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You send your child out into the world (scrubbed, neat, and shining like the sun, though that's never certain), and from the time she's very little, she's got a life of her own. Friendships, rivalries, heartbreak, love—it all happens and happens again and again, beginning early in childhood. You can support your child's struggles, but you have little control over what happens in her life.
Not all is muddy and unclear. You may get a glimmer of what is going on from your child (depending upon the strength of your communication relationship, her temperament, your temperament, and her age). You may get a sense from watching her with her friends and peers. You may also occasionally hear something from another parent. Often it will be good, occasionally it won't be.
Problems at a Friend's House
It's not a good feeling when your child's friend's parent approaches you with, “Sarah had a little problem today,” or, “I need to talk with you about Todd's behavior this afternoon.” You need to determine:
- What happened. This entails hearing the story from a couple of sides, including your child's, and keeping your cool.
- How the other parent handled it. Did the other family “discipline” her, and do you approve of their approach? Did they have your permission?
- Whether or not you'll live through the embarrassment of having your kid behave so badly. You will.
Other Parents and Discipline
For small matters—the kids are squabbling over a toy and the friend's parent removes it, your kid hits the other and the parent reprimands him, or the kids make a mess and they are required to clean it up—there's no question that the parent in charge should handle the problem. By agreeing that the other parent is caring for your child, you've put that parent in a position of authority, and the parent should be able to assert that authority without it being judged by you.
For serious concerns, the other parent should let you handle your own child's discipline. If there is a serious problem, it's up to the other parent to contact you, not deal with it alone. And nobody should ever hit, verbally abuse, or severely punish your child.
If your child has gotten “into trouble” at a friend's house, you'll need to talk with him about it, and possibly impose consequences (once you've gotten home). But don't apply consequences for the crime of having gotten into trouble, too—that's double-dipping.
Want your child to feel relaxed and self-confident? Expect the best at home! Manners take practice, and unless a child practices at home, he'll have a hard time holding his fork correctly, for example, when he's out. And, unless manners are second-nature for a child, he'll feel self-conscious and uncomfortable trying to use them in public.
Events, Shows, Parties
What about your child's behavior when he's out with you in public? Some parents feel very comfortable taking their kids to the opera, a trade show, or a cocktail party. If you start young, and make the family rules very clear and nonnegotiable in terms of rudeness and noise-making in public, you'll end up with a child comfortable in almost any setting.
- Keep your expectations clear. If your child is acting up and disturbing others, take him out. Immediately.
- Modeling counts here, big time. Train your child by example as well as by experience.
- Be a hands-on parent and don't relinquish responsibility for your child just because there are other adults there engaging him.