Q&A: Does it matter how friends talk to their kids in front of yours?

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Anonymous writes:

"I am fortunate to live on a friendly street where all the kids play together and the families are all friendly with one another.  It is really nice to have a social outlet at the end of a day spent alone with two young children (2.5 y/o and 6 mo boys).  The kids play most afternoons, so we see a lot of the neighbors.  It is exactly the situation I was hoping to find when we moved here last year. 

The problem I am having is the way one of the other mothers speaks to her children.  Of course I would never say anything, but she can be really unkind and kind of nasty to her girls.  I feel her reactions are far out of proportion to the girls' behavior, which is typical for a 3 and 4 year old.  They are really very good girls.  I know she loves her girls and they are well cared for.  I am sure that the time of day that we usually see each other (4:30-6:00) has a lot to do with her frustration level. 

My concern is how my two year old perceives the way she speaks to her kids.  I want him to be kind and respectful and her behavior is anything but.  He is starting to repeat the words, inflection, and attitudes we display in our home, for better or worse.  My husband and I are both striving to be kind and respectful even as we are disciplining our older son (and the younger one too, when it is time).  We are not always successful, of course, he is two after all, but the "Super Nanny" style of using a firm voice, making eye contact, and following through with discipline (time outs, loss of privileges, etc) usually works for our son.  We do not resort to sarcasm or belittling or name calling.  Of course I am not perfect and it has been hard to see some of my bad habits reflected in his behavior.  But that is what concerns me. 

Sometimes the things my neighbor says to her girls makes me cringe.  If she was a character on a TV show, I wouldn't let my son watch it.  If it was another child acting this way, it would be easier for me to say "That isn't how we speak to people," etc, but since it is another adult, I am at a loss.  Does he pick up on her behavior?  Could being in that situation several times a week affect him?  He seems to be very perceptive of our moods.  I am worried about him being around such negativity.  I don't feel like I am framing this question very well, but I hope you get the gist of what I am asking."

This is the line from your email that hit me: "If she was a character on a TV show, I wouldn't let my son watch it." That's really enough for me to think that the mom's mode is not appropriate.

Unfortunately, I don't know what to do. I'm in the same situation, in that the dad of a friend of one of my sons is belittling and just way too nasty to his son. I don't think my kids are picking up on it, mostly because my ex-husband and I have agreed that we don't want them to hear it. We've made an agreement to try to keep our kids away from that dad when he's talking that way to his son. That's something you could do–distract your son with a toy or game when the mom's in belittling mode so he isn't really listening to her. Soon he'll be older and will have a gut feel for the way he's treated and that it's not the same as all other kids are treated by their parents. (Unfortunately, that opens up another can of worms if you get any "Mom, why does X's mom do Y? Doesn't she love him?" questions. Yeesh.)

The bigger problem, though, and the one that makes me worry, is what's happening to the kids who are being belittled. I don't know how to say to another parent "The way you talk to your child is hurting him" without completely ruining the relationship. And I don't care about my relationship with this man (although I'd miss his wife), but then what happens to his son? He loses my son's friendship, and is just that much more isolated from people who think he should be treated kindly.

Does anyone know what to do? Sometimes I think bearing witness and being kind of him myself might be enough. But at other times I think someone needs to let the kid know (even if it doesn't sink in with the dad) that that way of talking isn't right. But is the risk of further isolation worth it? Is there a way to educate the parent without offending him or her? Has anyone done this successfully?

0 thoughts on “Q&A: Does it matter how friends talk to their kids in front of yours?”

  1. I cannot WAIT to read all the comments on this question! We have this EXACT problem with our neighbor. He & his son (age 6) come over almost every evening to play with us (DD age 2) on our swingset. Father has called son “retard” and “dork” and “queer” and though I am disgusted, I don’t know what to say. Looking for lots of ideas!

  2. Hmm. I’ve dealt with this in a couple of ways, based on my perception of the moms motives and general parenting style.One good friend started with language/discipline that I felt was inappropriate when our kids became toddlers. It was unfortunate – I otherwise really liked her, and hated to see how she spoke to her kid. The brat word came out a lot (generally with an air of casual annoyance – “oh, he’s such a brat” “he’s really bratty today”) and some others that irked me, but not enough to do anything. Then one day I walked by his bedroom on the way to get a sippy cup for my daughter. Her son had had a fit after some minor 2 year old issue. He was sobbing, and she had him sitting in front of a mirror saying “See how ugly you look? Only ugly boys cry.” That was sort of the final straw for me. We’d had many many conversations about other people’s parenting, and I had frequently voiced my opinions on the importance of being respectful and kind when in regards to others’ relationships. I felt like my opinions had been aired. We put quite a bit of distance between us (there had also started being problems with the child emulating his parents’ attitude and being terribly cruel to my daughter) – now it’s been a couple of years and we see them occasionally – once a month or so.
    A different friend recently got ANGRY with her daughter at the pool. The four year old wouldn’t come out when asked and the mom was in a hurry at the end of the day. I wouldn’t say her language was abusive, but her tone was feirce and very, very angry. My daughter was terrified to watch it. The next day at preschool, the mom was talking about how she hates that she gets so mad, but that she was both mad and trying to impress the seriousness of listening on her daughter. She said her daughter laughed so she didn’t think she had achieved “scary mom” – I told her she’d scared the pants off my daughter, so she most certainly was being scary. I think it made an impression – the pool can be a really stressful place, it was 4:30, etc etc – she was angry and didn’t realize that even though she didn’t make an (obvious) impression on her own kid, she was scaring others. I haven’t seen anything like it since (and we see them about 5 times a week), so I’m hopeful that a little reality check about how she looked to the outside world made a difference.
    Anyway, in my rambly way, sometimes I’ve dealt with it obliquely (did you see how such and such relates to her chgild? what a shame) and left the relationship if things got too bad, and sometimes I’ve dealt with it head on.

  3. anon suggested that the mom is acting inappropriately out of frustration at the end of a long day. maybe paying some kindness to the mom would be helpful. just say she seems tired, is there anything you can do to help? can you take the girls off her hands for an hour or so? just showing some sympathy and opening up the lines of communication might allow her to share and confide. i know exhaustion and depression bring out the worst parent in me.

  4. I’ve had luck just starting a conversation with the parent about their kid. Starting it with an observation about how well the child does x and y. That usually gets the parent thinking positively about the child and talking about other strengths. Sometimes the exasperation is actually a result of feeling embarrassed by the child and wanting to show the public that they are not to blame for it. Or something along those lines.The other possible outcome of the conversation is that the parent ‘corrects’ you and starts to tell you all the ways that the child is driving them crazy. In this situation it’s great to be a compassionate ear and to gently normalise the child’s behaviour (telling stories about your own child etc) and brainstorm ways that have worked for each of you.
    This has worked for a particular friend of mine who has a sprited child and a healthy dose of social anxiety. Not a good combination. I’ve seen both outcomes and both seemed to at least temporarily defuse the situation.

  5. I guess my first thought actually was that I’m reasonably confident that kids at younger ages absorb much more from their home and parents than from their neighbours, so I think the 2 year old will probably be fine. I also think the group probably gives you both more than this one mother takes away in terms of community and care, if that makes sense?That doesn’t mean you want to continue the exposure if it’s making you super uncomfortable or unhappy, but even if your child experiments with mimicking it, it doesn’t mean he’s ruined for life. He probably will mimic it though. My son started calling people naughty in imitation of one of the adults in his life and we corrected it at home like this: in our home we don’t say “naughty boy.”
    Just to let you know though, I have minimized a bit exposure to a family I truly love and adore because they spank. I am hoping that once their kids are a bit older they will stop, but when they threatened to spank their daughter at our house and my son burst into tears because he was scared for her, that was kind of it.
    What I’ve found mildly helpful on the adult end is to restate whatever they’ve said like, if they say, “you are such a brat” I’ll mildly restate (tone of voice is so important here) “wow, whining can be hard to listen to, even if you really thought it was your turn and it’s frustrating you.” Depending on how tight everyone is and how the flow is going, it can be a good point to step in with some Playful Parenting like “let’s all use our silly voices for 4 minutes!”
    Sometimes the peer pressure works even on the mature primates. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Mrs Haley that’s terrible! Because this is happening in your yard on your swingset, could you limit your objection to the words used and say “you know, would you mind not using those kind of words while you’re here? I know you don’t mean anything by it, but-it would really bother me to hear DD use those – and at her age she’s picking up so much” or something like that.

  7. @sueinithaca – What that mom said to her crying son? Made me tear up. Of course, I’ve got crazy pregnancy hormones which make me cry pretty easily. But how could someone say something like that to their child?Or any of the other things people say?
    Maybe I shouldn’t read any more comments today. I’m in a weird emotional place (see “crazy pregnancy hormones” sentence above).

  8. I think your children will meet all kinds of people in the world, with many different standards – about many things. As others have mentioned, the kids will, for the most part, internalize what goes on in _your family_ – it doesn’t take very long for kids to figure out who their pack is and what the pack behavioral standards are. Truly.When I was a kid, there was one friend whose Mom was just a total loser. She made me cringe and she made me sad. After I had kids of my own and thought back to what her life might have been like, I developed some compassion for her, but back then I just knew she was not doing it right for her kids (yelling at them, name-calling, threatening and not following through, ignoring their needs to suit her own.) It made her someone I knew I didn’t want to grow up to be. So it gave me something to push against – if I caught myself thinking “Sheesh! I sound like Elliott’s and Keith’s Mom (names changed to proptect the innocent) that would stop me right in my tracks, and I would try to move back to being the Mom my Mom taught me to be by example. If your children see you modelling kindness to the other Mom’s kids and patience, compassion and generosity to their (possibly stressed to the max) Mom, I think this can be a real positive win-win-win-win situation for you, your boys, the other Mom and her kids.
    I would draw the line at actual abuse, but this does not seem to even wander by that territory.

  9. When I read the line about name calling, I started to think about myself. Do I call my son names? Now, I want honesty. Is it name calling to tell your son he is being pokey? Being pokey. But sometimes I say he is pokey. There’s a big difference there to me, and now I think maybe sometimes, I say he “is” instead of he “is being”. I’m careful to say “good job” instead of “good boy” and I tell him he’s a good boy who sometimes does naughty things. Is calling him pokey wrong?

  10. My mom spoke to my like this as a child. I remember watching all the adults around us cringe. I couldn’t tell if they were cringing over my behavior (I was a very compliant child) or my mother’s behavior. When I was a little bit older, the reactions gave me some sense that what was happening to me wasn’t right, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I wondered why nobody intervened.My grandmother would change her flight and leave our house early, because she was crying all the time. I didn’t know why until I was 14. My aunts are furious with themselves for not intervening, even though they wanted to, because they didn’t know that the verbal turned physical at home and my father wasn’t forthcoming.
    Mostly I felt isolated. If an adult had offered me kindness instead of horrified pity, it would have gone a long way to helping me re-set my beliefs about what was happening.

  11. @SarcistiCarrie Your comment has made me think. I do this as well, and even with the same words: You are being pokey. I’m wondering if my children (2.5 and 4.5) grasp the difference between “is” and “is being,” or is it too subtle for them to understand yet? The difference is hugely obvious to us, but to a preschooler? Perhaps I’ll try to focus more on the behavior I *want* instead of the behavior I’m getting. For example, “I need you to put your coat on faster” instead of “You are being pokey.”

  12. This is such a good question. People have such different styles of parenting from the beginning on through adulthood. I walk a fine line between believing that people do the best they can, that children & parents are somehow meant to be together to learn certain lessons, etc, etc…karma, fate, you name it… And then I just think, hey, that’s child abuse. I talk with a friend who parents a lot like I do all the time about when/if to intervene. We see one nanny at the park who is awful to her charge but the mom doesn’t want to know… or people talking about locking a three year old in a room during nap time when they won’t fall asleep… I think you can easily end a friendship over things like this — so is it worth being kind and loving and respectful to the children all of the time, making a special effort to give them love & acceptance so that your son sees that as well and so that the girls know that there are different ways to be? I remember as a child wishing so much that an adult would step in when other children were being mean and abusive. My parents weren’t mean & abusive but I do remember looking around when the children were wondering why no one was stepping in. It is so hard to parent 24 hrs a day well. I often feel like I have never ending patience, calm, quiet, respectful loving until that one moment when I don’t! and I yell or i say a mean thing about how angry i am or how angry the baby has made me, and its ugly — to a two year old! If someone witnessed these things they’d surely think I was an awful abusive mother. So it is easy to judge from the outside, support seems like the best offer. Offer to help with the kids, offer to talk about how hard it can, talk about times that you have lost your patience… unless it gets to be too much and then jump ship to save yourself.

  13. @SarcastiCarrie, re: name-calling, I think in that instance (pokey) it depends entirely on tone. (Joking vs ridiculing, etc.) It sounds like you’re thoughtful and careful about what you say to your son so I’m guessing it’s not a big deal. But, there are some people who are *very* careful about name calling (I remember a discussion here about not saying “silly mommy”, even in jest) so people’s opinions on this will vary.To give you my own experience, the one time I remember actually name-calling my son I knew it was wrong the minute it came out of my mouth. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but he was about 5 years old and I told him not to be such a wimp. Isn’t that awful?! I was mortified. But the best thing? He totally called me on it. He said, “Mama, that’s name-calling and it’s not nice. You shouldn’t talk to people that way.” He was really shocked and hurt that I’d said it. I profusely apologized and it was okay.
    So, anyway, all that is to say that I think you’d know if you were screwing it up. If I jokingly call my son “mr. pokey-pants” or say “hurry up, pokey!” (I’ve done both) his response is much different (he smiles) and we both laugh. To me, this feels completely different from the instance that I know was true name-calling.
    Hope that helps!

  14. @MrsHaley–absolutely tell the dad you do not use that language in your house. Seriously, “gay” is not an insult. We are, obviously, very, very firm on that. I feel the same about “queer” since what dad probably means is “gay.” And retard? Really?! Who thinks that’s still appropriate? Lots of people, obviously, but why? Not that I envy you the task of speaking up since I HATE confrontation.It cracks me up that “following through with discipline” and “making eye contact” are a namebrand style of parenting. Really? SuperNanny came up with that? Man, I should trademark something like “pay attention when your children are talking” and make millions.
    Other than that, I have no advice. Although I do think the mom sounds overwhelmed and tired, so seeing if you can help her wouldn’t hurt.

  15. As a babysitter, I deal with this rather a lot. I have a general rule that I won’t babysit for families where the parenting style so clashes with my own sense about what’s best for kids that it makes me really uncomfortable–and in fact recently ended a long-term relationship I had with a family (we’d been on vacation together, even) because the mother was coming home and just screaming at her girls (3 and 5) about how they had to clean up–this, despite the fact that the house was VERY clean. It was incredibly stressful and she just generally could be quite mean to her girls–the last straw for me was when her 3 year old told me that because she was having accidents (doubtless due to her mother YELLING all the time) the mother had literally cut up her pacifiers. That is just mean.But I think it is always a fine line between supporting the kids and ending a relationship because you cant stand to watch. This is interesting thread to read! I think that as a babysitter I dont have the kind of authority to say “well, this behavior is totally normal for 3 &5 year olds…” and be listened to: lots of parents ask for my advice because I’ve been doing this for a long time, but this particular mother is pretty arrogant and convinced she is an excellent mother and all the yelling is just fine. So…frustrating!
    It’s interesting to read the other comments because all of these things are not abusive in the traditional, let’s call child protective services sense. But I think that a pattern of kids being regularly bullied by their parents is just as harmful–yet something that is mostly considered “OK” or not worthy of intervention.
    Which isn’t to say that good parents don’t have bad moments and say mean things–that’s totally understandable–but I think what other commenters and OP are describing is a pattern, and a pattern is dangerous.

  16. Apparently, I can’t stay away today. I have a couple of thoughts I wanted to mention.I wanted to be sure we all keep in mind that verbal abuse and emotional abuse is extremely damaging (as a few have indicated). It doesn’t even have to turn into physical abuse to leave lasting scars on these children. Granted, you can’t know from the outside what is really going on in the moment, but I think it’s worth looking out for, finding a way to gently point out or provide a counterbalance for the child. I wish I knew how, but others have had some good suggestions.
    @SarcistiCarrie and jlg – I think when using a word like “pokie” or “nudge” (pronounced “noodge”) (as my brother and his wife used to say to their oldest) a lot has to do with the tone you use. I personally have no problem with those words when you use it in a fun playful, even slightly exasperated way. But if the tone is mean and hurtful, then the words are going to sound that way. I do think jlg makes a great point in that we (totally including myself) should concentrate on the behavoir we want. But in my opinion, pookie and nudge aren’t like calling your child a brat or ugly, especially if you aren’t using a tone that would make someone cry.

  17. Re Anon this time-Yep, I too feel like I’m a great parent until the moment when I’m not. But don’t we all??
    I just found out that our neighbors can hear our baby monitor! DD is 4, but we still keep it on. 24-7. So they had been hearing Lots! That really made me stop and think. If someone heard only a bad outburst, or frustration at getting dd dressed in a hurry, etc they would think I am always a grouch.
    Crazy thing is, I make a real effort to watch what I say all the time now. Even tho we now turn off the monitor except when dd is sleeping.
    So, maybe the mom speaks out of frustration, without really thinking about what she says. And if you call her on it a bit, she will realize it and watch what she says to her girls.

  18. @caramama – I was HORRIFIED. I think the little guy was slightly under two at the time. What a terrible thing to say to someone, especially a young child. We started putting distance at the point, but ended up totally stepping back once the boy started acting like that to my daughter (about 2.5). It still makes me want to cry.

  19. @Brooke – Have you watched Super Nanny? There are seriously a lot of parents for whom her really basic ideas are big news. seriously. It’s crazy.@MrsSomeone – with the kids on the play set – Pull that dad aside and say that you don’t like that language and don’t want your child to pick it up. That’s outrageous. And you don’t need to let it happen at your own home.
    To the original post… I agree with someone above… When she snaps at the kids, I’d just say ‘Gosh Sally, you sound stressed out, did you have a bad day? Is there anything I can do for you?’ To sort of call attention to the fact that she’s being mean without really saying it right there.
    It’s a shame we don’t feel like we can step in and really help kids who are being bullied by parents.

  20. @sueinithaca – In ITHACA? I thought we were all better than everyone else here…:-)I’ve had this same situation several years ago.(different town/state). We ended up putting quite a bit of distance between us and the neighbors involved. But at the same time we increased attention away from the neighborhood, so my son at least didn’t feel a loss of friendship, and we as parents didn’t lose our social outlet. I am glad we did this as those neighbors eventually divorced and moved and we still had plenty of other folks to hang out with.
    Whenever I’ve wondered if I’m being over-zealous in protecting my kids it’s always worked out that I did the right thing. If I let things slide, eg, let my son hang with with what I deem to be the wrong crowd, then it always bites me in the bum. Generally, follow your instinct on this – and that’s not to say it’s easy, it isn’t, but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted being too “anal” in these matters.

  21. I don’t have any ideas on this one. Not sure why I’m even commenting really. Could be because I’m mainly a coward IRL who clings desperately to the etiquette liferaft when it comes to these situations where I have no clue what to say in the moment. Situations that highlight the major stylistic differences that exist out there in the parenting trenches which at first glance do not seem to directly involve me & mine, although the emotional effect on us is palpable. Truth be told, if this were our neighborhood, we’d probably just drift away from the family, privately judge them, and worry silently about their kids. But that’s not the moral, kind, or proactive thing to do, is it? How odd that if it were more severe abuse or neglect, the right path would be obvious – calling DCFS would be a no-brainer, right? – but this grey area here is somehow so complicated. What a situation. I hope someone who has successfully intervened with folks like this can impart some wisdom & be a role model for us.

  22. I’ve had some luck with trying to turn the conversation in a way where I can mention a parenting book I like and talk about what it suggests for certain situations.But oh, this is a hard situation. My heart breaks for some of the kids I see.

  23. This is a very interesting discussion. My son is 10 months old and we can already tell that he’s an emotionally responsive child. (I would say ‘sensitive’ but I don’t mean it in any kind of pejorative sense.) A few weeks ago he bashed his Dad in the face and it hurt and his Dad said “Ow! No hitting!” with a bit of a tone – not even yelling – and my son just burst into tears. He’s reacted similarly when I’ve had to say “no biting” when he nurses. He’s clearly very aware of when we are unhappy with him about something and finds it upsetting.On the one hand, I appreciate that he’s not indifferent or defiant (altho, can a 10-month-old be defiant?) and is sensitive to our moods. On the other, I sometimes wonder if we’ve been too mellow with him. I don’t think we’ve ever argued in front of him and there’s no yelling our house and so on. He does go to daycare, so he gets plenty of alternate (although still caring and patient) models. One time one of his teachers told him he had to share a toy – she admitted she may have had a tone, too – and he just started wailing. She and I both think it was more about her tone than about having to share!
    The other day we were at a playgroup and a little girl was next to him and her mom thought she was getting ready to bite him (I didn’t see this.) So she immediately came over to the girl and said: “NO BITING!” in a loud voice. It scared my son and.. once again.. wailing. He’s pretty-easily consoled in such circumstances, but he’s *clearly* very attuned to other people’s tones/anger/etc.
    Do you all have any tips for how best to look out for him? I’m not really too worried and he seems reasonably resilient (a snuggle and some talking to him and he’s usually fine unless he’s also over-tired), but I am mindful that he may be a bit more sensitive to adult behaviors and moods than some others.
    And, of course, by next month it could all be different! But I just have a feeling he’s going to be a kid, like I was, who really hates it when people are angry with him (or near him).
    Don’t meant to hijack the conversation, but it got me thinking…

  24. I have two things on this topic (it’s a hot one for me, obviously).First, my SIL is just MEAN to her daughter. Her daughter is a handful – but it’s hard for me to be around her, and that is sad, because our childern are 6 week apart in age. At the same time, she is pretty much mean and scarcastic to everyone – so would I expect her to act differently to her child?
    On my street, there is a short (like the wife is under 5 feet tall, and the husband is 5’7″) couple, and they have a son. They are always talking about how ‘short’ and ‘fat’ he is… and wishing he wasn’t in the 3% for height. At first my friends and I would just talk about it when she wasn’t there – because I’m sure it is worriesome to think that your child is short… he will probably be teased… but JESUS. Get over it! What did you expect you would create when 2 little people breed? They have him drinking skim milk at age 2 and eating food with spelenda in it because he is too chubby. AT TWO YEARS OLD.
    I’ve already decided to limit my time with the parents, but I’m only 3 houses away – so as the son (and daughter now – yes they had a second child!!!) get older – I want to be the ‘cool’ neighbor that they come to visit… and I will try to be encoraging and all that. I just feel so bad for him.
    To get back to the question – I did say something to her. Once jokingly, I said that he may be short – but look at his parents! And I acted totally SHOCKED when she said she makes his muffins with spelnda (this was a planned reaction) but she maybe realized that it was strange to be feeding diet food to a 2 year old.

  25. @Cece, the thing I would worry about is, maybe there’s a good reason for the odd diet. One of my kids has had to eat very, very strangely because of a chronic disease, and in this case, maybe the pediatrican has spoken to the parents about the child’s growth and is concerned about the weight. It’s really hard when the doctor tells you you have to follow some bizzah routine and then everyone on the street judges you for it. In our case it was high fat/no fiber and OMG the times I had people get on my case because of what she was eating. Especially during the time she was on a v high dose of steroids and gained weight (her illness generally kept her very underweight), and here was this child being fed, I dunno, fries by her stupid, neglectful parents. It hurt like hell. I would just mutter “doctor’s orders” and try to not feel bad, and hope the child didn’t feel bad, but we did feel bad.I’m guessing it’s not the case here, but OTOH feeding a child splenda doesn’t rank up there with beating them or selling them for drugs, either. I’d probably call it a preference rather than a good or bad parenting decision.

  26. This is such a tough question. I’m not sure how to handle the parent in this situation.What I can tell you that I was the child of a verbally (and physically) abusive parent. I mainly bring this up to illustrate that those children will have a difficult childhood and feel pretty crappy about themselves sometimes, HOWEVER your children come first and most likely those kids will be okay too. Kids are resilient and we figure it out pretty quickly (say around school age) that our mom’s are whacked out and that’s not how its supposed to be.
    We weren’t exposed to outside families much as young children b/c my parents didn’t have many friends (probably contributing to my mom’s whacked out behavior). So I really can’t speak to how other parents made us feel but I would say that if another parent had corrected my mom outright, then it would have probably embarrassed her and made her react negatively to us later. Blaming us for the whole event. IF you do feel as if you should say something, definitely keep it light and make sure it sounds as if you’re venting or talking about another person, but not THAT person. You don’t want retaliation towards the child later.
    The commenter that mentioned her “friend” who had the crying son in front of the mirror repeating bad things about himself brought back so many memories for me. I’d think we’d all agree that’s abuse. In my head that’s reportable abuse even though I’m sure nothing would really come of it b/c there weren’t bruises. That’s a twisted situation and I guarantee you that someone who would want to emotionally hurt their child like that, has probably physically hurt their child too (at least in my own personal experience).

  27. @Medley – Google “highly sensitive child”. Our son (now 3-1/2) is highly sensitive, and had many of the same reactions your child does. It’s not a negative thing at all, but I do think it changes the way you parent, as you’ve already experienced…

  28. I had my first encounter with this kind of situation recently. My son (11 mo) and I were at a playground with other similarly aged babies. They were all playing with toys and one little girl took a ball from a little boy (which they do all the time, of course, because they have no sense of space/ other people existing) and her father gave it back to the little, saying “I’m sorry my daughter is so rude,” in a couple of iterations. It wasn’t cruel, but I thought, she’s 12 mo old! She’s not rude, she’s a toddler! It makes me so sad when parents label behavior from such a young age – and it starts so young.. . The ‘bad’ baby , etc.Though the other day I was trying to feed my son and he was being really difficult. I started caroling to him in this very soft, gentle, sing-song-y voice “You’re being a stinker today!” he didn’t understand the word and my tone didn’t convey displeasure. It actually helped me to prevent from responding to him with impatience or anger. At the same time, I’m very aware that maybe I shouldn’t use words like that now that he’s getting older.
    The story about the “ugly” little boy makes me cry, too. That’s one of the saddest things I’ve heard in a long time.

  29. Not the OP, but I’d like to thank all of you for the great conversation today (yesterday, too, actually). As we were out playing in the neighborhood on this finally-beautiful morning, it made me more sensitive to what others were saying, how I was responding, and even what was coming out of my own mouth without much thought. The last two days have been really, really helpful for me – so thanks, everyone!

  30. Moxie – I think this is a great topic, and very important. I love that so many folks here are thinking of ways to help all of the little ones, that makes me tear up.As an adult survivor of psychological abuse, I can say that I often wonder why no one stepped in to help me out, and I wonder how my life might have been better had someone, anyone, stepped up, even once. I know it seems so difficult and awkward, but think about the helpless child and how difficult life is for him or her; you could really change the child’s life. If you can’t figure out what to say to the parent, at least reach out the child, let them know you know in any way you can: a hug or a smile, anything. That is such a lonely world, and you have the power to help the child more than you think.

  31. This is an interesting discussion.I guess I worry more about something that seems like a pattern than something that seems like a one-off loss of parental temper. We all lose our cool sometimes and don’t react how we would when we are being our best parenting selves. That to me is not something I would even try to comment on to the other parent (unless I knew him/her well and saw it happen a lot).
    The situation that is harder is when I see a style of discipline or interaction that is clearly a pattern, and seems likely to be harmful to the child. Those are the situations that stick with me, where I have occasionally tried to say something.
    Another thing I have done is identified a local charity that works with at-risk families and teaches parenting skills. I donate to them every year. I figure that is a way of trying to reduce the number of hurt children in the world.
    @MrsHaley- I feel your pain. I had to have a discussion with a friend about using gay/queer in a derogatory manner in front of my daughter. It wasn’t an easy one to initiate, but it went well. I framed it as “we’re trying to raise our daughter not to stereotype”. In my friend’s case, he had just never thought of those words in that way- they are pretty ingrained in the way men of a certain generation talk. My friend readily agreed to watch what he said around us. Of course, he doesn’t actually having an anti-gay prejudice. Also, he doesn’t have kids, so there was no implied “you’re raising your kid to stereotype.” I imagine that if either of those things weren’t true, the discussion would have been even harder to have.

  32. I live in a very economically and ethnically diverse urban neighborhood and don’t have a car. Therefore, my 29 m.o. has been exposed to almost every parenting style under the sun on playgrounds and on transit. Some of it is very, very difficult for me to listen to–swearing at and threatening small children, slapping and shoving, nasty name-calling. We have to buy groceries, so there is no way to avoid some of this, and saying something to the other parents is just not an option 99% of the time. But even though my daughter is very, very sensitive to my tone of voice, she screens almost all of this out. I’ve been teaching her words like cranky, angry, grumpy, frustrated, along with assuring her that mamas always love their babies even when they are cranky, etc., and this seems to help her explain other people’s behavior on the occasions she does notice it.Of course, such an approach is of no help to the child on the receiving end of the unpleasant parental behavior. For that, I have no idea what to do.

  33. This is just my view – there is a huge difference in saying your child IS ugly and their behavior is “ugly” yet I know here in the South we tend to use that word for misbehavior. I tend to use it as a replacement for “bad” – such as, if my 21 month old is hitting me in frustration, I might say “No! Hitting is ugly, we don’t hit Mama!” I’ve never thought it’s something I shouldn’t say, and of course I would not say “You are ugly.” I don’t even THINK of it like that, it’s definitely synonymous for unacceptable behavior. But maybe I should come up with some other term? I also say hitting or biting is “not sweet,” so there you go. It’s so weird how these things could hurt their feelings later – I remember my mom used to call my brother and I “heathens” and when I found out what that really meant, it hurt my feelings! But not in a drastic, devastating way.As to the original poster, I would definitely try to show that mom some kindness and take the pressure off, at least until you can figure out if this is end-of-the-day stress stuff, or just her normal mode of operation.

  34. @Sam- I think there is a very big difference between what you describe and the situation SueinIthaca described. Hitting IS ugly behavior. That 2 year old was NOT ugly because he was crying. Crying is a normal emotional response.I think it is all in the tone and the intent. The words are just words, and kids will learn what they mean in the specific cultural context in which they are growing up. Personally, what horrified me about SueinIthaca’s story was the idea that someone would punish or shame a 2 year old for crying.

  35. i’m reading this with a heavy heart b/c I’m totally afraid I have become this mother. well, actually, more the mother with the scary voice who doesn’t seem to make an impression on her child.I keep trying to praise but I have such a hard time, it feels dorky and awkward. Can I really not know how to offer praise? I know I came from a home with psychological abuse issues but I can’t focus on them at all or specifically to work through them.

  36. @anontoday- Lots of people have a hard time offering praise. In fact, how to do it is one of the things they teach in management training. Managers often have trouble praising their employees for the same reasons you mention. One technique they teach is to start by praising specific actions. “You did a good job sharing that toy!”, rather than just “You’re good at sharing!”Most people find that praising a specific accomplishment feels less awkward. And on the flip side, most people more readily believe praise when it is specific. I think someone here (Hedra?) has posted on the research showing that the same is true for children.

  37. This is a wonderful discussion. I agree that maybe the OP can ask – something simple after witnessing the yelling, “Oh, tough day?” but I am concerned that this might convey approval, as in “you had a hard day, so of course that justifies yelling at your children.”This is a hard topic for me… I just publicly YELLED at my children on the playground. Now that the weather is getting so nice, we are starting to play outside – like a million other kids. We live in a big city, and my boys followed two older children out of the playground to a water fountain nearby. I didn’t see them leave, looked for them, couldn’t find them, and when I finally did OUTSIDE the playground I freaked.
    For me, the yelling at my children was somewhat misdirected at the older children (7 or 8 years) that had led my own kids, who are 3 and 4, out of the playground. And it was scary to me. It only took a second, and who else would they follow? On one side of the playground is the ocean, and the other side, a truck route. And the older children didn’t understand the big deal (and neither did the other mom, and I had never met any of them before) and I ended up yelling “You are THREE YEARS OLD, and you NEVER LEAVE MOMMY!!”
    ๐Ÿ™ I am sad now, I don’t want to be a yeller. It was bad enough that my friend’s son retreated to his stroller – I scared him too. But it was so scary and visceral to have my kids be there one second, and GONE the next – not being able to find them. So part of me wants to put the fear of God into my kids – we live in the city and they just CAN’T wander away from me. But I don’t ever want to hurt them verbally. {sigh}
    Thank you for giving me a nice safe forum to examine my own parenting, in a constructive and reflective way. Parenting is so rewarding, but so hard some days.

  38. I think pretty much anyone can on occasion loose their marbles with the yelling when it comes to young kids. If it’s a pattern, then that person probably needs some kind of support.The long and short of this particular scenario though, as I see it, would be this:
    1) The writers child is not likely to be long-term negatively impacted by this other mother’s behaviour. His influence at home is much more important in his development.
    2) I’m not getting the “abuse” vibe here, which for me would mean the most I could justify saying to the mom is “Wow, you sound really upset about X. My kids sometimes do that too. It’s fustrating, but it’s still pretty normal unfortunately.”
    I think especially in public, we sometimes fall victim to having unrealistic expectations of our kids behaviour. It is both helpful and startling sometimes to have a chance to observe my kids with their peers in larger groups… school trips, going to the pool or the park etc. because then when my kids are acting like monkeys hepped up on sugar and caffiene, I can see that “Hey, so is every other kid here. What a relief!”
    I would hope that most people reading and writing here has (probably more than once) said something unkind or disrespectful to their child. If you haven’t, well then my hats off to you!

  39. @Sam – I believe in the power of words and how they are used (my bachelor’s and master’s degree are in the area of words). Calling behavior ugly? That’s the same to me as calling a behavoir bad or wrong, especially given the social/culture context of how that word is used (my inlaws use the word the same way). Calling a child ugly? Saying, “See how ugly you look? Only ugly boys cry.” to your 2 year old? That is just wrong. That is hurtful and ugly behavoir for the mom to have. The way you use the word sounds fine to me and I hear it used that way in general around where my inlaws live. But the mom that Sueinithica described? That is just not okay. (I won’t even add “to me” to this last statement. It’s not okay period.)@Redheaded Wonder – Yelling over something like that? Totally understandable (to most people). 3 and 4 is not old enough for kids to wander off by themselves. That would scare the bejeezus out of me! Yelling at your kids because you were freaked out and because they need to understand the seriousness of the situation seems to be a perfectly normal reaction to me.
    I remember when I was going through PPD and I was yelling more than I wanted to (my daughter was under a year, and it wasn’t always at her, just yelling in general when I was overwhelmed), my therapist said it was okay to yell sometimes. She said that the kids would grow up and shrug and say, “Sometimes Mommy yells.” But I don’t want to be a yeller, so it’s something I am working on. My dad sometimes yelled, and I didn’t like it, so I don’t want to to be a mom who sometimes yells. Except in really serious situations, like you described above.

  40. I’m usually a lurker here and have found this site to be such a supportive community of fellow parents. However, I feel compelled to post because I felt very hurt by @anothererin’s comments. I know she probably didn’t mean the comment to come across like this, but to me it seemed to insinuate that culturally different (from the white middleclass) parenting styles are more likely to be abusive. I’m sure Another Erin didn’t mean it like this. But I want to point out that it can be very easy to see a White Middle Class mother’s struggle with her temper as an issue linked to her being overworked, tired, etc. And it can be easy to deny women of color and working class mom’s the same benefit of the doubt. I just want to call our attention to this, because like I said, I’ve otherwise found this to be such a supportive site, but today unfortunately I felt alienated from it. I thought it was something worth addressing as a community. And i hope I’ve put this forward with as much compassion, love, and understanding as possible, because these things can be tough to say

  41. @AmeliaV I really appreciated your post and I bet other moms will as well. I think you wrote a very compassionate response to something that did deserve mention. After reading you, I went back to @anothererin and saw that she might be implying that non-white or working class moms yell more and possibly are “worse” parents. Like you, I’m sure she didn’t mean to imply this.But you raise a really important point. Class and race affect the way we view mothers and parenting generally. We don’t like to talk about it, but it’s there. I’m very grateful to you for calling this to my attention so I can be more careful about my own unconscious biases creeping into my observations and judgments. I hope you don’t feel alienated from the site for long. Your words had a big impact on me today.

  42. Interesting conversation here. I tend to think you can’t really control what goes on at home, so the best we can do as parents is to teach our children respect for others and empathy and protect them as much as possible from the things we have control over outside the home. I believe anything that you see that might scare a child outside in the playground should be verbalised and discussed at home so if your child is startled by a mother who name calls and/or is overly physcial to or even yells a lot at her child it should be seen as a opportunity for some emotional coaching.I have seen a lot of behaviour (parents’) that I do not particularly like at the playground. Usually swearing in front of children or calling a child ‘stupid/imbecile’. Fortunatley as my children and I speak a different language to the one used at the playground we can talk about the behaviour immediately without being understood. Being able to discuss it (my kids are 2.25 and 4.25)the moment it happens seems to lessen the effect.
    As a final note, I am one of the more ‘vocal’ parents at the playground. With two kids running around the playground where there are big kids violently kicking balls or riding bikes at top speed thru the play area, I’d rather come off as being the crazy foreign woman yelling who knows what at her children, than have my children mowed down by one of the older boys on their bikes.

  43. Really late to the discussion, but.. I guess my first line intervention is to model something different with the child. When I encounter this, more often with strangers, I tend to engage the child first, then the parent. So for example waiting for my daughters gymnastics class to finish I watched a mom way overreact to her little one’s obsession with playing with the drinking fountain. I caught the girls eye and said something about how much fun water can be/could see how much she was interested in it. That produced a smile, and the behavior stopped. The mom was looking at me tentatively so I made some casual positive comments about how curious her child was and blah blah blah about the age and experimenting, great for the sense of discovery, sometimes crazy making for moms, etc. Who knows if it made a lasting impression or not..I think parents often are reacting out of their own childhood experience of less than stellar parenting moments, are generally overstressed and thus over-reactive, and sometimes rather uninformed about developmental issues which makes contextualizing the behavior and the response tough.
    Its more challenging to confront maybe if there is an established relationship with the adult…. I have recommended excellent books in an “Oh my gosh, when I was struggling with this I found ABC so helpful to read!” and I think there are neutral ways to raise the issue via questions which can feel less threatening then statements. And more recently I sometimes initiate a story out of the blue about my own daughter who told we once sometime this past year(when she was 3) “We should have more rules!” Really? Like what? She listed some school rules and we had a nice chat about THE House Rule “Safe, Respectful, Kind” (I will be eternally grateful to Hedra for this). Then I blab on about how handy having a short hand requirement of the family has been when address the 1001 ways in which behavior and words bump up against these principles. Parents are often intrigued. It at least gets them to pause and consider, if only for a moment.

  44. @ Redheaded – I’ve heard our pediatrician mention that we shouldn’t be yelling specifically because we should be “saving” our yelling voices for situations just like the one you described. Like, in certain very dangerous situations, yelling is appropriate. He described it like the boy who cried wolf, if you yell about everyday things, how will they know when you really mean it. He said that if they start running away from you in a parking lot, and you trot out your very-rarely-used yelling voice, they’ll stop immediately because they know you mean it. I’d think that leaving the park unsupervised qualifies under that sort of thinking.

  45. This post reminds me of a Dear Abby quote I once read:Take a jar of nails and hammer them into a wooden fence. Imagine that each and every nail is a cruel or unkind word. Now remove each nail one by one, apologizing each time you do. When you are done, stand back and look at the fence. The nails are gone, but the holes remain. Cruel words can leave wounds that no amount of apology can fully erase. — Dear Abby
    Honestly, when I see someone behaving consistently towards a child so poorly I wonder what happens behind the privacy of closed doors.

  46. Sounds to me like the mom could easily be battling depression. You have no idea what it is like to try to battle that and raise children. I think the last thing this mom needs is a neighbor who turns away.

  47. Ah, namecalling. Our son occasionally gets the same ones as the cat:Snortibus McSnotface
    Mr. Sneakypants
    and, occasionally, Chocomonkey.
    I’m pretty sure it’s ok, since he’s usually giggling hysterically from the tickling at the time… ;-}

  48. I am cheating, have only read half of the comments. But I must add my two cents. I want to ask the verbally abusive parent — did someone talk to you that way when you were 3 (or 5 or whatever age)? Did they use words like that to you? I wonder if that would give them insight. I know there’s no magic key when confronting behavior. But that’s what I would try.

  49. Good Day. Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.I am from Myanmar and also now teach English, please tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “In firms where there is inaccurate selection order, there has been likened secret leaving person trainers with animal or loss, gland lashes, or conditioning.”
    Best regards ;), Astera.

  50. I have triplets. It was imnaotrpt to me to BF them. It was also very imnaotrpt to me to keep them on a schedule. In order to keep the schedule, I felt I needed to know exactly how much food they were getting. This ment that in order to feed my babes breast milk, I needed to pump. I did and my babes got breastmilk for 7 months. The first 6 weeks I faithfully pumped every 3 hours. I produced a ton and they ate so little (being preemies). I was able to get so much freezer stock that my freezer only held breast milk and I had the top 1/3 of my chest freezer (no pun intended!lol) full, too. After 6 weeks I started to gradually slow down how often I pumped (It was getting too busy to keep the every 3 hour schedule) I would use the fresh milk and some of the freezer stock if needed. I did this until I was only pumping before bed. I was able to go 7 months. I wish I could have gone the whole 1st year. (So does our pocket book yozah is formula expensive!!!!!) I dearly missed the bonding that comes with bf your babies. (I have 2 older children that I bf for 1 year each) But, it was nice to escape and be alone to pump for 15 minutes every so often.

  51. I had a Medela Pump In Style and it worked great for puipmng at work. I do have my own office with a door, so I didn’t have any privacy issues that some women face. There were times I was busy or just didn’t feel like puipmng, but I did it anyway so that there would be enough milk for the next day. I would just say stick with it. Definately get an electric pump. A Medela or even something better. It helps to be able to do both sides at once.

  52. I also voted 12-18 months. My midlde child weaned herself during my pregnancy with my youngest, at 12 months, but I’m sure she would still be nursing today if my milk hadn’t gone away then. I certainly would have let her wean herself. My youngest I didn’t vote on, she’s 8 months old and still nursing as her primary food source. No stopping anytime soon.Emily Jonesโ€™s last blog post..

  53. Hi I’m just popping over from FYBF and the title of your post relaly caught my attention. Almost 3 years (July 9th)ago I gave birth to a beautiful stillborn baby boy. It was a relaly hard time but I always managed to remember that it could have been worse. I could have held that baby alive and well and gotten to know him and then lost him. Some people might not agree but I tried to count my blessings even in the darkest moments. My heart goes out to your friend who looked at that beautiful girl and already imagined her first day at school and her first dance class – so sad and unfair.Much love to you and your brood – you’re a brave woman.

  54. I have faced many challenges boerfe in my life – as a young teen I had what you might call difficult adolesence, and I guess that set my pace of ” this is my life and I will live it”. And I think that tenacity helped me rise above the most challeging time in my life.It During a very dark time when my second child was born, my dad had passed away, my darling mum disappeared through grief, I was alone with 2 babies and affected with PND, there was no help but a lot of unhelpful criticism ….things were so dark I came to a time when I just wanted to give up everything, walk away and hope my flame of life would just extinguish…Fortunately this story is part of my recovery story. I now work in recovery in as a professional (I am a social worker). Live is really a special gift and the idea of my boys having to feel let down by there own mother, feeling pain in their hearts during the course of their lives. I had too many things to tell them too. Love is such a healer – so from the day I focussed on little things such as chubby hands patting me, giggles, watching little faces try new foods etc….loving my boys and adoring my respsonsibility to them…

  55. I am a breastfeeding mhteor and I think you should be proud of it. BUT, I don’t want to see your boobs on FB, baby attached or not. Child birth is also a natural act but the PLEASE don’t post those on FB either. People should not have to see these photos popping up in their newsfeed with no warning. Keep these photos in a home album to share with people who really want to see them.

  56. I may not agree with someone fneideg their kid sugary drinks or unhealthy processed food a majority of the time but it is still their right to feed their kid in the manner they choose. It is a mother’s right, a parents decision to breastfeed or not and to be told to supplement is just plain wrong. I had a similar situation with my first child in the state of Virginia and I ended up stressed and not producing enough and had to use formula. I felt cheated and guilty for a long time and it made me angry at my employer. I left a year later and that was just one of the reasons at the top of the list. -Vicky, The Mummy Chronicles

  57. Parents .All I see in this is hateful slndaer. Breastfeeding women need AS much support as possible and breastfeeding should be talked about its a normal thing. Nowadays people are not getting as much face to face time with each other a lot of moms I know have to stay at home and the only time they get to talk to people is on the phone or over Facebook so yeah they are going to post little happenings in their day its only to be expected. I hope most people would agree that they would rather read a funny little status about breastfeeding over a status were you can’t read most of the words because they are spelled wrong or some dumb punks attempt to act like a gangsta . The first one that you posted on here was sent around all of facebook hundreds of mothers had this as their status to promote awareness that YES breastfeeding in a public restroom is disgusting and no one would want to eat in there why should babies have to be breast-feed in there. The second one you posted many people (except you and a few a-holes it seems) thought that was INTERESTING! The third one seems to be a shout out to helpful family and friends as its easier to post a status on facebook then it is to call a bunch of people. Number four is just something humorous that happened to the poster and the people that commented seemed to have found it funny as well didn’t look like it was intended for you so get over yourself. Finally number 5 seems to just be an observation wasn’t disgusting or anything just her saying baby teeth are sharp and hurt. Overall this really just seems like a jealous little brat trying very hard to get some attention by putting others down to make themselves look better. Its rather pathetic if you ask me. So please STFU Parents find something other then slndaer to do with your life maybe something ACTUALLY useful and get over yourself and your little insecurities. Sincerely , A full time mother.

  58. It is so good for all concerned. I have loved brsaet feeding myson who had a great latch. He weaned at 13 months with a little prompting, but not much. We have both benefited greatly. I am also a public brsaet feeder. I don’t swing my boobs around willy nilly, but other people just need to get over it. However, even though I am a BIG proponent of it and will do it again with my next, I think no Mums should be vilified for not being able to for whatever reason. If it doesn’t work, your baby will be loved and nurtured by you just the same. Guilt is a wasted emotion in this arena.

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