Q: We have some summer activities and plans coming up with friends and family and I have a hard time being around their kids a lot of the times. We have three children ourselves that we work hard to be good parents to, but I’m always torn about whether I should say anything to them about their unruly kids. Is it a mistake for me to say something?
A: Okay! Fasten your seat belts cuz one way or another you’re going to be in for a bumpy ride. But who doesn’t like a good roller coaster every now and then? This is a topic where I am going to frustrate you to no end by saying that to some degree, “it depends.” If you are over at the home of friends or family, I would steer clear of disciplining their kids. If you’re in their environment, on their turf so to speak, it’s really not territory where you can lay down the law and let everyone under the age of twelve know that there is a new Sheriff in town. However having said that, if you are left “in charge” for a period of time, go ahead and take charge. Likewise, if you see anything truly inappropriate, like a four year old watching “Night of the Living Dead,” or something unsafe like a toddler about to char a hand medium-well on the backyard grill, then I think you have an obligation to step in regardless of the potential fall-out. I would however offer the appropriate parent the benefit of the doubt though and say something to them. I remember a time when my father-in-law commented to my husband on the fact that our then two year old son wasn’t a particularly astute listener. In fact, he was pretty darn good at ignoring us. And my father-in-law said something about it to my husband. I personally reacted only because as the Mom, I felt as though I was the one that should be primarily held accountable for my son’s behavior or lack thereof. Whether I like it or not, my father-in-law was spot on correct, I just didn’t want my husband taking the heat for something I felt was my responsibility. Shortly after that I bought a shock collar for our son and his behavior has improved dramatically. All kidding aside, tread lightly when in other people’s homes and if something is concerningly amiss at least try to give the appropriate parent the opportunity to step in.
BUT, if you are either out in public or friends and family are at your home? Take the reins and let the ruffians have it! When I have other kids in my home, they follow my rules. Plain and simple. I’m not setting out to be the second incarnation of the Grinch who stole Christmas but I am going to be firm and unapologetic for any expectations I do have. We had some dear friends visit us at our place in Arizona and with their being a pool in the backyard I was adamant with kids and parents alike that even though there is an alarm system, NO kids go into the backyard without an adult. Well our friends little guy got numerous tutorials and reminders but still wasn’t taking this too seriously. Nor were his parents. So the next time he set the alarm off I unabashedly took matters into my own hands and handled it with a very calm but meaningful “time out.” The bigger problem was that his behavior potentially cleared the way for other kids to break the rules as well. Monkey see, monkey do as it were. Rest assured, if the tables were turned, I would have NO problem with them putting out similar enforcement measures with our kids in their home. To be sure, I do think that having one set of guidelines is really important and you better be as ready to discipline your own children as you are lying in wait for someone else’s because they’ve been getting on your nerves for the last four years. If my kids are truly out of line, I appreciate someone stepping in in that moment as it really does “take a village” and I can honestly say I am under no protective, hyper-sensitive delusions that my children are flawless, blameless and consistently lovely creatures in word and deed. I do however think there are positive ways to approach other people’s children when discipline is needed that will win you not just the fondness of the kids, but the other parent’s eternal gratitude. I recently saw this masterfully done on a trip I took with my daughter and some of her school mates for a competition in Tennessee. One of the dad’s on the trip is a super involved parent and has tremendous rapport with all the kids in the class. And there were a couple of occasions on the trip where I saw him step in and do an inspiring job of correcting certain kids. We were at dinner one night and a younger sibling kept banging his silverware of the table. His mom half-heartedly asked him to stop a goodly number of times, but as kids will sometimes do, he persisted. So this dad very subtly stepped in and put an end to the oh so annoying behavior by kindly, but very determinedly telling him he needed to stop…now. I also noticed him very tactfully pull one of the boys aside on a different occasion and engage in a conversation that was heavy on the concepts of choices vs. consequences. Let’s face it, for reasons that defy explanation, often times the same words from a different voice can have a remarkably immediate impact. But this dad always corrects the kids with intent but no anger and balances this out with such frequent support and encouragement of them all that I find his evenhanded involvement not only reasonable, but welcome.
So, if you’re in someone else’s home realize that you may just have to bite your lip when the little darlings start acting like trolls. I could spend hours on a soap box of how lazy parenting is ruining kids but that’s a story for another day. But if they are in public or your home…be measured, but firm and don’t hesitate in the least to lay down your law. After all, someone’s got to…