2021年4月14日 星期三

Other People’s Kids Are Annoying

How to enforce house rules when you've got company.

Other People's Kids Are Annoying

Sarah Mazzetti

Because I am a parenting columnist, fellow moms and dads will often whisper off-the-record complaints to me. A recurring issue in the pandemic era has been how much they really do not enjoy their children's friends. I have heard elementary school kids called names that are unprintable in this fine family newspaper. That's because parents are beyond frustrated with the second-graders in their home who would, for example, prefer to lie down on the floor, shouting, rather than sit attentively during distance learning.

To supplement hybrid school schedules and shuttered after-school programs, some parents have adopted a cooperative care system, where families trade off hosting a group of children on remote learning days. This means these parents are spending more hours with other people's children than they ever have before.

Granted, when your kids have play dates, you're responsible for other people's children and may even be called on to discipline them. But these cooperative care situations can be uniquely challenging. For one, most parents don't have experience teaching groups of children. They also may not be particularly close with the other parents, which makes it difficult to discuss conflicts as they arise — and many have to get their own work done while the kids are doing online school. "The magic of school doesn't just happen, as parents are finding out," said Amanda Marsden, a kindergarten teacher in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

With a few months left of the school year, I spoke to a child psychologist, a teacher and a learning expert about how to maintain some kind of order with other people's children, even when your personalities clash.

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Set expectations. All three experts I spoke to said that parents should be clear about what the schedule is and what behavior you hope to see at the start of each day, whether it's a remote school morning or a long trip to the park. "Being explicit and direct is kind of a must," said Katharine Hill, a learning specialist and educational therapist based in New York.

It's also worth acknowledging that each family has its own unique micro-culture, and what is expected in your house may not be what's expected in their homes. "It's a little bit of a misnomer that you have to have consistent rules across households. I don't know two parents who agree on all rules and expectations even within the same home," said Yamalis Diaz, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at N.Y.U. Langone. "The end goal is to teach the child what are the rules and expectations in this context." That doesn't mean you won't have to remind kids what the rules are in your home — but the reminders will be easier if you have already created a foundation of expectations.

If there is a behavioral issue, you can always have a reset, and getting the children's buy-in helps. For example, if the kids are acting up when they're supposed to be participating in a remote class, you can directly name the behavior you'd like to see (for instance, "Let's sit in our chairs and pay attention when the teacher is talking") and ask the children how they plan to accomplish that behavior, Mx. Hill said.

Talk to other parents. If a child behaves in a way you don't love, and your attempts to set boundaries and rules aren't working, you're going to have to communicate with their parents, Dr. Diaz said. She suggests being very specific about what the problem is, and gave the example of a child talking back with hurtful language.

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If you tell a parent their child is "disrespectful," in this scenario, "that suggests it's a concrete characteristic," Dr. Diaz said, and the parent might feel blamed for not teaching their child respect, which may make them immediately defensive. Instead, you can say something like: "'I don't like the language he or she uses,' because then it's the language that is the problem, not the child," she said.

Dr. Diaz also suggested including the child's positive characteristics along with the issue. "No one wants to feel their child is targeted or singled out with an adult," she added. That does not mean the discussion will go well, of course. But at least you are setting yourself up for the best possible version of this difficult kind of feedback.

Adjust your settings. If you're trying to get the kids to do their schoolwork and they are struggling to concentrate, Ms. Marsden suggests working more breaks into their day, or trying to move class outside if at all possible. Parents and kids alike need "that freedom and space to breathe and space to play," she said. We also need to continue to acknowledge to our kids, in an age-appropriate way, that this is a less-than-ideal time, and we're all in this together. "We don't want kids to know we are pulling our hair out, but we also don't want them to think it's all sunshine and roses," Ms. Marsden said.

Build a rapport. Look, there may be children you don't particularly mesh with, and that's human. But you always need to be the adult, and it may help to try to bond with the child through simple conversation. Just asking basic kid questions like, "What's your favorite food?" Or "How did you sleep last night?" can go a long way, said Mx. Hill. "It sounds cheesy, but a child will open up so much if you try to connect with them," they said. And the kid will be much more open to accepting feedback if you create these bonds.

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"If all else fails, don't forget to take care of yourself," Dr. Diaz said. "At any point in the day when you have more than your normal number of children, the demands skyrocket," she said. So be aware of your own stress levels, and if you need to walk away for a few minutes to collect yourself, that sort of recharging can help you get through the day. As Ms. Marsden put it, "All of our plates are really full, and we have to hold space and create joy where we can."

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Every meal for the past year, I've included a piece of broccoli or a sliced strawberry, hoping my 2-year-old will take a bite — but he refuses all fruits and vegetables. We went to visit my newly vaccinated parents, and my mom got him to eat blueberries, strawberries, grapes, broccoli, cucumbers and basically everything he's refused to eat for a year. Yay for grandparents! — Shefali Shah, Baltimore

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