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What to do about (other people's) pesky kids

At one point in time, places like movie theaters and restaurants were destinations of refuge and relaxation — but now it seems they’ve become the freewheeling playgrounds of other people’s energetic and sometimes annoying kids. So what do you do if find yourself victim to one of these families? Clinical psychologist and TODAY contributor Ruth Peters offers some tips and advice. Here’s when
/ Source: TODAY contributor

At one point in time, places like movie theaters and restaurants were destinations of refuge and relaxation — but now it seems they’ve become the freewheeling playgrounds of other people’s energetic and sometimes annoying kids. So what do you do if find yourself victim to one of these families? Clinical psychologist and TODAY contributor Ruth Peters offers some tips and advice.

Here’s when and where kids tend to misbehave:

  • At restaurants, children who are fussing, talking too loudly or running around and their parents don’t do anything about it.
  • Children on public transportation (subway, planes, trains, buses) who are four years old and up who are allowed to stand up in their seats and bother the folks in the row behind them.
  • Children in the movies who constantly are asking questions and the parents don’t answer or ignore them.
  • Children at the park who hog the slide, are rough, or nasty to your own kids.
  • Kids at school who tease your child, disrupt the classroom and make it difficult for the teacher to teach and the children to listen.

Here’s how parents are enablers for inappropriate child behavior:

  • Ignoring misbehavior and not trying to remove the child from the situation, or to at least play with them and try to distract the whining and fussing behavior.
  • Defensiveness — “It’s your kid who is too sensitive and can’t handle my child’s precociousness (AKA teasing and bullying).”
  • Insisting on not “breaking their child’s spirit.” That is, afraid to give consequences for behaviors, hoping that the child will just “get it” and become a caring, sensitive human being.
  • Bringing a child into an obviously adult situation — fancy restaurant, inappropriate or boring movie, plane ride without bringing toys, coloring books, or snacks to entertain him.

Q: Should you, as an observer, try to stop the misbehavior? If so, do you say something to the parent, to the misbehaving child, or ask a third party (a waiter for instance) to assist you?

A: It depends upon the situation. If there is a third party to help, such as at a restaurant, I would ask to be moved if possible to another location. I don’t think that management would want their waiters commenting to their patrons too much about the misbehavior, and waiters don’t have the time to delicately handle the situation themselves. It’s usually more practical to move to another location, specifying that you’d like to not be in the family section.

If there is no third party to help out, it’s often best to ignore the unruly child if you’ll soon be out of the situation. But, if you’re stuck (say it’s a parent and child who are usually at the park at the same time that you go, and you can’t alter locations or times) you should probably speak to the parent and ask for her to keep her child away form yours if the youngster continues to pick on your daughter.

You can also make a quick suggestion to the other child to play nicely and you may be able to change his behavior if he sees that you’re closely watching the situation. Of course, talk with you daughter about trying to stay away from the other child if at all possible.

Common types of child rudeness:

  • Others’ children not listening to you at your house — jumping on your furniture, sneaking food out of the kitchen, disobeying your rules.
  • Trying to manipulate your child into breaking a home or school rule.
  • Stealing toys or possessions from your child.
  • Talking back to you, in a rude manner, and becoming upset if you reprimand.
  • Too rough with your little one or a pet.
  • Not following your car rules, house rules or safety (in the mall, playground, parking lot).
  • Showing off or bragging about their possessions.
  • Dumping your kid for another on a whim.

Q: It’s one thing if someone else’s children misbehave in public places, but what if a friend’s child is a guest in your home and is acting up? What should you do?

A: Discuss your house rules in 25 words or less. No jumping on couches, no throwing balls inside the house. Outside behavior stays outside. If this does not work and the perpetrator continues misbehaving, give a warning that his parent will be called if it occurs again. If the kid keeps it up, call his mother and tell her that the play date needs to be cut short due to some behavioral problems. And, use this as a lesson to your child by indicating that this buddy will not be invited over again due to misbehavior.

Q: Is it possible that kids who might not misbehave in their own home act up in someone else’s home when their own parents aren’t around?

A: Yes, kids can be quite manipulative. They can get the lay of the land and if they feel that other parents may not use discipline, they just may let their guard down and begin to act up in ways that they would not do at home.