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Dear Emuna: Pesky Kids
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Pesky Kids

Should I tell my friend that I think her son has a serious problem?


Dear Emuna,

I'm hosting a 6 year old boy for the week, Sunday-Friday. I find certain things about this boy disturbing and worrisome. I'm not a therapist, maybe I'm jumping to wrong conclusions, but if there was anyone who I would define as OCD, it's him. Since he's been in my house his hands are all over everything and I can't keep up. Specifically he loves to touch buttons. He's changing the time on any alarm clock he can get his hands on. He and my son were listening to a story CD and he kept jumping to the player and starting it over. My six-year-old son lost his patience.

I tell him to get into pajamas; I find him distracted with buttons again. I found him in the morning with my daughter’s digital camera under his covers; he discovered how to turn on the little video clips.

Another problem I'm now observing close-up is that he's socially odd. His maturity level is very low and he doesn't realize when he's being annoying. It makes him a target for his peers. Poor boy! Yesterday I sent my own son to sleep by my parents so things should be more peaceful.

My question for you is: Should I be telling his parents anything when they pick him up? His behavior is scary to me. As he gets older it can get worse and his peers will have less tolerance. He's their oldest so they may not realize what's normal and what's not. On the other hand, his father is a teacher himself and an excellent one at that. He should be aware of children issues that come up. It hurts to tell the parents. I could just cover up and say he's sweet, cute... but am I hurting him more with silence? Maybe I should leave it all up to his parents and teachers?

-- Concerned and Cautious

Dear Concerned,

What to tell parents is a very tricky and sensitive issue. I usually err on the side of not saying anything, figuring as you did that 1) they must know already, 2) it must be a tremendous source of pain to them, so why add to their burden and 3) they will most likely react defensively and perhaps angrily, ruining out friendship and actually inhibiting their ability to face the issue objectively.

That being said, there are definitely situations where you are clear the parents don’t know (every time I see a teenager driving and talking on the phone I am tempted to call their parents, although it would not make me very popular in the community!), or where the situation is so serious that you feel you would be derelict in your responsibilities to both them and your child if you remain silent.

The key is to do it with love. I assume that since you are babysitting, you are close with this family and that the love and trust is present. Do not react out of your own frustration.

Put your self in that mother’s Tory Burches. How would you like to be told? On the phone? In person? With what words? Start with praise of the child. Let your old feelings and sensitivities be your guide. But when in doubt, silence remains your best option.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I have a friend whose adult company I really enjoy. She is a good friend and fun to be with. Unfortunately, I do not feel the same way about her children. I find them whiney and needy. This friend is always inviting herself and her four children over to hang out. It creates a negative atmosphere because her son starts fights between my boys, and her younger children mess up my living room. My friend does not lift a finger to watch her children or clean up after them. And I often feel used and angry. I want to be the bigger person and always be a gracious host. I also don't know how I could tell her not to come over when so many other people freely stop over. But this issue is really making me resent my friend.

-- Trapped among the Lego Pieces

Dear Trapped,

I was all ready with some clever excuses when I read your second last line. It sounds like you have created a wonderful warm and open home where all your friends and their families love to visit. This is no small accomplishment and you should take pleasure in this.

The unfortunate side effect of all this gracious hospitality is the time spent with your friend’s whiny, messy children.

Since it sounds like the friendship is important to you and that you don’t want to lose it, we are forced to rule out the easy solution of just pulling back from the relationship.

I think it’s going to require some creativity and maybe play-acting on your part to make some changes. Let’s think of some practical responses to the challenges this family presents.

When the kids start taking out the toys you can say (lovingly and gently of course), “We have a new rule around our house. Whatever toy you play with, you have to clean up and put away.” This will give a message to both the kids and the mother. If they have forgotten your new “rule” when it’s time to leave, just smile sweetly and remind them.

The fighting is a little more complicated. Not only do we need to be careful before speaking to parents about their children (see previous letter) but we also need to be very careful about rebuking children that are not ours. It makes both them and their parents resentful (I speak from experience, mostly unpleasant!).

Once again we may need to tap into our creative side. Maybe you need to invite another friend over for one of your boys to play with to change the dynamic. Maybe you need to take one of your sons to a friend for a play date. Maybe you need to find a game they can play together instead of leaving them to their own resources. And maybe you need to send them outside and leave them to their own resources and maybe out of earshot of both parents they will work it out!

The challenge here is that all the effort, initially at least, is on your part. The first few times with your new attitude and strategy will require extra attentiveness from you. But presumably after that, new habits will replace the old negative ones. And you will be able to just enjoy your friendship and the effectiveness of your new thoughtful stratagems.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

Growing up, our parents always told us not to gossip. This also applied to other possibly private information. For example, one didn't mention an impending engagement until it was publically announced, or an expected promotion, a contemplated move, etc.

Yet in my community, it seems that people are always discussing each other's business. The fact that it's someone's good fortune doesn't change the fact that it might not be something that should be discussed. I am aware that my teenagers don't feel this way -- if it's on Facebook it's out there for everyone -- but I'm really puzzled that my contemporaries and even people my parents' age engage in this kind of conversation. Can you discuss what is and is not appropriate in talking about other people's lives?

-- My Lips are Sealed

Dear Sealed Lips,

I can’t really offer any explanation for the behavior of your contemporaries except to suggest that with the complete lack of shame and privacy in today’s media (especially talk shows and reality TV) people have lost the sense of what belongs in the private arena and what is appropriate for public consumption. A stroll downtown in any major city will give you ample illustration of men and women losing all boundaries.

If something is told to you as a secret (good or bad) then my understanding is that you are forbidden to repeat it without permission (which is why I always ask if it’s okay to tell my husband!).

The laws of guarding one's speech are also very clear in cautioning that compliments expressed in a group may lead to problems. “Sara is the best cook; the chicken I had at her home was so juicy.” “Really? I remember it as being dry but then, she hasn’t invited me in a long time anyway. How did you rate an invitation?” Or “Leah’s daughter is getting engaged. She’s so warm and lovely.” “You know I ran into her the other day and she didn’t even say hello.” Silence may not make you popular but more often than not, it does make you more dignified.

-- Emuna

August 7, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Sarah Webber, August 20, 2012 7:25 AM

Change the locale!

RE: Trapped. How about taking your kids to visit your firend sometimes? That way, the mess of toys will be on her occasionally, or perhaps go out to a park together. There would probably also be other children at a park, so the dynamics between the children would be changed, and your children might find other friends to play with. Or, maybe tell your friend that you'd like to get togehter without the kids, so youc an enjoy each other's company without having to concentrate on your children

(4) Ronni, October 5, 2010 8:28 PM

What I Do

I never bother disciplining other people's kids and I happen to be good at that, so good that some parents ask me to deal with their kids! I won't do it, I have a houseful of my own. Instead I turn to the parent and say "Can you please make __ stop jumping on the couch" or with more urgency "Can you please get your son away from my daughter (after he tried to give her a couple of punches). If they just sit there helplessly then I insist that they take them to a different room which of course defeats the whole purpose in them coming to visit. Miraculously the wimpiest parents get the job done. I draw the line at letting them clean the kids messes though. There I stand telling the kids exactly what to put away. What should I tell you, the kids still want to come back.

(3) observer, August 11, 2010 9:22 AM

Additional point on L#3

I generally agree with the writer of the letter and Rebitzin Braverman. It's worth noting, though, that the kids do have one valid point - if it's on facebook it IS public knowledge. It's still a good idea not to make the facebook news a staple of your conversation. But it is important to remember that if you want something to be private, you do NOT post it on facebook. The privacy protections are ok for things that are preferably private, but even with the tightest privacy settings, you need to be careful.

(2) Anonymous, August 10, 2010 10:24 AM

to trapped among the lego pieces

I wonder, if that wise suggestions about cleanup etc don't work, how wrong it would be to have a sensitive but candid talk with the mom, involving telling her that you love spending time with her, but that you notice that when the kids get together, the dynamics just seem a little off. You could explain that as your kids get older, you can't impose playdates on them just because you like the mom. Then you could ask her to go for coffee just the two of you at a specific time, to show her that you're genuine about the friendship, but that the chemistry between the kids just doesn't seem to be working at this point.

(1) Anonymous, August 8, 2010 9:03 PM

Ideas for loving intervention

Regarding the boy described in the first letter: OCD? Or Asperger's syndrome, or high-functioning autism? My son has autism, and these behaviors sound very familiar--though at age 12 he has outgrown them, with help begun at age 3. Hashem sent us an angel in the form of a friend who had the courage to speak up, gently but clearly. I'm not saying that is what you should do; perhaps silence is the best thing. It all comes down to the specifics of your situation. But here's a consideration to factor in to your decision: If the parents know that something is "up" with their child, then why did they send him to you unescorted and without mentioning his difficult behaviors in advance? This is not a rhetorical question. In the dynamics of your situation, there might be a perfectly simple and reasonable answer, but from where I stand I just don't see it. Something tells me that this is one piece of the puzzle whose answer will help you decide the right thing to do. And, as Mrs. Braverman said, whatever you do, do it with love. And as you continue to be a part of this family's life, please keep in mind that Visual Supports (for which, please Google) can work wonders in moderating behavior by communicating with the child in a way he can better understand. E.g.: Take a photograph of the alarm clock, draw a "no" or a "stop" sign on top of it. Also take a photo of an item with buttons he may touch and manipulate to his heart's content (a special alarm clock bought at a dollar shop?). These get a "smiley face" or some such. Write a quick story to go with the photos and read it to him. The story will explain that one may be touched and the other not, and that everyone will be so happy and proud of him when he follows the rule. Over time, repeat with other items. He will still be a major handful, but chances are his progress will be so much better, and everyone will benefit. This may even help to educate the parents, but here, too, be gentle and subtle: do it with love!

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