Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Morning Quickie: “My Friends’ Kid is a Little Terror!”

My friend’s child lacks manners and it’s driving me nuts. I am talking with my friend at a holiday get-together and the little terror, LT for short, wants his daddy’s attention. What little boy doesn’t, right?

“Dad!” I’m mid-conversation. “Dad!” We keep talking. “Dad! Dad! Dad!” I stop, wondering if LT might realize that it would be polite if he patiently waited until his father finished the sentence that was still coming out of said father’s mouth. Clap clap clap! “Daddy, I’m talking to you!” Clap clap clap!

Trust me, LT, he knows; it would be difficult not to. But that doesn’t stop the father from trying. Clap clap clap.

The insistent clapping is interrupted by the mother. “Yes!” I exclaim, silently because I have a deep suspicion that I probably should not openly express joy at the reprimand of someone’s child. Or at least where the parent can hear. “Finally, LT is about to get it!” I guiltily hope as I grip the couch cushions.

Instead, the mother turns to the father and says “Daddy, he was talking to you. He wanted you to listen to him talk about …. ” The mother didn’t actually say ellipses, but it sure as hell wasn’t anything so important as to justify the triple clap. Twice.

LT is four and his meltdowns are nothing new. Should I look the other way and ignore the fact that this kid is growing into a right proper, well, little terror? Should I continue to bite my tongue or can I please ask this kid to exercise some manners?

Happy Holidays! The eggnog needs more rum. — Over the Little Terror

No, you can’t ask the kid to exercise some manners. For one thing, it’s not your place to do that. You aren’t his parent or guardian or teacher or babysitter. For another thing, the kid probably doesn’t know what manners are because his parents haven’t been teaching him. As much as you might think of this child as a little terror, he’s not the one in the wrong here. It’s your friends, his mother and father, who are failing. It’s their job to stop him when he’s interrupting you and say, “Wait your turn.” Or: “We don’t interrupt people when they’re talking.” Or: “Unless it’s an emergency, you need to wait until our friend is done talking before you begin speaking.” And then they need to remind their kid of these rules each and every time he interrupts someone until he stops doing it. How else is he going to learn? His parents are being lazy. And because of their laziness, their child is going to grow up with people like you framing him as a little terror when, in fact, if taught manners, he might just be a pretty great kid — one whose company you could potentially enjoy. But he’s apparently not and you apparently don’t, so rather than continue spending time with him, stick with friends whose kids aren’t little shits or, better yet, limit your interactions with your parent friends to times when they have babysitters for their kids and can focus 100% of their attention on adult interactions and not policing (or ignoring, as the case may be) their offspring’s behavior.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

43 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Tax Geek December 31, 2014, 8:18 am

    Maybe he has autism.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy December 31, 2014, 8:45 am

      I didn’t think of that, but you’re right. It could explain the clapping. At any rate, it’s a good reminder that we should probably be a little more empathetic to children and their parents when we don’t know the whole story.

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      • Miss MJ

        Miss MJ December 31, 2014, 8:56 am

        I guess he could have autism, but I would think that the LW would mention that (or, you know, make an allowance for his behavior.) Honestly, though? I see this exact same behavior in A LOT of friends’ and family members’ kids about this age who are definitely not autistic, so while it is possible that there is an underlying issue, without more info, I am more inclined to think this is another symptom of Special Snowflake Syndrome.

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    • othy

      othy December 31, 2014, 11:16 am

      Even if the kid does have autism, it doesn’t meant his parents shouldn’t correct his behavior. It just means they may have to correct it more often.

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    • bondbabe

      bondbabe December 31, 2014, 1:39 pm

      I doubt it. My nephew has autism (now age 8), and has been taught to wait if people are speaking–which he usually does. There have been occasions where my brother and I were talking and my nephew approached and started to ask my brother a question. My brother just stopped and said to my nephew, “[Nephew], just a second.” And my nephew waited until we were finished.

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      • avatar

        Wendy_not_Wendy January 1, 2015, 6:59 am

        Then you should know better than most people that autism is a spectrum and these kids do not, by any means, display the same behaviors or respond to the same interventions.

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray December 31, 2014, 8:51 am

    Yeah you can’t say anything. At all, ever.

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  • Lyra

    Lyra December 31, 2014, 8:52 am

    Yeah there’s nothing you can do, since you’re not in a place of authority. Of course it’s possible for a 4-year-old to have manners, but remember that he IS 4…and still is learning exactly what manners are. For now, pour more rum for yourself. 😉
    .
    I do understand how you feel — I have 2 or 3 cousins who have VERY energetic kids. Screaming, interrupting, playing and running around where they shouldn’t, crying when their mom or dad doesn’t pay attention to them when they want attention, etc. etc. It’s part of having kids, and my cousins were…er, blessed?…with very energetic kids. I don’t know how they deal with that all day every day at home. I, for one, will be waiting a good while before having kids of my own! 🙂

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope December 31, 2014, 9:16 am

    In my experience, all kids interrupt their parents’ conversations. It takes restraint to wait for an opening in the conversation that only comes with maturity. Even adults tend to jump in before an opening presents itself and they’re actually in the conversation. However, the clapping is extreme enough to suggest that this child is not getting enough attention from his father, period. The only child I know who takes his attention- getting techniques to this kind of extreme is actually starving for attention from his mother, who ignores him. I would ask the lw to really observe the relationship between the boy and his father before assuming the boy is a brat (or autistic).

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  • avatar

    ktfran December 31, 2014, 9:17 am

    I’m with Wendy 100% on this one. If a child doesn’t have good manners, it’s the parents fault, not the child’s. Fuck, a four year old probably doesn’t really understand he’s interrupting, it’s up to the parents to teach.
    .
    All I was thinking while reading your letter, LW, was “what crappy parents,” not what a crappy child.

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  • avatar

    Sunshine Brite December 31, 2014, 9:22 am

    My family has some kids that are kind of like this and it’s super frustrating. My nephew’s got mental health problems that manifest in a ton of behavioral issues, but my niece is just a brat sometimes. Both of them do a lot better when they’re subjected to consistency in the messages that they receive when they are around extended family which is missing here for your friend’s LT.

    Try to redirect your annoyance from the kid to the adults in the situation. It’s mostly their fault if they’re not attempting to teach him manners even if he has behavioral problems.

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  • Crochet.Ninja

    Crochet.Ninja December 31, 2014, 9:54 am

    i get that kids should be taught to not interrupt – but he was trying to get his dad’s attention multiple times, and dad didn’t respond at all?? that actually pisses me off more. i hate when adults ignore their kids – they’re people too, take the time to say ‘please wait a moment’ or something, acknowledge them!

    that said, it’s up to the parents, not you. in fact your irritation should be directed towards them, not the kid. he’s just a kid.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph December 31, 2014, 10:15 am

    Yeah this really makes me sad for the kid. It seems like Mom was trying to gently hint to Dad that he needs to listen to his kid more… I mean, if the dad was really trying to teach him manners, flat out ignoring the kid and continuing his conversation with you was a really dick way to go about it. No wonder the kid is rude, look at the example his father is setting.

    I agree you can’t really say anything scolding to the kid. But I do think there’s something you could have done in this case…to gently scold dear old dad for being a douche. I’d go with “Hey, [friend], I think LT has something he wants to tell you.” Then excuse yourself to the bar.

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    • LadyinPurpleNotRed

      LadyinPurpleNotRed December 31, 2014, 10:27 am

      I agree he shouldn’t have completely ignored the kid, but I don’t think the person the father was talking to should interrupt and say pause and listen to whatever he has to say– that’s not teaching him good manners either. People have things to say… They have to wait their turns. The speaker shouldn’t have to interrupt themselves for the kid.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph December 31, 2014, 11:13 am

        Eh, she said she already stopped talking, and the father kept ignoring his kid. At the point where he’s clapping and being obnoxious, it seems like it would teach the father a lesson to call him out on ignoring his kid more than it would reward the kid’s bad manners.

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      • avatar

        SpaceySteph December 31, 2014, 11:14 am

        Idk why I called the LW she. I guess I default assume DW LW are women unless the identify. Oops.

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  • avatar

    booknerd December 31, 2014, 10:40 am

    He’s 4. What more needs to be said? Have more rum. Dad really should have said something to LT, and it is most definitely not a 4 year olds responsibility to learn manners from a parent that ignores him.

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  • JenjaRose

    JenjaRose December 31, 2014, 10:58 am

    Am I the only one who doesn’t think it would be a big deal to just smile and say, “Gotta wait your turn, little dude!” I mean, these are your friends and this is your friends’ kid. While it’s not your place to “teach him manners” or act punishing, I don’t see why it would be weird to just tell him, in a friendly voice, to wait a minute. I don’t know; that’s what I do and usually the parents appreciate that another grown-up is engaging politely with their child. It’s definitely the parents’ place to teach the kid manners, of course, but I don’t think gritting your teeth and pretending the child isn’t there is the only option.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra December 31, 2014, 11:22 am

      Oh I agree with you. I think it’s easy enough to redirect subtly like that, and I do it all the time with Navy Guy’s niece.

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      • avatar

        ktfran December 31, 2014, 11:28 am

        Me too with my niece’s. If one is acting out, I’ll say something. I’m pretty sure my sis doesn’t mind. We act like a family unit though and when home, we’re around each other ALL THE TIME.

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      • avatar

        ktfran December 31, 2014, 11:44 am

        Although, I would probably not correct someone’s kid if I weren’t super close with the parents or around the kid much.

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    • bondbabe

      bondbabe December 31, 2014, 1:45 pm

      I agree with you. I get that he’s four, but they do know how to follow directions. I would have stopped, turned to the child and said, “Just a minute, LT, we’re almost finished.” This gives the child some direction, and POSSIBLY the parent also.

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    • avatar

      RedroverRedrover December 31, 2014, 2:04 pm

      In my group of friends, it’s made clear that the adults are the authority figures and the kids have to listen to all of us. That’s actually how the world used to work, and I think it was way better than now, when only a kid’s parents can correct their behaviour, and kids are allowed to disrespect other adults if their parent is an idiot.

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    • Lady_Red

      Red_Lady December 31, 2014, 3:54 pm

      I agree. If the dad isn’t telling the kid to wait, I’d do it. I mean, it’s not like you can really have a conversation with the kid yelling and clapping anyways.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark December 31, 2014, 11:40 am

    The kid is four. Not 14. My nephew is going through a similar phase — minus the clapping. And, I get that it’s annoying… but HELLO! Much of life is annoying. Deal with it. Of course it’s only a phase. Look, if you are so threatened by a four year old, the four year old isn’t the only person who needs to grow up.

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    • avatar

      ele4phant December 31, 2014, 12:33 pm

      Eh I mean yes and no. Yes, there are certain cognitive limits for four year olds that make the whole concept of waiting your turn quietly difficult.
      And social etiquette is not something we are born with, it’s something we are taught by our parents and by socializing with others.

      But four years is also enough to start being taught those things. Sure the kiddo won’t get it yet, but the parents should be setting and reinforcing what is socially acceptable at this point in their child’s development. That’s not happening. The parents approach on that day was try to ignore, then indulge the kid. That’s totally setting him on the wrong track.

      It’s the fault of the parents, not the kid, but still it’s not okay and I may consider not hanging out with these people (at least when they have their kid in tow) because I can only assume it’ll get worse as he gets older.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. December 31, 2014, 11:53 am

    Maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age (I’m told this happens as you get closer to menopause), but if I were the LW, I would turn to the father and say, “Are you going to do something about your kid or shall I?” These parents are clueless. Even a four-year-old can learn to say, “Excuse me.”

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    • something random

      something random December 31, 2014, 12:38 pm

      A four year old obnoxiously clapping in his parents face is bad, but a forty-somthing year old backhandedly criticizing a parent and attempting to school them at a holiday event is far worse. Just sayin’.

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      • Kate B.

        Kate B. December 31, 2014, 12:51 pm

        Not for the forty-something.

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      • something random

        something random December 31, 2014, 12:57 pm

        Ha

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh December 31, 2014, 12:13 pm

    I’m wondering how often you see the 4 year old and if it’s usually at parties. I think I’d be more annoyed by he Dad here than the kid. Seems like this would have been a great time to teach about interrupting while also validating that the four year old is important. It sound like you’re not that big a fan of kids in general or expect them to act like miniature 30 year olds. But, they’re not.

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  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster December 31, 2014, 12:33 pm

    “Yes!” I exclaim, silently because I have a deep suspicion that I probably should not openly express joy at the reprimand of someone’s child. Or at least where the parent can hear. “Finally, LT is about to get it!” I guiltily hope as I grip the couch cushions.
    .
    I’ve got a few more.
    “Silencio, little monster!” I think victoriously, as I clutch my empty rum glass.
    “Be gone with you, demon child!” I hope fervently.
    “Banish all the children from the palace!” I yell with the spirit of Braveheart in my breast.

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray December 31, 2014, 1:56 pm

      What time did TaraMonster start drinking?

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster December 31, 2014, 2:16 pm

        I just found LW’s gripping and riveting story of a toddler interrupting his dad one level below some Ramona-esque fanfic. 😉
        .
        And It’s always Beer O’clock in TaraMonster World! (Ok Wine O’clock)

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray December 31, 2014, 7:07 pm

        I gathered as much – I concur and you made me laugh and I want to drink more with you! How’s the no smoking going btw?

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      • TaraMonster

        TaraMonster December 31, 2014, 7:13 pm

        Today is Day 51! Going strong!

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray December 31, 2014, 7:39 pm

        That is awesome! I’m impressed!!

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  • something random

    something random December 31, 2014, 12:56 pm

    WWS. The parents should be correcting that but they aren’t; there really isn’t anyway to reprimand a young child interrupting his own parents that won’t make YOU look bad.

    I do wonder about context, though. if this was a roaring christmas party at someone’s house (I’m assuming if there’s a couch the party was probably in someone’s home) and it was in the evening and there was a lot of sugar (like eggnog for the kids) it might not be the best time and place to accurately gage parental skills and typical behavior for the four year old. The fact that the mom told the dad to pay attention to the rude child makes me wonder if the kid wasn’t the only one feeling ignored. I’m not condoning what the mother did, I just wonder if she felt her husband was checking out from their family a little bit.

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    • avatar

      snow.angel December 31, 2014, 2:36 pm

      That’s a really good point. Parties and the holidays in general can be really overstimulating for kids. It’s likely he hasn’t been on his usual routine and he’d probably had a whole bunch of junk food in his system, so maybe this wasn’t typical for him. I mean, I’ve never met a 4 year old who doesn’t interrupt from time to time, but kids need to be redirected by their parents in those cases.

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  • Pheebers

    Pheebers December 31, 2014, 1:12 pm

    I’ve said, on more than one occasion, “hang on, sweetie, it’ll be your turn in a sec” and I’ve never had parents be offended. If you can do it with a smile, I say go for it. Finish a sentence or two, then turn to the child and give him your undivided attention, so they know you meant it about turns. Even a three year old can understand turns, even if they don’t always like them. 🙂

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  • avatar

    snow.angel December 31, 2014, 2:29 pm

    Yea this is a tough one. It can be hard to hold back when you see a child doing something that is so easily redirected, but the responsibility is really on the parents for this one. I’m kinda surprised neither of the parents at least acknowledged the boy to let him know he would have a turn to speak. This would serve to let him know the negative behavior is not acceptable, but also give him the structure and reassurance to know that he would be heard. The only think I can think of is that they are using the parenting technique of “planned ignoring” by not giving attention to negative but basically harmless behaviors.

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  • avatar

    cyndi December 31, 2014, 3:09 pm

    The parents definitely need to step-up, but Lw needs to be a little more forgiving. Planned ignoring does’t always work especially when a parent gives in. I am a first grade teacher and the queen of being interrupted. I’ve taught my students a signal- i acknowledge them by looking at them and then put up one finger to let them know to wait. My daughter’s pre-k teacher taught 28 students to wait when 2 adults are talking. It just takes time. I’m wondering – LW have children?

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  • avatar

    Eve January 2, 2015, 6:58 am

    The worst thing you could probably tell a parent is how to parent their own kid… (without the parents explicitly asking for advice). It’s like telling a bride-to-be not to marry the love of her life because you don’t like the guy.
    No one would appreciate the criticism, even if it’s well-meant and constructive. Parenting is something very personal and every parent thinks they knows what’s best for their own kid – and this is likely what they’ll tell you if you try to criticize them i.e. they’ll become defensive.
    If you are good at sweet talk you could gently touch on the topic of kids/parenting styles(but not in any obvious way) so the parents *might* start talking to you themselves about their kid and maybe ask for your opinion/advice, only if you’re like best friends since childhood or something, or if you have great credibility with raising kids.
    That’s a pretty long shot and will work if you’re good at these sort of things. If not, honestly, just mind your own life and accept that the kid will be raised in this way, it shouldn’t be any of your concern since you aren’t even a close (or distant for that matter) relative.. And of course try to avoid seeing your friends when the kid is there if it annoys you so much. (if they are good at introspection and self-criticism they may themselves start to question why people don’t want to see them when their kid is around, who knows!)

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