I may live in THE BEST neighborhoods around, where we have a ton of kids around and they all come out to play. Recently, weather permitting, I’ve had the pleasure of welcoming various neighborhood kids to my house, all of them looking to play with my son, daughter, cat, and even me (well, they come to talk with me – I love that).
Junior has been foregoing his winter diet of video to go outside and shoot hoops with the neighbors’ kids. Diva has been visiting some of the girls in the 'hood. Most of the children who visit are gracious. They say “please” and “thank you.” One or two, unfortunately, have the manners of monkeys.
A little girl who was playing with my then 4-year-old once demanded, “Got any FOOD!” It was not a question. It was an order. It was not obeyed. When she wanted to know why I didn’t bring her any FOOD, I explained that I do not respond to demands and suggested she go home to get her own FOOD.
She didn’t get the point, because a scant 15 minutes later, she stared at me and said, “You KNOW what I want.” Sure, I did. But I was not going to accept that kind of behavior. I wouldn’t take it from my kid and I definitely was NOT going to take it from someone else’s. This kid has subsequently labeled me “The Mean Mom.” Good. Don’t bring that kind of attitude here again, kid.
Then there was the urchin who walked into my garage, when I had my back turned, and started helping himself to some of the snack items I store in there. He looked surprised when I told him to put them back.
This shouldn’t surprise me since he was one of eight children I once found in my backyard, playing on our swingset, while my kids were inside watching TV. The entire gang of kids under 10 years old (some of whom live in the neighborhood, others who were friends of the kids in the ‘hood), descended on my backyard and started playing with my kids’ toys. They had not been invited. They just saw what they wanted and went for it.
I have to wonder at the parental models for the inconsiderate behavior in these and the many other kids like them I will meet this Spring/Summer. Are we, as parents, so afraid of upsetting our children that we let them make limitless demands of us? Are we so afraid of hurting their delicate self-esteem that we’re afraid of correcting them? And why, then, are we surprised when a neighbor or teacher reprimands them? If we, as parents, don’t do it, I don’t think we have the right to object when someone outside the family does it.
Sure, kids will be kids. They’ll test the limits and will see what they can get away with just for the heck of it. But parents need to be parents. We must correct inappropriate, rude language. We have to teach them manners. It’s essential that we set limits and enforce them. We need to stand up for ourselves and not allow ourselves to be treated like the slaves of these little people, indulging their every whim.
Yes, children have to be cared for, but they also need to learn that sometimes they're not going to get what they want when they want it. Children, as a result, will be mad. Hopefully, they'll learn how to deal with frustration and, in some cases, delayed gratification. As parents, we're just going to have to deal with that anger. It's uncomfortable for us, but the lesson learned is essential for them.
No, my children are not perfect. But they do know the words “please” and “thank you.” And if they don’t use those words, gently correct them. They are adults in training and, as such, must be guided and encouraged to behave well … because I’m raising people; not primates.
L. Klonsky is a writer who blogs about life and raising children in New Jersey. She lives in Livingston.