Rude Kids: How to (Politely) Put a Stop to It

This week’s question comes from a reader named Jill, who is getting increasingly exasperated by the rude behavior of one of the children in her carpool. “Everyone always says ‘it takes a village,’ yet what do you do as a parent when someone else’s child is perpetually rude to you?” Jill wrote.

By rude, Jill means: “rude at your house and when chauffeuring the child around—not saying please or thank you, commanding you to do things, whining and wheedling, etc.”

Jill wonders: “What is the right thing to do, here? Does a mother suck it up, act like the child’s servant and fester? Does she remind/redirect the child (over and over and over again)? Does she talk to the other child’s parents?”

This is a tricky situation, Jill, as is true any time you have to deal with another parent’s  child. You don’t want to be seen as overstepping your bounds, or meddling, or unfairly criticizing someone else’s darling. But on the other hand, for the kid’s own good (as well as for yours) you should not put up with rudeness; it’s important for children to learn to treat people with respect and consideration.

The way to handle it, Jill, depends on the child’s age, and on the child’s relationship with the other kids — yours, and whoever else may be around — who are in the carpool or who play together at your house. Make sure the rude child is not an ostracized child; if the other kids are making little Daisy feel bad, she may be reacting defensively. Sometimes kids can be very subtle in the way they create cliques or cut one of their own from the herd; spend some time observing the dynamic in the backseat. If you sense any unkindness among the children, then the first thing to do is to have a quiet word with your own child to put a stop to that.

If that’s not causing the problem, however, the next thing to consider is age. The younger the rude child is, the less personally you should take the behavior. If you’re dealing with an unbearable toddler, simply say to the kid’s parent: “I don’t think Daisy is comfortable in my car. Let’s try again in a few months, after our kids are a little older.”

If the kid has reached the age of reason (say, seven), the kid has had experience in school interacting with teachers, so it will come as no surprise that other adults also expect “please” and “thank you” and no whining. You can say in a pleasant tone, “In our house, the rule is to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and nobody whines, Daisy, because they’ve learned it just makes me more likely to keep saying no.” If that doesn’t work, talk to the child’s parent (see above).

If you’re dealing with an older child — a tween, say—then there is a bigger problem. By the age of 10 or 11, everyone should know how to speak respectfully to someone else’s mother and to not whine like a toddler. If an older child is exhibiting these behaviors, you should mention it, in private, to the child’s parent. Say, “I really like Daisy, but I can’t help but notice she doesn’t behave like the other kids her age when she’s around me. I wanted to bring it to your attention because if she were my kid, I’d appreciate hearing it from you.”

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