Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How do you deal when your child annoys another kid (or worse)?

Looks like Max is playing nicely here, right? But what happened on Sunday at the pool is still haunting me.

We'd gone to the concession stand to get—you guessed it—chocolate ice-cream. As we walked back, Max spotted a little girl playing with his toy boat, dashed over and grabbed it. "Max, we don't grab, it's not nice," I said.

Well, Max got all riled up and went stomping around the kiddie pool. When he got to the area where this little girl—around three years old— was standing, he stomped very close to her. During Max's next lap around the pool, he reached out and hit her on the head. Not hard, and she didn't cry, but still.

I was horrified. Her dad grabbed her and protectively wrapped his arms around her, eyeing Max cautiously. Obviously, he needed to do that; if the situation were reversed, I would have shielded Max. But it hurt to see a parent having to protect his child from Max, my Max, who at the age of six seemingly should know better than to hit but who does not quite understand that yet.

Max is still figuring out how to interact with other kids. Earlier in the day, he had irked another boy because he was pretending to be a scary monster and roaring and chasing this kid, who got tired of being monster bait and started whining, "Stop, Max, stop." Max didn't get that the kid no longer found the game fun, and kept right on "AAAAAAARGH!"-ing him. He doesn't yet pick up on social cues or understand when other kids get frustrated. I've seen it happen before.

"I am so sorry," I said to this dad; I stopped short of saying "he has special needs." Sometimes, I just don't want to go there, you know? Afterward, though, I thought that maybe I should have explained. It's not always immediately obvious that Max is disabled because he is able to walk pretty well. That day, as he rambled about the pool, he must have seemed like your average bratty kid, making trouble.

What would you have done?


  1. Ugh. This is never fun and it is never easy.

    I "do" explain. I "pre-empt" when I can, too and I am not shy about it, because my oldest child can sometimes get a bit scary-loud, though we are working on that and he is getting better.

    I say "I am so sorry; Bubba is developmentally delayed, but he does know better--say you're sorry, Bubba." Of course, Bubba is a giant (relatively speaking) with the intellectual maturity of a preschooler and almost zero impulse control at times--when he's having a bad day, we're all having a bad day.

    You can't be shy, I don't think, about telling it like it is, apologizing, and getting your kid out of the line of fire while doing your best to try to discipline them/make them understand that what they did wasn't "cool" or acceptable to you--"enough" means "enough" now. At the same time, you want to assure the parent of little Susie or Fauntleroy that your kid isn't going to "kill" their kid.

    Usually, the "detailed speech" stops the "harrumphs" and the nasty looks/"you should keep a closer eye" complaints.

    It doesn't do any good to pretend that what happened between the children didn't happen, or to try to minimize it. It's really best to just get proactive, confront the reality, apologize, and explain, matter-of-factly, too, because people don't always "get it" without you telling them.

    It's not surprising that parents out with their kids don't like the idea of Max taking a swipe at a little girl, or Bubba pushing a little boy off the swing because he wants to use it, and unless we do explain, there are people who just don't SEE what to us is pretty obvious, and they think our kids are just brats or we are a bad/lazy/inattentive parent. See, they're focused on THEIR kids, which is natural, and not looking at ours.

    The only thing I can tell you is that the more you do it, the easier it gets. Hell, I can whip out that speech like I'm a politician, now. I'd rather they pity me a bit than be hating on my kids. And that is the trade-off, pretty much.

    It also helps if you have a little rat-fink tattletale who keeps his older brother in line. "You'd better not do that or I'm telling mama!" Sometimes, that stops the behavior before I even get close enough to cut my big troublemaker off at the pass.

    I can never say anything in just a few sentences, can I?

  2. This does sound so difficult, and I don't have any advice. I do know of a terrific and amazing blogger who I think you would really enjoy reading. Her blog is thismom.com -- she also writes over at hopefulparents under the name Kyra Andersen.

    Hope that helps!

  3. I agree with Felicia. My kids are all neurotypical and if they were the offended party in that type of circumstance it would help to know what the heck was going on. I can totally relate to the idea of a kid who is still learning the rules and knowing that the parent and child were doing their best with mixed results is something I can live with. Anyone whose toddler has thrown a huge fit in a store should be able to understand that sometimes it doesn't all go like we planned.

    I've also been in your shoes as the parent of the one who's out of control. I've got 4 kids. One is great with adults (since they're generally calm and patient and take time to listen) but sucks with kids his own age. He never quite knows what to say, what their body language means, how to react, and how to back out of things when he's starting to feel overwhelmed. He didn't even understand that he needed to avoid the things that drive him crazy. He's a teen now and still doesn't quite get it. But he's trying and he's making progress.

    Another of my kids was (until recently) just plain out of control. Last year her preschool teacher told me that we needed to start saying "No" to her every now and then, at least on a few things. But I swear I say no (and don't back down) all the freaking time. It's just that she has endless energy to throw a fit. Those humiliating tantrums that most kids throw? Hers last hours and up until about six months ago she had them several times a day. More of her waking hours were spent screaming than any other activity. She sometimes woke up screaming that way and you wouldn't even know why. After checking with her doctor to make sure there wasn't anything physically wrong, we just had to avoid taking her out where she would disturb others, buy lots of earplugs, and learn to pick our battles. And in time she started learning too.

    And yet another of my kids (raised exactly like her siblings) is the most socially adept person I've ever seen. She always has been, even as a toddler. Even with her crazy family.

    So I guess what I'm trying to say is that some of who are kids are is just that... who they are. We can't change who they are, we can just try to give them the right tools to deal with it. That's what you're trying to do with Max.

  4. Oops. Typo. It should read, "Some of who our kids are..."

    That's what I get for typing in the middle of the night.

    One other thing I wanted to add. I think it's perfectly acceptable to just say, "We're really working hard on this," and leave it at that. If you aren't comfortable discussing his disability (or you don't want to feel like you're offering it up as an excuse for something that shouldn't be excused) then you can still let the parent know that you're aware of the problem and are trying to fix it. For a lot of people, the offensive thing isn't just the misbehavior, it's that the family doesn't care. If you can't make the problems go away, you can at least let people know that you care and are trying.

  5. This is kind of a tough call. On one hand, a little explanation can be helpful. The dad might have been more understanding if he knew Max has special needs. On the other hand, what Max did was a pretty "typical" thing for kids to do. All kids, special needs or not, act up every now and then. I'm sure the little girl had purposefully annoyed another child at some point. Daniel is socially "typical" for his age, but he liked to needle certain kids in preschool when the mood struck him. His friends certainly took their turns with it, too.
    I really think Felicia's method of explaining the special needs and then correcting the child is a great one. That way, the other parent understands if the child is doing something a bit "atypical," yet the special needs are not seen as an excuse.

  6. Okay, maybe I am the odd one out here...but I just don't think that you need to explain anything. You should correct the behavior with Max, make him apologize and move on. Maybe it is because I have seen my children hit by other children that are older than Max and they were absolutely NOT an SN kid. It is typical behavior. And to me saying "Oh sorry, he is a SN kid" is no excuse for hitting. Regardless if he understands or not. Every kid needs to know that we have to be nice to everyone, and that hitting just isn't acceptable.
    Maybe I am nuts here...and I know that I have never actually met Max, but I feel through our emails and such for the past almost 7 years (can you believe it?!?!) that Max understands much more than he is given credit for. He knows what buttons to push on his sister, and he knows how to play his mother and father. I think he knows hitting just isn't nice. He may not have the impulse control, but he knows it isn't nice. And there is no excuse for that.

    All that said, I am not ragging on you or Max. I just think that excuses get brought out way too much when it comes to our kids behavior. I see it all the time in non SN kids...'Oh he is tired' or whatever other excuse parents come up with. Or those lovely parents that just sit back and let it all happen. They may gently tell their child that they shouldn't hit, but that is as far as it goes. They do NOTHING to stop it. Kids will be kids, but parents have the responsibility to correct the bad behavior, and as a whole I think we are failing. Too many parents make up excuses for behavior that just shouldn't be tolerated.

    Off my soapbox now...

  7. I really like how you handled it. This happens w. typical kids too. You didn't need to express why the behavior was going on, but addressed it with Max. Maybe I'd have tried to get my kid to apologize. But you handled it well. These things happen and it is good he is expressing himself and you can re-direct and help him learn to express in a better way. Don't stress about this. The monster thing, I can relate to as well. My son likes to be the monster who everyone chases. When the other kids don't like it anymore, depending on the ages, I will either suggest alternate activities or prompt the kid to say "I don't want to play that game anymore, X." We've got so much extra work to do sometimes with the kids but there are times that it is the same thing others deal with too. It's hard to separate out sometimes. Great job mommy! It is through these experiences that our kids learn and we do too.

  8. With Luke, I can't just say something like "no" (no what?) or "don't do that" (don't do what?). I try to make sure I kneel down to his level and tell him what the appropriate behavior is and what not to do. (At least this is my goal). I try to get him to "tell" me what he needs (angry, hungry, thirsty, etc.)

    In response to the comment about excuses, I read about this elsewhere and have really tried to watch how I respond and what I say. I really try to follow the saying "when autism speaks, it is time for mom to listen" -- or when Luke is hitting, running away, etc., it is time for mom to remove him from the situation.

    With Luke, one thing I have learned is that he holds on tight to the behaviors that get him out of something, e.g. hitting classmates so he doesn't have to sit at circle time. You let him get by once, then you will continually have to deal with it.

  9. I don't have any advice. My daughter is 9 and we are currently dealing with her behavior, lack of friends because of her behavior. It is HEART WRENCHING to watch her get her feelings hurt so much because another child doesn't want to play with her. She cries, I cry. We do our best to tell her how to make friends, and help her out a little when she is around other little girls her age. It's hard to watch....I'm tearing up as I'm typing this.

    Good luck with Max!!!

  10. I'd have to agree with others that this sounds like "typical" behavior. I think we get so into analyzing things with special needs we forget a lot is the regular stuff that comes with kids! One thing about having had "typical" kid friends, I have heard over the years many things their kids were doing that made me realize its typical! However, soemtimes with our kids it comes at a different time in the journey! Are you like me and obsess over things?? I would worry what the guy thought all day when he probably forgot about it a little while later when his child threw a fit over something!

  11. I think you handled the situation fantastically! (is that a word?)
    I think that we need to address our kids, on their developmentally appropriate level, and move on. Think about it... when my husband is a bear at a restaurant or grocery, I don't tell people we are fighting, or he is unusually grumpy that day... I bug HIM about it.. it is no one else's business. (pretty bad analogy I guess) Anyhoo, we have enough to deal with for the rest of our lives and explaining our circumstances to others, unless we want to, is a waste of our precious time alotted to our precious, if sometimes naughty, little guys!

  12. I think you did exactly the right thing. I have a two-year old girl and a 6-year old boy. If a "big" kid hit my little one, I'd be a bit surprised even though it is normal kid behavior--it wouldn't be something I would expect from my big kid. If it happened and no one said anything, I would be a bit disgruntled and watch out for the kid. If the parent mentioned that the child had special needs, I'd say no problem, and I wouldn't give the behavior a second thought. That probably sounds like I'm horrible, but it's hard to explain what I mean.

    Anyway, I think you did great!


  13. I'm with Sarah H. I don't think you needed to explain, any further than you did. I think you handled it really well.

    Kids are kids. And neurotypical kids have off days too.

    I think the more important part now is how you move forward and work with Max so that he becomes more aware of the social cues and graces.

    I think using compic cards can be really helpful for issues like this. Kept very simple - a picture of a child hitting another child / and then a picture of a sad face, to show that hitting someone makes someone sad.

    I honestly think it's harder on us mums when things like this happen.

    You handled it really well. xo

  14. I think you handled it appropriately. I would have done the same thing (apologized) although in our case I would have explained, although it is obvious that my child is special needs. Mine too can get a bit scary loud like Felicia's kid, and because he has no words and is the size of a 7 year old, but is only 4, it is obvious. But then again, maybe it isn't to some folks.
    You have to do what feels right to you in every situation.
    I also have a little one who tattles too so that keeps the older one in line as well.

  15. I would have just apologized like you did...kids act that way, even when they are older. Then I would have made my child say they were sorry too. If the parent made a big fuss, then I might explain...dont think I have ever. I think the only time I have tried to explain is when another child didnt understand why zach wouldnt play with them.

  16. Lots of great advice here, as always. I do think it would have helped to force Max to say "I'm sorry" although he was upset and probably not up for trying to articulate anything; he might have acted out even more. I also like the idea of saying "We're working on this" to the parent. And, yes, will continue to work on social graces with Max—nice ideas on the comic cards, Dianne. I remain on the fence about calling out Max's delays/special needs in cases like this. I guess, as with everything, I will just keep testing the waters.

  17. Elizabeth has a bad habit of roaring at other kids too especially if they are crying.
    I bet the father did rehash the event again and probably didn't even notice that Max has special needs. We as mothers rehash and rehash trying to figure out the best scenario. I think just having Max accountable for his actions is enough. I really try not to use the excuse my child has special needs as later on our kids will use it against us and it makes stereotyping even easier. It is hard to have to repeatedly model appropriate play/interactions it would be nice to one day sit back and watch our kids playing and not being ready to jump at any second. I guess that would be called a vacation without kids.

  18. I think you did the right thing. "I'm sorry," is enough most times.

  19. I don't think it has any thing to do with Max or the fact that he has special needs. I think it's "the age" and is perfectly normal. He may be slow on picking up the cues, but, even some "normal" kids are...

  20. Ummmm. . . I totally bit the boy next door when he wouldn't do what I told him to do and I was WAY to old for that kind of behavior. I thnk you handled the situation here well and I believe like the others here that his may be less of a "special needs" thing and more of a kid thing. Charlie's only two and already we're talking to him about "speaking nicely" "acting nicely" etc. I dont' know how much of it he gets, but the more I say it the better the chances it will get in there.


Thanks for sharing!

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