Correcting the Kid’s Friends

Perhaps one of the touchiest areas about being a father is when you have to correct the playmates and friends of your child.  Not only are you handling issues of behavior and discipline that keep the household in decent order, but you are cognizant that you might have no idea what the non-family kids are hearing and being taught as well as not wanting to embarrass your own kid.

Situation in point is the repetitive phone calls that arise from kids who are exploring independence via the telephone.  On one occasion, a school friend fell into the habit of repeatedly calling our house, several times each day.  As we sat to a late dinner, the phone rang and we let it go to the answering machine, which elicited no message.  This immediately occurred again and on the third series of rings, I answered it, intent upon wringing an elementary age neck.  Fortunately, my response was much more muted – but instructive – when I spoke.  I found that this kid had indeed called immediately before both times and was intent on speaking with my son.  My following comment was to the effect that if there’s no answer and it goes to a machine, feel free to leave a message.  But it was unaccepable to repeatedly call. 

My concerns that led to the muted response?  First, who’s monitoring the kid that is repeatedly calling?  Is there a phone in the child’s room?  Second, what has the child learned about phone manners – quaint idea that it is – and is it just that the adult has assumed that the kid understands?  That can happen, since it’s easy to assume something as obviously simple as if there’s no answer, leave a message and call back later.  Finally, while blowing a gasket is immediately gratifying, the ultimate effect is counter-productive. 

I generally take the following tack in such situations.

First, unless there’s obvious malice – kicking, purposeful disobedience – accept it as an instructional situation.  State your case in very clear and simple language. 

Second, if at all possible, make sure such comments are in earshot of another adult.  As a stay-home parent, that’s not always practicable, but there are moments when I’ve made sure that my wife could hear the commentary.  The greater clarity, the better.

Third, repeat conversations are accompanied by clearly stated consequences.  Consequences that you would enforce with your own children, excluding corporal punishment.  And then follow through with them.

Fourth, be sure to tell the kid’s parent or guardian when you’ve had to have such a conversation.  In the large majority of cases, they’re glad to know of what’s going on so that they can handle things.  Because kids tend to be drama queens/kings and overstate things, it also precludes the surprise dinnertable announcement that Mr. PracticalDad yelled at me today when the reality is closer to you told Junior that if he kept running and trying to slide on wax floors, you’d make him sit down for a short timeout.

And unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that your comment might be one of the rare times that the child has heard corrective comments.  And in a play environment where the tendency is to "rev up", the need for keeping a rein on things is key.


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