"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
May 23, 2013
When Your Child Is Rude in Public
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My son said something rude to my friend yesterday. He is only six, but he should have known better. I was embarrassed and didn’t know how to respond, and I blurted out, “Don’t listen to him.” Then I gave him the stink eye and tried to move on with the conversation. I talked to him about his bad behavior later that day when we were alone.

I’m not sure that what I did was effective. What should I have done?

Answer:

When your child is rude, your first duty is to teach him that what he has done is wrong, and why.

The teaching needs to happen immediately. If you wait, the child will labor under the misconception that what he did was acceptable or, worse, cute. He will also be unlikely to remember the situation when you talk to him about it later.

So the next time your child is rude in public (which is sure to happen because he is, after all, still learning the rules of acceptable behavior), don’t roll your eyes or say something sarcastic or dismissive or unkind about your child. And especially don’t excuse or explain your child’s behavior on account of, “She’s such a drama queen,” or “He’s so picky,” or “It’s always something with that one.”

Do not brand your child that way, as if you expect him to act badly because he is a certain way. It will not mollify the person who was offended, who will rightly wonder why on earth you are rolling your eyes instead of correcting your child. And it will communicate to your child that you expect nothing better from him on account of his personality.

Instead, say, “I’m so sorry. Excuse me,” to the person you are talking to. Grip your child firmly, but not angrily, by the hand or arm and draw him aside for some privacy. Arrange yourself so you are on his eye level and put on your best “I’m not kidding around” expression.

Then say, calmly but seriously, “Anthony Thomas,” (use his full name for full effect), “Telling Sister Grace that her sandwiches were gross was rude. It is rude to say unkind things about food that is offered to you, even if what you are saying is true. What you should have done is say, ‘No, thank you,’ or, ‘I’ll just have some apples, please.’”

The purpose of this conversation is to (1) identify the rude behavior, (2) teach the child the rule — why what he did was rude, (3) teach the child what he should have done instead, and (4) let the offended person know that you realize your child was rude and are working to teach him correct behavior.

Your next duty is to provide an apology or restitution to the offended person. This is your social duty as a member of polite society, even if the person was not visibly affronted or upset by the behavior.

Sometimes an apology from you is sufficient. But sometimes, it is appropriate for your child to apologize. In those cases, teach your child what to say and how he should say it. “You need to go and tell Sister Grace, ‘I’m sorry for being rude,’ and ‘Thank you for feeding me lunch.’” Demonstrate the proper tone and facial expression for him.

If the situation merits a penalty of some sort, such as sitting out of a game for five minutes or relinquishing a toy, enforce the penalty immediately. You want to imprint on the child’s mind the connection between his bad behavior and the penalty.

Apology is not always the best move: if a stranger becomes very upset or angry with your child in a store, for example, you need to gauge whether an apology from your child will make things better or worse. If you feel it will makes things worse, you can provide a brief but sincere, “Please excuse us. I apologize.” It is up to the offended person to accept your apology and realize that children are still learning. It is up to you to resist the urge to lash back at the person. Remember: your child was in the wrong.

Your third duty is to review the rule with your child and practice with him the correct behavior. Try to anticipate problems before they happen so you can teach him what to do. The next time he visits a friend, for example, practice what he will say and do if he does not like the food, or if he wants a toy that someone else has, or if another child pushes him.

You can also spend a Family Home Evening reviewing the rule and how to follow it by play-acting common situations.

There are a few other things to keep in mind. First, before you get upset at your child for being rude, consider whether you have ever taught him the rule he just broke. It’s really not fair to punish a child for doing something he didn’t know was wrong.

Second, don’t let your embarrassment cause you to overreact with anger.

Third, reflect on whether your child is doing something that he learned from your example. You should consistently model polite and correct behavior for your child, in public and at home. Adhere zealously to the rule of, “If you can’t think of something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

For example, when your family gets home from a party at a friend’s house, don’t complain about how cheap the meat was and gripe that your host should have cleaned up her kitchen before she had guests over. Instead, look for the good and say positive things about her hospitality.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and sheíll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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