The neighborhood cookout was going so well. Friends came over with food, drinks and plenty of children toting lawn games, Frisbees, soccer balls and a Nerf football. The grill is smokin' and it seems the entire neighborhood is drawn by the smell of your homemade barbecue sauce. Sweet.
After all have had their fill, the children are running all over the yard as parents relax and chat on the deck. The dark, looming clouds appear with little warning and flash-kaboom! An unpredicted thunderstorm has parents herding their little ones indoors. A quick headcount confirms that all are safely indoors.
As the adults settle down in the den and the kids find some indoor things to do, 4-year-old Bradley isn't done playing soccer. The first kick sails by your head and into the new bookcase. You look over at little Bradley's parents who smile and nod, like isn't he so cute. The second kick just misses a vase of flowers and squarely smacks your aquarium. The guppies, neon tetras and koi angelfish are not at all happy about this. Neither are you.
"Whoa, little fellow. Let's not kick the soccer ball inside, OK?" You look over at Bradley's parents for help. His dad smiles sheepishly and says, "Uh, we let him kick the ball in our house." Dad then shrugs his shoulders and without saying a word is communicating, sorry, but what's a parent to do? We don't want to confuse him.
It's not about having a confused child; it's about parents having teaching moments with their children. I have run into more than one parent who walks on eggshells in order to not "confuse" their child. There's nothing confusing about children learning that you can have different rules in different settings.
My wife and I didn't allow our girls to do just whatever in our own home as they were growing up. We were not tyrants, but did teach our girls not to jump on furniture, throw things inside, or just tear up our "stuff." Yes, some would say, "that means your possessions were more important to you than your children." That deduction is just as ridiculous as little Bradley becoming all confused if his dad had told him to stop kicking the soccer ball indoors.
However, you as parent set your own rules at home, and that of course is your business. What I am suggesting today is that you respect others when you take your kids out.
It may be the hotel pool, Aunt Edna's living room, or your niece's birthday party. The key is that parents need to teach their children to respect others' expectations when they are visiting. Life isn't always about what children want to do. If you don't teach this principle? It may very well be little Bradley's kindergarten teacher calling you the evening after his first day of school, and the tone of her voice may be your first clue that she hasn't had a good day.
Bryan Greeson is a nationally certified School Psychologist residing in Gastonia, NC.