Do you ever find yourself in this situation?
You’re with other adults- your friends, maybe- and a bunch of kids. And everyone is like…really loud and excited and having a pretty good time. And then your pre-schooler starts to get really wound up…like, really, really wound up. And you know it’s about to get ugly because he’s not used to that level of excitement because you don’t usually let him scream indoors and jump on furniture. You’re thinking about how to stop it, and then it happens- your kid does something really a-hole-ish, like…bites or hits or grabs someone else’s shirt collar. That kid retaliates- hits back, scratches, or pushes.
And then the other parent steps in…but is only addressing your kid. She tells her kid good job standing up for himself, and tells your kid he needs to keep his hands to himself and say sorry.
And you’re standing there, jaw on the floor, like…what…the heck…just happened.
Look. This is hard. It’s all really hard. It’s hard to make friends, be a friend, to keep your kid from becoming a sociopath. I like to think that if I had one kid, maybe I’d be better at it. I could balance a mix of helicoptering and discipline and conversation, and maybe I could capitalize on those “teachable moments” and intervene right before my three-year-old hulks out into a pint-sized a-hole.
But I don’t have one, I have three: two of whom are literally almost always attached to my hips, and one who is in a stage where everything somehow becomes some kind of sword. So when those teachable moments arise, I don’t always have the opportunity to step in and say, “Hey, bud- let’s take it down a notch.” It’s in these moments I really appreciate a friend who can do that for me: that friend who can say, “Okay…who needs a break?” and step in and mediate and teach and parent and discipline as necessary.
But there seems to be an extremely fine line between when this is appropriate and when it isn’t. At the most basic level, my friends just have to be nice and patient and not end it with anything that insinuates there’s a problem with him. There a couple other conditions I’ve realized that have to exist before it’s okay for my friend to discipline my kid, as well:
- Her kids have to be behaving. Sorrynotsorry- she needs to mind her own before or as she minds mine. Upholding a double-standard is the difference between correcting my kid and picking on him. So if her kids are running around and screaming, then she needs not pay attention to mine until she pays attention to her own.
- She can correct my kid, her kids cannot. If her kid pushes my kid back, and she says something like, “Good job standing up for yourself,” then we have a problem. Is it okay if my kid does something mean? No. But that’s that teachable moment- when one of us, the adults, can step in and facilitate the mediation/time out/ whatever. If she tells her kids they can yell at/taunt/push or hit back means she’s pitted her kids against my own and I will never take their side over my own. It also means we probably aren’t that great of friends: I’m all for that social pressure to be nice to others, and the natural consequences when it doesn’t happen- but, these things are learned in pre-school, and I’m a firm believer they need to be taught. So let’s teach them how to resolve conflict, not perpetuate it.
- The discipline has to look like something I’d do. Time out or time away? Sure. Spanking? Nope. A stern look is probably going to mean more coming from someone that isn’t me (a friend of mine actually laughed at my mean mug recently- I’m just not good at it), and I appreciate that (be it stranger at the store or friend). But name-calling, hitting, rough-handling, and shaming aren’t things that are okay. Also-he’s 3. He’s learning. He’s not perfect, but it doesn’t mean he’s a problem.
This is all to say that I need my mom friends- and for as long as I’m holding 60 pounds of “other kids”, I need them to help correct my son, especially as he learns. One time, my son pulled my friend’s daughter’s hair. I’m sure that was difficult for her to see, and I’m sure it made her mad. But she picked him up, put him in time-out. He cried, but after a couple minutes, she made him apologize and he was able to come out and play. That same friend’s daughter was saying mean things to my son: realizing I couldn’t manage the way I wanted to because I had too many kids to watch at once, I told her we needed to go. But instead, she marched up to her daughter’s room and told her if she can’t be nice to everyone, then all the friends have to go home. That, to me, is a village effort- and one that I need. I don’t have 8 eyes or hands, and I need my friends’ help when we go places. But like most things in life, the #1 rule of thumb is to just be nice: don’t be mean to my kid, and don’t let your kids be mean to my kid. After that, everything else can fall into place.