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Response to "You know, *that* kid"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 6, 2010 05:09 AM

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Monday's question on what to do about "that kid" -- you know, the troublesome one that shows up in every classroom or playgroup -- had a lot of commenters suggesting it would have been a better fit for the parenting blog. Perhaps so, but the LW didn't send it to Barbara Meltz, she sent it to me. There's certainly overlap between social behavior (which is how I define my column, more than a narrow view of etiquette), parenting, and relationships -- I'm sure Barbara and Meredith and I could have a good time swapping mail bags for a day!

janeagain had a thought-provoking take on the "why is this here?" question:

I don't understand all the posters who are complaining that this is a parenting question and not an etiquette question; isn't good parenting fundamentally about instilling good etiquette? You know - treating others as you would like to be treated, tactfully dealing with uncomfortable situations, etc.

If this was the LW's reasoning, a lot of folks felt that she wasn't handling it very well. As Green-Mountain-Views wrote:

Kids get in fights. Heck, adults get in fights. Conflict is part of life and we all have to learn how to deal with it...and it is your job as a parent to teach your son how to deal with it. I'm guessing that this kid is not doing any permanent damage to the other children or he'd have been thrown out of the school by now. It sounds like "that" boy starts fights with your son and his friend and then they all start fighting. It is your job to teach your son how to handle conflict and to intervene if he needs protection. You may want to talk to your pediatrician about the best way to handle conflict that gets physical for kids in your son's age group.

Just wanting annoying people, and people with deficits, to get out of the way isn't a useful life strategy. Spend time outside of school with people you like and kids who your son enjoys instead of trying to shape all social events to suit yourself. Don't be afraid to set up your social life to suit yourself and your family. You don't need a fancy excuse. You can just say: "Oh, sorry, that (big, manic) party won't work for us that day (week.) Can we drop off a gift or would little-birthday-person like to come over to play on blatz-day and we'll have cupcakes with candles." Not attending every massive birthday party as a pre-schooler never hurt anyone's development.

Italics mine; I think I want that statement needlepointed on a pillow. Some folks, including me, were confused by this line in the letter: "And now that birthday season is upon us, his mother just drops him off." What is "birthday season"? Humans are pretty much fertile year-round. And is the LW talking about home parties? If so, parents are unanimous that whole-class parties aren't really good ideas.

My advice would be:
1. Verify and document what is going on. The LW never stated how she knows that there is hitting, biting, etc. in the pre-school, and doesn't mention "that kid" doing anything worse at a party than wandering off, which is typical pre-schooler behavior.
2. Stop inviting "that kid" to your kid's parties. Stop throwing whole-class parties entirely. If kids' parties in your social group have gotten out of hand, talk to other parents about scaling them down to close friends only, or limiting sugar intake, or whatever it takes to keep parties controllable for parents, and enjoyable for kids.
3. If your child is not safe in his or her school setting, get 'em out of there.
4. Teach your kid self-defense and non-violent conflict resolution. Kids should not have to put up with being bullied in school any more than adults should have to put up with it at work, but unpleasant or dysfunctional people are a fact of life, and parents should make sure kids have the skills to deal with them.

Still, I too am bothered by some hinky aspects of the letter. Dee-DeeBee pointed out:

I find it difficult to believe that the teachers and administrators would simply do nothing about a child who hit and bit other children that frequently, and like others, I wonder where the LW's information is coming from. If these reports are coming from the LW's son, she should remember that young children are simply not reliable witnesses. It's not a matter of honesty or dishonesty- at that age children have trouble sorting fantasy from reality, and they genuinely believe their exaggerations or imaginings. It's part of being 3. Also, the LW may not know what the school is or isn't doing to address the issue. They probably have policies against discussing a child's behavior with another child's parents.

I agree, but I think Dee-DeeBee's point brings up another tough issue. I originally thought AlpineYuzu had a good point with this:

Also, you say you have spoken to the teachers, their supervisors, the administrators, and the boy's mother -- but what about the other parents? Do they feel the same way you do? If the administration won't listen to one voice, maybe a chorus of voices would persuade them. However, if no one else feels the urge to complain, maybe it's time to re-assess the situation -- does this boy's behavior really affect the rest of the class as much as you think?

... but other commenters suggested that discussing the problem with other parents would be ganging up on "that kid"'s mother, or deliberate group ostracization of the unfavored child and parent. What do you think? Is there a way of ensuring that one troubled individual isn't destroying a healthy group dynamic without creating scapegoats or a feeling of "us and them"? When is getting a posse together a good move, and when isn't it?
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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