Saturday, June 26, 2010

Other People's Kids

Recently on OGrownups, Diana asked this question:

What do you do when other people's kids behave badly toward you, such as destroying your property?

For example, my three year old niece tore apart a card that I was planning to save.  It wasn't a huge deal, and she was just playing, but I wanted to emphasize the principle that she shouldn't destroy other people's stuff.  At the time, I expressed my surprise and dismay, told her that I'd wanted to save it, gave her the half that I didn't want, then stowed away the half I wanted to save.  Nothing went wrong with that, but I wonder if I should have done differently.

More generally though, I wonder how to deal respectfully with other people's kids, yet respectfully of my own boundaries too.  Advice would be appreciated.

This question generated many thoughtful and interesting responses. I'll post my response here:

Other People's Kids can be really tricky to deal with sometimes. As with pretty much everything else, context matters.

I think you handled the situation with your niece just fine--she saw the effects of her actions on you when you expressed your emotions, and learned something about property rights. Then you redirected her toward something that she could have instead. If this was just a one-time thing, then that might be all that's needed. With three-year-olds, I've said things like "Oh don't color on those walls! Those walls belong to me. If you want to color, here's some paper." I like to point out to them which things belong to me--I think they're just too young to have any clue that there are things in the world that belong to someone else!

If this became a habit (I don't know how often you see your niece, or if she lives near you), then you might take further steps, including talking to the child's parents, having a chat with her about it at a time in which you are both calm and removed from the situation (not five minutes after something gets destroyed, I mean), putting things away before she comes over, restricting her access to certain rooms of the house, meeting them on neutral territory or at her house, etc. Three years old is still quite young, and if such a thing happened repeatedly, I'd do all of those things, and wait until she matures a bit more before relaxing such rules.

Was the child's mom or dad present? What did s/he say? Sometimes when handling OPKs I will take a cue from or follow the lead of the parent. If I'm keeping someone else's child at my house, then I generally treat them the way I treat my kids--our house rules are the same for all, and we handle problem-solving issues and redirections the same way across the board. If you don't have kids, this might be hard to come up with maybe, lacking general kid-related policies and procedures perhaps, but really it boils down to having clear, honest communication with children, exactly like you did above.

(Sometimes kids who are in my charge don't quite know what to do when I ask them to help problem-solve--the differences in the ways we parent and our kids' friends' parents parent are becoming more obvious as the kids get older)--but hey, my house my rules! You got a problem--you're expected to help with the solution!)

Even tricker with OPKs are playground situations where there is no other parent around (as far as I can tell), and the other parent hasn't explicitly left the child in my care. So OPKs who cut in line at the slide or try to blow into the other end of a snorkel while my child is wearing it (sitting on him and pushing him down into the water in the process) or even very little ones who wander in the pathway of a swing or a slide--it's a little trickier because sometimes you can't predict how the other parent will react. Though I generally just follow my usual Kid Policies and Procedures: "Oh hey! Did you see that this girl [pointing to Morgan] was waiting for a turn?" or "He doesn't want you to touch his snorkel or push him down. Can you give him some space please?" or "Oops! You're very close to the swings!" and then gently scoop the kid out of the way.

I have rarely had a negative reaction from other parents (who often appear from nowhere when the realize someone else is disciplining their child--as I would, too), but I've had a few, including one mother who was appalled that I might scoop her toddler out of the way of an incoming swing + kid. For the record, anyone reading this--PLEASE feel free to scoop my kids if they're in danger! :o) I read a blog post a while back about a dad who did something similar at a playground and the other parent called the cops!

One more version of tricky--when other parents you are friends with or see fairly regularly are doing things that makes you worry they are putting their children into harm's way. We have neighbors and one of the elderly, nearly helpless, grandmas lives with them. Yet they continued to use her as a babysitter for the kids after school let out and before they got home from work, etc. So many times she was unable to unlock the door from the inside of the house to let the kids inside--the kids would come here and get the extra key. Trying to get my neighbor (who I used to be closer to than I am now, for other reasons) to understand my concerns about the safety of the kids (and the granny) was futile. I always felt torn about sending them there if they'd been here playing and one of the parents was not yet home. Finally I got to a place where I had to let it go. This was the parents' decision, and both kids are old enough and have enough sense I think to come get me or another neighbor should something happen. My neighbor knows I'm uneasy about her arrangement, but again, it's her decision. It was easier for me to let it go once I sat down and thought about the kids, what I knew about them and how sensible they are, and also now that they're a bit older.

I'm definitely interested in more discussion about how to handle situations with other people's kids!

One thing I'd like to add to my response that pertains specifically to Diana's original question: When dealing with little ones--your own or the ones who belong to others--tone of voice is critical. (I'm sure Diana's tone of voice was appropriate!) I mention this because it's an issue that I often need to watch in myself.

I'm not suggesting that you keep all emotion out of your voice. Even young children are hardy enough to experience the consequences of their actions, and that includes emotional consequences in others. Still, sometimes I have to make myself step back and repeat "Assume Positive Intent" and remember that the little ones especially simply don't know about these things yet, and a gentle tone will get my point across effectively, too.

What say you?

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