on kids, manners, and tantrums.

I know I often mention the workload and the stress that come with full-time parenting of multiple small children, but there are many things I appreciate about my kids.  Some of them are biological and hereditary rather than my parenting achievements, like their disinterest in the contents of their own diapers as a possible artistic medium.  Some, however, are clear parenting achievements.

One of those achievements is their set of basic social skills.  My kids have been drilled mercilessly on the use of “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome”, and use those terms when their use is warranted, almost every time. They usually say “I’d like…” rather than “I want…”, and they get corrected every time they use the other phrase.  (However else they turn out later in life, they will be polite.)  This should not be an unusual property among even young children—all it takes is insisting on the use of the right words when phrasing a request—but every once in a while I’m reminded that this is by no means the case.

Another one of our parenting achievements is the ability to walk a store with our kids without undue fussing, whining, or tantrums.  I can count the number of tantrums either of my kids has thrown in public on the fingers of one hand, and have enough fingers left over to work a fountain pen.  The first time Quinn ever threw a tantrum in public, we left the store post haste, leaving the shopping cart where it was.  The second time, he was reminded what happened the last time, and that we would do the very same thing if he didn’t shape up and stop the fussing.  Lyra only ever had one meltdown in a store, and it was a rather mild one that involved two minutes of crying and another minute of the sniffles.  Today, we went to Wallyworld for some assorted goods, and passing the toy aisles started the usual requests of “I’d like to get a new car/truck/boat”.  All it took for me was to say “We’re not here for toys right now,” and ten seconds of grumbling, but there were no tantrums, and I didn’t have to repeat the explanation.

Before this post just turns into one big “Let me Tell You How Great My Kids Are, Thereby Boring You To Tears”…I have a lot of sympathy for the parents whose kids do throw a tantrum in the store.  They’re little sociopaths at the preschool age (and often beyond), and they haven’t yet learned to control their emotions (and some never will.)  That’s why we don’t let kindergartners drive, buy guns, or vote.  Sometimes, a kid has a Very Bad Day, and the parent doesn’t have the time or energy to leave the full shopping cart where it stands and haul the kid back to the car to protect the sensibilities of the store’s other customers.  A lot of child-free people roll their eyes at such a scene, and assume all kinds of things about the parenting abilities of the Mom or Dad in attendance.  Believe me when I tell you that the parent in question is way more stressed out by that display than you are.  You can walk away and shake your head, but the parent has to deal with the tantrum and the embarrassment.  (Oh, and good luck trying to remember your shopping list when Junior is losing his shit in the cereal aisle.)

I always give them a knowing and sympathetic smile. It’s easy to be a curmudgeon in that situation, but cut the kid some slack.  He’s going to have to pay back all that money our generation is letting the government borrow…and without his future tax payments, the people in their Thirties right now may have to get used to cat food dinners once they reach retirement age.

Of course, all of the above does not apply to those parents who let their spawn run hog-wild in the store, hollering and taking stuff off the shelves, and being a general nuisance to other customers.  A two-year-old’s tantrum is one thing, but disinterested parents giving their feral kids free reign in public spaces is a different thing altogether.  Control your children, people.  If they don’t learn considerate behavior and manners when they’re preschoolers, they’re not likely to pick those traits up later, and there are more than enough assholes in the world already.  Don’t add to the Global Asshole Layer, please.

14 thoughts on “on kids, manners, and tantrums.

  1. falnfenix says:

    I find myself generally far more tolerant of the kid having the meltdown than I am of the terrors whose parents don’t care. Kids, like adults, have bad days – theirs just involve more screaming and tears in public than ours do, particularly when they’re very young. I can’t really blame the kid, and I have a hard time blaming the parents. Emotions are unfettered at that age. Sometimes, I envy them that freedom.

    I cannot, however, suffer children whose parents don’t even bother. While it’s not necessarily the child’s fault, they’re still maddening. It’s even worse when the parents yell at other people for saying word one to the child in question. Sorry, lady, but if your kid’s digging in my cart and you’re nowhere nearby, I’m going to tell the kid to go away. Go fail at parenting your kids elsewhere, thanks.

  2. Tam says:

    I was brought up similarly.

    To this day, it is entirely fucking alien to me to see a kid do the “IwantIwantIwant…” routine in a store.

    When I was a child, toys were something we received for Christmas or our birthday, and maybe as a rare surprise at other times of the year. They were not something one demanded or even asked for. (Well, you could ask Santa, but you did so in a polite and slightly embarrassed fashion, as it was kind of rude to just ask someone for a toy.)

  3. LL says:

    What I find most interesting when I’m out with my children is that I’m repeatedly told by strangers how sweet natured and polite they are. There must be a whole lot of terrors out there to elicit that response so often.

  4. perlhaqr says:

    That’s why we don’t let kindergartners drive, buy guns, or vote.

    Not that you could tell that last one from the state of politics in this country.

  5. julie says:

    My kids have been brought up with the same basics of respect as yours and I’m forever having people (shop assistants, other customers etc) telling me how well behaved my girls are. Like LL above I wonder about all the other kids they see / meet for them to take the time out to comment on my kids.

  6. On my list of Things That Should Be Required Reading, I have found that many of them are authored by you.

    I try hard (with a similar level of general success) to raise The Little Girl in the same fashion. Meltdowns ain’t gonna happen, and were never tolerated. Even when she was a sub-two-year-old, we would leave a place if she got loud about it. As soon as humanely possible, she learned the concept of consequences.

    She is polite, occasionally shy, but bursting with personality and (thank the Lord) individuality. My biggest issue right now isn’t how she acts when she’s away from The Wifey and I; it’s her desire to stop liking stuff because other kids make fun of her. You wanna talk about wanting to beat someone else’s child…

    tweaker

  7. Liz Ditz says:

    While I agree about childhood civility training, I’d like to add:

    A public service announcement on behalf of parents of children with autism:

    Autism is a disorder of both speech and social learning. Some children with autism may be subject to emotional dysregulation (“tantrums” or “meltdowns”) — sometimes in public. So if you see a child-parent pair in the midst of a meltdown, don’t assume parental failure to instill self-control. The child may be overcome by his disability. A quick offer of help, or an expression of compassion, would probably be appreciated.

    • Thank you for adding that note, Liz. I have an opportunity to pretty much constantly observe same parents’ kids, one of whom is autistic, and frequently tantruming, and the other – perfectly well-behaved.
      There’s plenty of poor parenting out there, but a conclusion about parenting skills just from seeing some strangers’ kid throwing a tantrum may be quite wrong.

    • Don Gwinn says:

      That’s quite true, and Autism is not the only condition that hinders the ability to generalize, or to cope with frustration, or to interpret the actions and expressions of other people to find out whether your behavior is appropriate.

      We don’t know every detail, but my twins were exposed to alcohol and other drugs in vitro, then abused and neglected for the first three years of life. There are days when I don’t know whether they’ll ever be mature adults.

  8. Kristopher says:

    I remember the first and last time I begged my Dad for a candy bar in a store.

    He bought one, and ate it in front of me in the car.

    Never did that again …

  9. Al Terego says:

    It is a thin line, yes, between convictions of personal responsibility and unfettered freedom (libertarianism)…and the impulse and necessity of imposing our own standards of parenting (or anything else) on others (collectivism)?

    AT

  10. LittleRed1 says:

    I’d say, in my case, that when other people’s or their children’s behavior affects my trying to get along and go along (i.e. when I’m sitting in a reception area and a three-year -old comes up and starts hitting me while his mom is looking at photo proofs), then it is within libertarian philosophy to warn the child, loudly, that I hit back and to return him to his parent/owner/keeper.

    • Al Terego says:

      Yep, their rights end where mine begin…

      Now all “we” gotta do is decide where that is.

      AT

    • …[T]hen it is within libertarian philosophy to warn the child, loudly, that I hit back and to return him to his parent/owner/keeper.

      I’d be hesitant to yell at a kid and even more so to return him/her. I get the drift, but put yourself in the partent’s shoes on that one; libertarian or not, you may not be aware of your kid’s misbehavior when you see a strange man/woman yell at your kid and “deliver” the kid to you.

      Situation like that could go rodeo in a hurry.

      tweaker

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