You’re in a nice restaurant for lunch, enjoying your blissful child-free life. Or maybe it’s a blissful child-free day. Either way, you’re not directly responsible for any children in the room at this moment. And some little kid is running around making their usual racket.
The parent is pretty frazzled, as they use their last reserves of energy to try and keep a lid on it. The kid races towards your table and kicks you in the leg. It’s a kid kick, more playful than violent, but it’s still something you’d rather do without.
“Nathan!” the embarrassed parent cries. “We don’t kick!” Looking up at you, they say “I’m so sorry”, and you reply with a smile and say “It’s fine”. You’re cool. You’re calm. You totally get how hard parenting is in this day and age. And hey, at least they’re not on an iPad, right? It’s OK.
The mum is doing the best she can. You’re not anti-kid! No way. Parents have to get out of the house, especially if they’re on their own. These things are so important. And who are you to interfere with someone else’s life, let alone their parenting? That’s sacred, right? It’s the great taboo. We can’t get involved with someone else’s kid.
And THAT right there is the problem. We never interfere. It’s all up to the parent. It takes a village to raise a kid, and some of y’all ain't doing your part.
Look, kids are wonderful. Proper little miracles. Apples of our eyes, and lights of our lives. But sometimes they can be little troublemakers. They’re not bad people, they’re just learning. They’re refining their social skills. Figuring it all out. And we all need to work together on this. This is where we need the village, and a lot of us are slacking off.
Your polite smile, and soft “it’s OK”, are enabling this behaviour. Even worse, it’s undermining. You saying that it’s fine is telling that kid that it’s OK, and that’s not fair to the parent, who’s trying very hard to teach the kid that it’s not fine at all. We’ve got to back each other up here.
So at the very least, don’t sell them out, and if you can, step up and help. That parent would have told that kid off a dozen times already today, and more times than they can count over the years. The effect has begun to wear off. You know what hasn’t worn off? You.
Now look, when I say yell, I don’t mean lose our cool. Kids are sponges, and we’re modelling behaviour here, and that’s critically important too. If you do it right, you’ll give the kids tools for how to behave when THEY want someone to stop. We’re aiming for a strong, stern, talking to, which lets the kids know that they’ve done something wrong.
“Hey! That’s my leg and it hurt when you kicked it. I am trying to enjoy my lunch. Your mother asked you to sit down, so listen to her.”
We’re all pretty shy in general these days. It takes a lot for us to say something, especially when it comes to another family’s dynamic. That has its pros of course - it’s kind of nice to be largely left alone. And when it comes to kids, they seem to have become totally “off limits”.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that we all have to be completely cool with whatever someone ELSE’s kid is doing, and solely responsible for whatever OUR kid is doing.
I’m not absolving parents of responsibility here. I’m saying it’s a complicated matrix of influences which shape a child’s behaviour, and that perhaps we are neglecting an important one. Kids hear their parents every day, and they’re so used to our reprimands that they can almost tune them out. But if a stranger in the supermarket has a go at them – that’s going to stand out.
Every now and then you’ll come across a grizzled matriarch who will tell them what’s what, and it’s the highlight of the week. Seeing a Nonna take no crap from these little Machiavellis, and watching them actually heed her warnings, just warms the heart. And then the parents can say, “See? I told you that’ll get you in trouble. Now behave.”
I get that this may seem jarring. These days it’s all about being chilled, so encouraging people to get cross with other people’s kids isn’t something you hear often. But I honestly believe this could save the world. These kids are going to be running things out from under us in a few short decades, and it’s on all of us to make sure they’re doing it right.
So please. If some kid is being a little terror, don’t tell them it’s OK. If we want a good generation to pick up the reins, we’ve all got to chip in. We don’t get angry, we don’t get unreasonable. We are clear and firm and fair. Don’t be shy. Do it. Yell at someone else’s kid. Everyone will thank you for it.
Have you ever yelled at someone else's child? Do you think it's acceptable behaviour? Tell us in the comments section below.