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What I hate about other people’s kids

From teasing and bullying to fussing and running around, kids are capable of many kinds of misbehavior. TODAY contributor Dr. Ruth Peters discusses the worst offenses and offers ways to deal.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Places like movie theaters and restaurants used to be destinations of refuge and relaxation, but now 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 Dr. Ruth Peters offers some tips and advice.

Q: Where and how do 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 4 years old and up who are allowed to stand up in their seats and bother the folks in the row behind them.
  • Children at the movie theater 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.

Q: How do you think parents are enablers for inappropriate child behavior?

  • Parents sometimes ignore bad behavior and do not try to remove the child from the situation, or persuade them to stop.
  • Some parents are defensive: They might say, “It’s your kid who is too sensitive and can’t handle my child’s precociousness" (i.e., teasing and bullying).
  • Other parents insist on not “breaking their child’s spirit.” These parents are afraid to give consequences for behavior, hoping that the child will just “get it” and grow up to be a caring, sensitive human being.
  • Parents also sometimes bring a child into an obviously adult situation, such as a fancy restaurant, inappropriate or boring movie or a plane ride without bringing toys, coloring books or snacks to entertain him or her.

Q: Should you, as an observer, try to stop the misbehavior? If so, do you say something to the parent, to the 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 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 prefer 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 him or her to keep the problem child away from yours (if it's a bullying situation). Or you can politely ask 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 your child about trying to stay away from the other child if at all possible.

Q: What are some examples of child rudeness to look out for?

  • Disrespecting you in your home by not listening to you, jumping on your furniture, sneaking food out of the kitchen or 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 him or her.
  • Playing too rough with your little one or a pet.
  • Not following your car rules, house rules or safety rules.
  • Showing off or bragging about their possessions.
  • Dumping your kid for another on a whim.

Q: What should you do if a friend’s child is acting up in your home?

A: Discuss your house rules in 25 words or less (for example: No jumping on couches, no throwing balls inside the house. Outside behavior stays outside, etc.). If this does not work, and the perpetrator continues misbehaving, give a warning that his parents will be called if it occurs again. If the kid keeps it up, call his parent and tell him or her that the playdate needs to be cut short due to some behavioral problems. Use this as a teachable moment to show your child how frustrating this is, and indicate that this buddy will not be invited over again if the misbehavior continues.

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 act up in ways that they would not do at home.