've noticed that setting the tone in your own home from the beginning, lets the child know what is acceptable behavior, and he, in turn, communicates this to his parents. Also, most people tend to observe you more closely when they see that your kids are (mostly) behaving well. They even ask questions sometimes!

Always, always encourage the good things that those parents are doing. Believe me, you can almost always find a positive trait ("I love the way you encourage Sally's creativity!") with which to begin a conversation. My grandmother always said, "you catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar!", and it's true. Buttering people up works.
Another great "trick" is to use personal examples.
"I remember when my Larry was younger and he had such a hard time controlling his temper. It could be so frustrating and embarrassing for me. One of the things that helped us both avoid scenes was remembering that he needed to eat a protein-filled snack every 2-3 hours. Made a huge difference."
This lets the other parent know that you and your kids have had your bad moments, and that you learned from them. Hey, nobody is perfect.

And, always try to remember that your children go out into the world, into other people's homes. You hope that they behave, and represent your child-rearing techniques well. But, they're not perfect, either, so prepare to be disappointed once in a while. And, hope that the parent in charge handles your child the way you'd want him to be handled. It's much easier to be the injured party than it is to be the party doing the injuring. The bully's mother has a much more difficult time holding her head up, than does the mother of the victim.
One day you may be the mother of the bully. It happens to the best of us. Call it "karma" or "Murphy's Law" or "God's revenge", but it happens.

So, please don't pack up and move. Situations are sometimes resolved more simply than you think. And, despite what you do think, you can take a little break from your neighbor's children. It's perfectly honest and acceptable to say to your neighbor, "My kids are really feeling overwhelmed with school and extra-curricular activities, so I'm trying to limit their other activities for a few weeks.".

And, just remember this: when you feel like strangling someone else's child, go and hug your own child.
There's nothing like other people's kids to make you appreciate your own even more!

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