‘Bratty’ kids and their parents

A couple of my friends posted an article from CNN.com’s Opinion section on Facebook yesterday.  I started commenting on one of their posts and after a few paragraphs decided that my views would be better served as a blog post. And so here I am!

Permissive parents: Curb your brats seems aimed at exposing what most people are supposedly thinking –  We can’t stand other people’s kids, well at least the ones whose parents let them run rampant in restaurants and grocery stores or ones who scream loudly in movie theaters and on airplanes.

The article discusses the responsibilities of parents to discipline their children. I don’t disagree with this.

My issue is with the automatic conclusions drawn from seeing rowdy kids in public. My issue is with the judgment placed on the parents – judgment that says those parents must not be properly disciplining their children. I’m not saying that’s not the case sometimes. I am saying that is not the case all the time.

I worked in customer service for years. I’ve seen a mother push her toddler around in a shopping cart letting him drop crackers throughout the entire store. She never stopped him from tossing them out of the cart. She never took the crackers away. She left us to sweep 11 aisles of crackers. I’ve almost tripped over kids in a restaurant while carrying 40 lb trays of food because parents did not feel the need to make their child sit in his seat.

I’ve also spent several years working in the field of special education. I’ve walked into a store with an autistic child who started to stim on several occasions. Stimming, or self-stimulatory behaviors are often an autistic child’s way of dealing with excitement or anxiety. Imagine when you tap your foot because you’re nervous. Now think about a child who cannot control those feelings. It can very much look like a child acting out. Jumping up and down. Flailing arms. Screaming. These can all be stimming behaviors.

And when the boy I was working with would start to stim in the grocery store, I did not yell at him or give him “the look” as the author suggests because well, both of those things would have been pointless. I did work on redirecting his behaviors. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes it didn’t. When it didn’t work, we would leave the store. I had that luxury because I was his behavioral support. The only reason we were in the store was because I was working on teaching him how to behave in public settings.

Parents have no such luxury. Mom needs to go buy milk and bread. Mom needs to take her child with her. The child starts acting out in the store. Maybe it’s because mom doesn’t discipline properly. Maybe it’s because the child has a disability and can’t control himself. Maybe mom just got done a second shift and is too exhausted to do anything but grab the milk and bread and rush out of the store as quickly as possible.

The point is that you don’t know.

I’ll admit I have a bit more aggravation when incidents occur in restaurants and movie theaters. They’re not necessities. (Though I’d also like to point out that children will only learn how to act in these settings when they’re exposed to them.) But trips to the grocery store, shopping at the mall and yes, even airplane rides are sometimes unavoidable. Can it be unpleasant for others? Sure. But that parent is typically mortified. She feels your eyes on her. She hears your groans. She senses your judgment.

Do I think kids generally need more discipline than what they’re getting? Yes. I also agree with the author that kids should be taught that they are not the center of the universe.

But I stopped passing judgment on parents in public places a long time ago.

And every once in a while when those ugly thoughts come into my head, I think about the kids I used to work with. I think about the dirty looks I would get when they stimmed in public.

I also think about when I worked third shift. My daughter was a toddler. Sometimes I had no choice but to take her shopping with me after work. Sometimes I was up for 36 hours straight. Sometimes I was so infused with caffeine just to keep myself awake that I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. And yeah, sometimes she would throw a tantrum in the store and I’d grab my milk and bread and get out of there as fast as possible.

I think about the fact that I have no idea what is going on with that family. I think about how much I despise being judged based on only a few minutes of exposure to who I am – as a person or as a parent.

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Dayle – So glad you wrote this, and you do such a great job articulating what I’ve been thinking regarding that article. This line of yours says it all—> “how much I despise being judged based on only a few minutes of exposure to who I am – as a person or as a parent.” We all have the responsibility to take responsibility for our children, but there are many situations (as you point out), where an observer is making a leap in judgement these behaviors indicate a parent’s unwillingness to control their children. The special needs situation is a perfect example of this. I rarely encounter parents who intentionally abandon all control over their children, or intend to disrupt experiences for other people–it’s really the exception (that cracker incident you mention, yikes!), not the rule. And a good friend told me something great years ago—when you see a child “acting up” in public, remember that every single adult in the world was once a child, and summon up a little patience. We don’t have to be parents ourselves to realize that. -A

    Reply

    • Thank you, Alexandra!

      “And a good friend told me something great years ago—when you see a child “acting up” in public, remember that every single adult in the world was once a child, and summon up a little patience. We don’t have to be parents ourselves to realize that.”

      I love that! So true!

      Incidents like the cracker thing (the woman used to come into the store on my shift about once a month – same thing every time – it was not isolated) are the exception not the rule, from my experience anyway.

      Reply

  2. I’m one of those childless people. The kind that are (normally) the first to point fingers and get irritated and kids. I’ve seen that over and over and over and over…

    But that’s not the type I am. I love kids. Really. Maybe because I don’t have any ;-). I understand that children will be children…they’re hard to control, filled with curiosity and energy. That’s the way they’re supposed to be. It’s how they learn…and I’d rather see children learning and having fun than coming to an understanding that learning isn’t fun, which is what normally happens in the modern school system.

    When you watch children with their parents/guardians/controlling force, you can tell. If you’re really watching, you can tell when the adult is the one with problems. When the adult is abusive, rude, irritated, angry…and making the situation worse. You can tell when it’s a child with problems.

    So I guess what I’m saying is not to kneejerk. The initial reaction is to be annoyed. At the kids, at the adults, at everyone around them. You’re right…don’t judge. Watch and you might understand, or not…that’s up to you. But judging doesn’t do anyone any good. Then again, couldn’t we say that about all situations, not just children?

    Reply

    • “Then again, couldn’t we say that about all situations, not just children?”

      Absolutely agree!!!

      I see parenting judgment more than anything else – pretty much because I’m a parent! But I think society in general is way too judgmental (um, was that a judgment? :P). It’s sad because I think it’s silly to believe that what works for one person will work for another. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have and I fully believe that the world would be a much more peaceful place if we could all learn to accept that!

      Reply

  3. You know I gotta add my two cents in on this one. . . 😉 But where do I begin? Here’s one: On the plane to take my child to a therapy center in Poland–9 hour flight, he does OK, but the much shorter flight from Denmark to Poland, OMGosh. I think his ears hurt; I don’t really know, but he kicked the chair in front of him repeatedly. When I held him down, he pinched me, bit me, flailed scratching my face, my arms. A friend traveling with me took a turn holding him and he bit her. So I was back on duty. The woman sitting in front of my son gave me dirty looks. I apologized. She complained to the stewardess who told me I was going to have to control my child. I was nearly in tears and told her that if she knew a way she was welcome to try in a not so very nice voice because it was either that or boo-hoo. The woman turned around and gave me a brief lecture on my lack of parenting ability (as my son kicked me and pinched me as I attempted to keep him under control). I looked her in the eye and said, “I hope God blesses you with healthy children.” (When in reality, I was hoping the EXACT opposite!) And she was allowed to move to the front of the plane and no one sat in front of my son.
    When the woman who had complained and judged me and my son, saw us deboarding, saw how he needed help going down the stairs and couldn’t carry his backpack much less his coat down the hallway and rode in a wheelchair to get on the shuttle, she said, “I am so sorry. I had no idea. I thought you just weren’t controlling him. I didn’t realize he was handicapped.” All I could do was grimace in an attempt to accept her apology. And once we got off the shuttle, my friend gave me an Xanax which was the only thing that could have calmed me at that moment.
    Here’s another: a few months ago, I was at the pharmacy where I get his diaper prescription refilled. One of his stimming behaviors is opening and shutting doors. So the half-door to the supply room was overwhelmingly tempting and he kept opening and shutting. My other two boys were knocking down the OTC medicine neatly lining the shelves (a small town private pharmacy, so the the items were only 2 deep), so I got them under control and had them standing beside me, one boy in each hand, leaving no hands to stop D. The clerk said, “Please stop,” to my son several times. He didn’t. I tried to re-direct him which is hard to do without hands. I knew we were almost ready to go, so I just had to let him do it. It wasn’t really hurting anything, nobody was standing close-by. He was just swinging the door back and forth.
    The clerk said, “You can’t allow him to do this.”
    I said, “The diapers are for him (he was 12 years old at the time), and if I could stop him from opening and shutting doors, I sure would.” It embarrassed her and she was very helpful in getting us to the car. Since then, she has been very, very sweet to us. I regret that I spoke to her that way, but I was at my breaking point too.
    This leads to today. We were a part of Project Independence where a water park allows families with autistic children to get in for $10/family (instead of the $110 it would normally cost us) and we had a wonderful time! Those who were with us wore red wristbands and so it was nice when we were in line for a ride or were riding the lazy river, it was easy to spot one of us and fun to talk to other families. My sons, all three, loved it! But at the end of the day, my two youngest were on the kiddie slides and came down crying because a bigger boy had been mean to them. I asked if he had a red wristband and was prepared to tell them why that boy may have acted that way. He had no band. So I climbed the stairs with them the next time and the boy was there and I told him to not cut in front of them and to wait his turn. He very politely waited and seemed very sweet. When I climbed down the steps, the boy’s mother was waiting for me (with claws bared), “What did you say to that boy?” I told her that I had told him that he would have to wait his turn. “He is autistic and can’t understand a word you say and doesn’t know what he is doing.” I had assumed no red wristband, no “excuses.” He wouldn’t wear the band because it bothered him (oh my gosh is there a word limit on a comment? I think I’m about to find out!). I said that I knew what she meant because I had a son like that too. She wasn’t impressed with that response and now I know exactly how I made that clerk at the pharmacy feel. We Mama bears want to protect our children and without knowing why the boy didn’t make eye contact or understand social rules, I had NO right to instruct him.
    I think I’m finished now– (I could have saved this for GoodBlogs if I had not just posted one last night!) Whew! 🙂

    Reply

    • Wow, Ginny! Thank you so, so much for your reply! As I told you last night, I was really hoping you would provide your input. You exemplified the point I was trying to make about parents not having the same luxury that I did as a child care provider/behavioral support.

      I wanted to cry as I read your recount of the airplane incident. It’s interesting to me because we really have come a long way in understanding those with special needs and yet there is still such a long way to go. My aunt was born with Down’s Syndrome in 1956. It was out of the ordinary for my grandmother to keep her and raise her at the time. Dale Evans and Roy Rogers did wonders for that. Did you ever read the book Angel Unaware by Dale Evans? Beautiful book about their daughter, Robin who had Down’s Syndrome. If you decide to read it, make sure you have tissues handy!

      I digress!

      I think your last example – from the water park – is the perfect example of how we all have our moments . . . and maybe we even have to be non-judgmental of those who are judgmental! I’ve never claimed to be without fault. I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve jumped to conclusions. The important thing is that we learn and we continue to grow. Progress not perfection 🙂

      ::Hugs::

      Reply

      • I haven’t read Angel Unaware, but will check it out of the library tomorrow. . .”non-judgmental of those who are judgmental” I like that and yes, yes, and yes! My husband has to remind me of that all the time–cut them some slack, Ginny–they don’t have the experiences which you do to come to the conclusion you think they should. . .

        Reply

      • “they don’t have the experiences which you do to come to the conclusion you think they should. . .”

        Your husband sounds like a very intelligent man! I’m going to remember this one!

        Reply

  4. You know, I’m not a parent yet so I have been one of the ones to judge in the past but I had eye openers that taught me to not do so. One of them actually came from the show “Parenthood” and I did a blog about it where I realized what I did wrong and what needed to change.
    http://therealsharon.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/change-your-perception/

    Reading Ginny Layton’s response to you made me think even more and I can’t even imagine….
    It makes me think back on working at a preschool with a little boy who was adhd, bi-polar and ocd….which is not even the same thing as Autism but it was a real eye opener. It made me understand kids like that from a new perspective and realize that sometimes when a kid is acting out, it’s not always the parent’s fault.
    I don’t know if I would have been as accepting of my now husband when he first told me he was bi-polar, had I not worked with that one kid before and understood more about the stereotypes with it. It’s hard when your husband can have mood swings sometimes that make you feel like he’s a child and others even close to me don’t always get it and wonder about it. It kind of makes me more understanding towards parents that have kids with any kind of issues because I know what it’s like to have to explain why my husband acts the way he does sometimes.
    But there’s no regrets…my husband is more than his Bi-polar……and I wish the world could educate themselves more on this AND Autism, Ausperger’s, etc.

    Reply

    • I loved your blog about changing perception (though that didn’t surprise me)!

      “I don’t know if I would have been as accepting of my now husband when he first told me he was bi-polar, had I not worked with that one kid before and understood more about the stereotypes with it.”

      Not to get off topic, but isn’t it awesome how things seem to come into our lives for a reason – even if we don’t understand the reason for years to come?

      “I wish the world could educate themselves more on this AND Autism, Ausperger’s, etc.”

      You and me both!

      Reply

      • It IS awesome….It can be hard with my hubby when he’s in one of his moods but I think it’s actually a great fit for me because of my depression….he can really understand it better than anyone else because of what he deals with.

        Reply

  5. I’m glad you posted this, Dayle. It’s always good to have another perspective! I do think people (myself included) are too quick to judge and there is usually more to the story. I think the article was good too though, because unfortunately, there are far too many parents that don’t even try to teach their kids how to act in public. From the comments I’ve read, most of you at least give it a shot! (Or have valid reasons as to why you can’t or why the child is acting out, etc.)

    And just to clarify, I posted that article because I agreed with it, but I LOVE kids. 🙂

    Reply

    • Thanks, Jen!

      I certainly don’t disagree with everything the author had to say in his article. I know many parents who don’t bother trying to discipline their children. I’ve just never been fond of generalizations and definitives.

      I think this was the line that ticked me off – “And we know you don’t discipline them at home because you don’t possess ‘the look.’ If you had ‘the look,’ you wouldn’t need to say “sit down” a thousand times.” . . . I’d like to see him try to use “the look” on an autistic child!

      I somehow had the impression that you love kids 🙂

      Reply

  6. I love your post. I love seeing a different side. I am a person who judges too quickly although normally to myself, I very rarely say anything because I don’t know the situation. It’s when I do know the situation that I speak my mind.

    Reply

    • Maybe because I know you, I can’t imagine you *not* speaking your mind! LOL

      I definitely have those judgments too — I just *try* to remember than I don’t know what’s really going on . . . Like you, when I do know the situation I will usually speak up!

      Reply

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