Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When is it okay to tell someone their little darling is a brat?

All kids have good days and bad. Little ones in general have shorter fuses than adults. Tears and howls of exhaustion and frustration aren't foreign to any parent I know. Tots sometimes throw tantrums, and they need to be constantly reminded to share, to keep their hands to themselves, to say thank you, and all that. They show off for company, sometimes in loud and exuberant ways.

These things happen. Most of us understand that you cannot control a pre-schooler's outbursts anywhere close to a hundred per cent of the time.

Though somewhere between the earliest months of toddlerhood and kindergarten age, most kids stop behaving like little savages and start picking up on what is and isn't socially acceptable.

But what about the ones who fail to make that leap? What about the five-year-olds whose parents let them run around with a twenty-month-old's manners, coupled with a first grader's physical prowess, and spiced up with a robust vocabulary?

The other day someone else's five year old said to the Grape (age 2): "If you touch my toy car, I will kill you."

Little brat's parent registered no reaction. I piped up and told the kid not to speak like that in my house.

This wasn't an isolated incident. The same child, during the course of a not-overly-long visit, barked all kinds of directives at various adults both familiar to him and not. He interrupted, screamed like a howler monkey when he didn't get his way, and then bawled like an infant when told not to touch items such as my computer. He displayed a complete and utter inability to entertain himself, for even five minutes, despite an abundance of books, art supplies and toys at his fingertips and playground equipment right outside our door.

He also showed a complete unwillingness to play with the Grape. Fine. Ignore him. I'm more than okay with that. The Grape is younger and therefore probably not all that interesting to a five-year-old. But don't come into his house and torment him, because that's, for lack of a better and PG rated word, lame.

And no, I'm not being unreasonable. We have various friends with older kids who visit all the time. We've NEVER seen anything like this.

And fret not, my most charitably minded readers: there is no medical/developmental disorder at play with our recent guest. It's just (yes I'm going to say it in print): incompetent parenting.

I asked the young visitor if he likes school, if he has friends there. Care to guess the response?

Parents who equip their children with no social savvy do them no favors. Other kids don't want to play with bullies. And I imagine their parents soon tire of hosting play dates with early elementary schoolers who say things like, "You'd better get me a chocolate milk right now!" Never mind that adults are talking, or God forbid, tending to some other task. Or how about this one: "You can't tell me not to go in that room."

I get that I should feel sorry for the poor bugger. He's a product of parents blinded by the sun rising and setting around their offspring. Perhaps they're so busy, as R. suggested, trying to be Junior's pal that they forget to be his parents. Or perhaps the kid just watches too much violent, fast paced television. I don't know. And I don't really care, because I've confirmed from sources close to the child that his behavior in my home wasn't an isolated instance of psychosis. It was the norm for this kid.

In hindsight, I almost wish I'd said something to the parent. But it's awkward. I'm a blunt person, but even I have a hard time saying to my guest, "Your kid is unfit for polite society. Please pass the pepper."

One thing's certain.

Next time they visit, if their kid threatens the Grape with demise or orders me around like a drunken sailor barking at a bar maid, I'm putting child and parent in time out.


  1. I just wanted to comment that it is often not until elementary school that children have the capacity for rational thought or to fully understand what what they are saying means. So, my son, who is 4 3/4 learned the word "kill" somewhere. He, in turn, said to another both in his class who swiped a toy he was playing with, "Give that back or I will kill you.". At pick up, his teacher re-iterated the story to me and, although I was aghast, I decided to ask my son why he said that and what he thought it meant. He actually had not idea what it meant, he just knew it was work used in anger.

    I am a conscientious parent and would not have not reacted to my son saying that, so, put it on the parent, not the child. And, perhaps before you have them over again, let the mom know you are sensitive to your son being threatened and that you'd appreciate her keeping her son in check, as the 'older' role model to your son.

    I have learned now that we have entered pre-K (and a private school, no less) that many parents have very low bars of what is acceptable in terms of behavior from their children.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Ms. Williams, Thank you for reading and taking the time to write. I removed your post because I never allow minors to be identified by name on this blog or on my site. You are welcome to comment but please do not reference any child by name, first or last. Thank you for your cooperation.

  4. @It Is What it Is - I agree that behavior by a child is ultimately on the parents. However, most children by age five go places, such as school, play dates and/or group activities, without a parent or guardian present, and parents who fail to equip the kids for social situations put their children at a steep disadvantage.
    Kids do repeat the darnedest things. I am certain the child in question knew exactly what he was saying.