Why I Would Tell Your Kid to Behave (and I hope you would do the same for mine)

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Imagine, if you will, that you’re at the park/mall/germ-encrusted restaurant playplace playing on the swings/slides/climbing tower with your toddler. Things are going well, until another child shows up and throws sand in your child’s face/shoves your little one out of the way instead of waiting turns/knocks your child down. You look around for the other mother, but don’t see anyone laying claim to this new kid. Do you:

A: scoop up your child and go elsewhere?

B: ignore it and hope it doesn’t happen again? (Spoiler alert – it usually does.)

C: tell this new kid that throwing sand isn’t cool/pushing isn’t nice and we need to take turns/he needs to look out for other people?

Once upon a time I would have been solidly in the first two categories. My child is my responsibility, and it’s best to just stay out of bad situations, right? So I would walk away or ignore more minor infractions where nobody actually got hurt. But the more I saw this situation again and again, the more I realized that it is sending my children the wrong message to just walk away or ignore it when someone does something that even at their age they recognize as bad behavior. I don’t need to make them suffer for someone else’s mistakes.

This isn’t to say that I consider myself some sort of crusader, chasing after people in the grocery store to warn them about the dangers of allowing their kids to stand up in the shopping cart. In that case, I bite my tongue and wince as I worry that the child is going to be injured, but I do my best to mind my own business. That parent can see the warnings and review the risks just as I can, and if they are present and comfortable with their choices, I will simply walk away. And when my kids ask me, “Why is that kid allowed to stand in the cart? You say we can’t.” I simply tell them that different mommies have different rules and since I’m their mommy, they have to follow my rules.

But when the situation involves the safety or comfort of my own children, I’m ready to speak up and step in. Because – in all honesty – I’d hope that another parent would do the same. With three little ones who seem to have an unspoken agreement to all head in opposite directions the moment we reach a playground or play area, I know that I can’t watch all of them every second of every day. There may be a moment when my back is turned that one of my kids makes a bad choice. Just as when I send them to school or a friend’s house I hope that the adults present will keep them in check, I don’t mind another parent calling attention to their behavior if I am not there to see it. 

{ MORE: Why My Child's First Year Changed Me }

Of course, there are limitations to this. I have my own restrictions on how I handle situations such as these.  I always look around for a parent first. Sometimes they are a few steps away, wrangling another child, and will quickly head over to handle the situation. But, often I find that even the smallest kids are far from parental view and there is no other adult present. In that case, I’ll speak to the child in a friendly, but no nonsense voice. I’ll address what they are doing (whether sand throwing, name-calling, pushing, or other hurtful or destructive behaviors) and why they should consider their choices. Typically something like, “It hurts when you get sand in your eyes. Please don’t throw sand anymore” or “When we’re waiting for the slide, we have to take turns. I know it’s really exciting, but pushing isn’t nice. If you wait a minute it will be your turn again!” Typically a single statement to let them know that I’ve seen them and I don’t approve is all it takes. Most kids are really good kids who sometimes just need a little reminder.

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If, at this point, the behavior continues, I will take my kids elsewhere or – if I worry for the safety of the other child as well – ask them where their parent is now so I can speak to them. I never, ever put my hands on them or treat them disrespectfully. Just as I don’t want my kids to think bad behavior is acceptable for others, I also want my kids to see that even when someone makes a mistake the right way to handle it is with communication and kindness. 

{ MORE: Should You Go to All of Your Kids' Activities? }

So I’m curious – what do you do in these situations? Are you an A, B, C or some combination? And – if you’re on the other side and it’s your kid causing trouble – what do you hope other parents do?

What do you think?

Why I Would Tell Your Kid to Behave (and I hope you would do the same for mine)

Sara McTigue is a secret agent, cupcake chef, award winning author, photographer, and PTA mom. At least, that is how things look in her mind. When she isn’t testing the bounds of her imagination, she is a mom to three amazing and hilariously funny children, wife to a charming and handsome man, and thoroughly addicted to reading. With a BS in English Education and an MA in English Literature, words – and their ability to shape our lives and thoughts – are an everyday fascination. Af ... More

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