Friday, March 06, 2009

Size Matters, Even When You Are Four

I watched a friend's four year-old yesterday. James and Padawan are in the same primary class; James is about three months older. Here is the transcript of their conversation within six seconds of the time he walked in the door.

Padawan: Hey, James, you know what? I'm four.

James: I'm four too. And I'm taller. And I've got two pocketknifes. (There was some detailed description here of said weapons; James might be taller but he still talks like he has a mouthful of marbles.)

Padawan: Guess what? Jedi Knight and me just got our red pillowcases back.

James: I'm getting a dirtbike.

Padawan: We had the white pillowcases and then we had the Christmas ones, and our Christmas ones were covered with Teddy Bears.


James: Cool.

I'm so grateful for four years old. It is probably the last time in Padawan's entire existence that he'll think teddy bears are cooler than pocket knives or dirt bikes.

Next question, perhaps less loaded than the one posed earlier this week--what do you think of other people disciplining your children? I don't necessarily mean if you are there, but if you are gone? I'll explain: I was fairly reluctant to agree to watch James yesterday. When he comes visiting teaching with his mother I end up biting my tongue through fourteen fights and he seems to get out every toy in the house, unable to stay interested in anything for more than a few minutes. He also jumbles up the toys, which drives me extremely crazy. (Actually, my kids too--this is a habit/obsession I've gifted them with.)

I understand that kids fight, but Padawan doesn't fight with all kids, mostly just James. James is the youngest of four (two of which are in their teens) and he seems unable to open his mouth without calling names. He doesn't really tease when he says them either. He'll also say things like, "I'm going to kill you," in a totally deadpan voice. Charming. His mother is not oblivious, but I cannot figure her out. Her intervention seems to almost exacerbate every problem because she talks loud, doesn't mask her extreme impatience well and does that you-apologize-right-now-or-else-its-the-end-of-the-world thing.

Yesterday started off fairly well; without visiting teaching in the mix I was able to keep a better eye out. The big boys decided to shut a door to keep the baby out and, sure enough, within just few minutes, Padawan came running out of the room, "James called me stupid and says I have to leave the room and he won't play with me anymore."

I walked right in, squatted down in front of James and said firmly, "You will not call names in this house. This is Padawan's room and if you want to play in here you will play together." He had this really smirky expression and just glared at me. I looked very directly back at him and said in a low voice, "James; I'm absolutely serious. If you continue to be mean then you will have a turn at time out." He was as good as gold after that--even about not getting out too many toys because I told him that he would not be allowed to get out a new mess without cleaning up the previous. Again, firm, serious, but still friendly.

So what do you think? Do you let other people's kids run amok at your house, fully expecting your own to do the same, or do you intervene? And while, to me, the "good" answer seems fairly obvious, my school-teaching experience tells me that there are plenty of parents who disagree with any other person expressing disapproval to their child, regardless of how well deserved.


Janssen said...

STM, I want to give you a giant hug for telling that kid how it is. I also want to send my future children over to play with yours.

Suburban Hippie said...

I completely agree with the sort of discipline that you gave - or the type that I give but if some one EVER spanked my child or used any type of physical punishment on my child it would be the last thing they ever did. I think what you did was great - and it clearly worked.

When kids are over here and I'm watching them I do the sort of thing you did... if they are a neighbor and they are playing and do that sort of thing I tell them to go home.

FoxyJ said...

We had a similar situation in another place we lived--our daughter loved this other girl and we were good friends with her parents, but said kid had some serious behavior issues. I think how you handled it was just fine. If I am watching someone's child in my home, I feel like it's my right to lay down ground rules for my house. I use that often: "in our house we don't play those types of games". I also don't mind if those who are babysitting my kids do the same thing. My little guy was having trouble with hitting other kids in nursery and the leaders didn't know what to do. They were so afraid to do anything that they basically did nothing. Once I told them they could put him in a time-out for hitting, the problem was solved within a week or two. Kids need to have reasonable limits set for them.

Curiously, would you tell his parents or not worry about it? I usually wouldn't say anything, but now I wonder if that would be expected.

Sunnie said...

i am not opposed to telling another child that they have done something wrong. i would hope that another adult would do the same for mine. i don't even mind a well-placed time out if it is really warranted. also, love the 4 year old conversation. so funny.

chris w said...

My philosophy is whoever's house the child is in - that parent makes the rules. I also only ever let my kids go to a parent's house where I feel comfortable with their style - and I HOPE they throw my kid's butt in timeout if my kid does something against their rules. When you're at my house...I don't care how comfortable you are with me disciplining your child - you are welcome to not bring them over if you aren't ok with that...I say in a firm but friendly tone. ;)

Scully said...

Not being a mother, my advice might not have much weight, but I think that if the child is a guest in your house, then he should behave according to the rules of your house. That is the way I was raised - you respect the rules of the house that you are visiting. There is nothing wrong with expecting children to respect the rules of your home.

Z. Marie said...

I agree spanking (or anything else physical) would be wrong, but otherwise, it's your house and your rules.
And I assure you it's not just boys. We're letting Laura have a birthday slumber party, and I rejected a couple of possible guests because of the havoc I knew they'd create.

Sherry said...

I kind of read this and thought, "When did you actually do the disciplining, STM?" Also, I'm not a parent, but my future parenting self says that if it's your house it's your rules. And frankly, I think some kids listen better to non-parents. I know one of my best friends didn't mind at all when I would tell her toddler "no." She liked that I didn't spoil him and let him get away with murder around me.

Melanie said...

I agree with all of the previous comments: your house, your rules but no spanking.

My sister, fed up with all of the parents who let their children scream through sacrament meeting without taking them out, wants to write a book called Discipline is not Abuse. Honestly, I think some parents need to read it.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

The origins of the word "discipline" are closely akin to "teacher" and not punishment. I think more parents need to decide, from the moment junior arrives, that parenting is really a great adventure in teaching and learning for kids AND adults. Discipline starts from a baby's first eating and sleeping habits. The best parenting (one day in 10?) is built on teaching, choices and natural consequences. The worst parenting (at least moments in the other 9 days out of 10) is then the opposite--dictating, controlling and reaction.

About telling the parents--good question Foxy. I think if my attempt had been useless and the behavior continued I would have said something to mom because I would have to let her know why James wouldn't be invited back to play. I also think I would tell if the behavior was extraordinarly naughty instead of just typical kid-stuff. When I taught, you learn quickly to get a feel for which situations you call home and diffuse before junior walks in the door, as well as what parents need you to do this.

As for the physical thing: I was in a situation once where Jedi was in a newish relationship with a cousin where the boundaries were still being defined. There was a fair amount of shoving. It was difficult because the boys were the same size, but my little one was nearly three years older. Jedi shoved Cousin down four steps at my mom's house. Before I could react, my sister was on her feet, leaped over her wailing child and grabbed Jedi by the arm with a fair amount of force and immediately began shouting at him. Her actions upset me worse than Jedi's did. I think we both had a bit of the Mother Bear in us that day.

And all of you can bring yourselves and your present or future kidlets over for a play date anytime.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I'll remember that offer next time I'm in town. :)

chris w said...

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! to discipline = teaching, not pumishment. I am forever grateful we took parenting classes together as a couple before we had kids. I wish everyone would. Natural consequences, with love and choices, and no anger - it's amazing how different your parenting experience can be when you start using it.

AmyJane said...

I'm with you--I would have handled this very similarly. We do a preschool co-op with three VERY different little boys, each with thier own different behavioral and developmental challenges. The very first time we met, we all stayed and kind of rotated the teaching for the day and it was totally ineffective because each parent was jumping on their own kid's misbehavior and doing a lot of apologizing. When we split up and started dropping kids off and giving the teacher for the day permission to parent and teach our kid for those two hours, it was SO much better because each person could then enforce their own house rules and the kids did great.
So, yeah. Your house, your rules. And it seems like he responded well and learned quickly that his usual tricks would not be tolerated without his mother there.