How to respond when adults tease your child

My brother has long been known to tease the heck out of anyone, and my toddler is no exception. The teasing can be simple; for instance, we were at the dining table when he positioned his head close to my toddler’s point of view, all the while claiming that he’s just looking at the food on the table. And even though my toddler, not appreciating the invasion of personal space, vexingly told him, “No!” my brother responded with, “Oh, but I’m just looking at the food!” It’s similar to when kids point their finger all but one inch away from another sibling and claiming, “But I’m not touching you!”

And yes, my brother is an adult who is in his 30s. (Ironically, he hardly teased me growing up. In fact, he was the one who would protect me from one of my older sisters who on her worst days threatened to throw my dolls out the window—for fun. The battles between those two, however, were quite the scene. Thank goodness we survived childhood and all still love one another.)

He’s not alone in teasing my toddler—my own husband sometimes has his fun with him as well. He too has done exactly what my brother does (what is it with sticking your face in front of a toddler that’s so hilarious?).

In my husband’s and brother’s defense, I could see why they would turn to teasing: my toddler wasn’t exactly Mr. Good Mood. When he is in one of his funky moods, he can either appear comically amusing or downright infuriating, that teasing seems the better option to getting frustrated with a stubborn child.

Still, I should have stepped in more aggressively in his defense. After all, he’s not an adult or even an older child who can retort in the same sarcastic manner. Nor are children’s ‘no’ always taken seriously. I could have switched places with my toddler or even explicitly told my brother to stop, saying, “LO already said ‘no’.” In doing so, my toddler would understand that his word can be quite powerful, and that his mom will always back him up.

Obviously I’m much more comfortable telling my husband to stop, but in social situations, even among my own family, I hesitate. I’m likely reluctant to step in because I don’t want to police everyone’s actions and learn that everyone thinks I’m that kind of parent. I don’t want to discourage others from playing with my kid or feeling like they have to walk on eggshells around him. I also don’t want to be rude. And so I stay quiet, or even laugh it off.

And more often than not, the teasing isn’t a big deal and doesn’t exasperate my toddler too much. But sometimes interactions with adults are often tricky because well, they’re adults. Handling social interactions between kids seems like a breeze in comparison. So sometimes I need to be more mindful of whether my toddler has had enough with teasing from anybody, even adults. After all, he has already taken the first step—saying ‘no’—so I need to follow up with ensuring he gets his point across.

How often to the adults in your kids’ life tease them? How do your kids react to adult teasing? When do you let it be, and when do you step in?

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Teach your child to be assertive

Teach your child to be assertive
At the library, my toddler was playing with a block when a younger child walked over and happily took it away from LO’s hand. The boy didn’t do so menacingly; in fact, like most kids his age, he probably just assumed that the toy was his for the taking, and take he did.

Meanwhile, my toddler didn’t attempt to get the block back. When kids take toys from him, he typically assumes a carefree attitude of, “Sure, go ahead,” or “Let me find another block.” (Where is this carefree attitude when he’s making demands at home? Hmm…) Other times he’s confused as to what just transpired. Whichever the case, I try to let him know that it’s perfectly fine for him to get the item back if he truly wants it.

In other words, I want him to be assertive and stand up for what’s important to him.

There have been times when he did just that. For instance, we were at the playground when he retrieved a pine cone that another little boy had grabbed from him. But for the most part, he tends to simply move on and find something else to play with.

I’m grateful that he doesn’t immediately react aggressively when his playthings are taken from him. I’d like him to handle social conflicts in a calm way without resorting to whining, hitting or crying. But at the same time, I find it important to let him know that we don’t always have to share our things, and that if we’re not done with something just yet, it’s fine to hold on to an item a bit longer until we’re ready to part with it.

So when another child takes a toy, I follow these steps to teach him to be more assertive:

  1. I ask him if he wanted to keep playing with the toy.
  2. I let him know that he can tell other kids, “I’m not done yet” when he doesn’t want to part with the toy.
  3. I point out that if he really wants something, he can hold on to it and not have to give it away.
  4. If he could care less about the toy, I mention that too and say, “Looks like you’d rather play with another toy.”

At home and among adults, my toddler has zero problem with letting us know of his demands. And even then, we don’t downplay or dismiss his desires or emotions, and instead acknowledge them first. We want  him to voice what he wants and acknowledge and respect that he has wants, even if they’re not always met. We don’t encourage him to use force or aggression when expressing himself, but we do want him to know that he can stand up for what he wants.

This may be the reason why I’m hardly a fan of stepping in and solving social conflicts among kids. While adults are more likely to oblige kids in what they want (“Oh, you want this ball? Sure, go ahead.”), other kids prove to be tougher play mates. Rather than simply forcing him to relinquish his beloved item, removing him even if he wanted to stay, or taking the item away, I much prefer to act like a moderator between the kids. Only in doing this can he identify his emotions, understand the proper ways to act and yes, perhaps learn to assert himself should he decide it appropriate.

In the end, I want him to grow up into an adult that won’t easily back down from something he loves and instead persevere and keep trying.

Do you teach your kids to be more assertive? Have you experienced a situation where your child could have been more assertive? Less aggressive?

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3 reasons your kid doesn’t have to hug everyone

3 reasons your kid doesn't have to hug everyone
At a recent family gathering, my brother-in-law wanted a hug from my toddler, but LO was in no mood for hugging. Rather than forcing him to hug or sheepishly making excuses as to why he refused, I told LO, “Looks like you don’t want to hug right now. Maybe later?” I suggested. “Later,” my toddler agreed. My brother-in-law requested a high-five instead, which LO conceded was more doable than hugs and proffered his hand for some good ol’ palm-smacking.

In my family, you hug and kiss everyone, especially adults. I remember huge gatherings with aunts, uncles and cousins galore, and every time people walked in, everyone stood up to hug and kiss the newcomers, sometimes before they’ve even set their purses or coats down. This wasn’t limited to just hellos either; come departure time, the same rounds of farewells happened all over again.

Considering that that is the norm in my family, I may just be the black sheep among huggers and kissers. Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely understand where this multitude of greetings comes from: it’s a sign of respect and manners. Imagine hosting a party and your guest gives you a head nod and a “‘Sup?” on their way to the drinks. In addition to manners, it’s important show respect to the elders—the people who generally keep the family unit cohesive (and prepare all the food). I get that.

But I also need to re-frame this tradition in a way my toddler can comprehend and will even eagerly participate in. It’s one thing for me to grow up knowing you greet people because that’s just what we do; it’s another to understand the reason why and feel comfortable doing so. As such, I don’t expect my toddler to hug everyone in the room against his will because:

1. I want to respect his space
Kids—especially the little ones—can easily feel overwhelmed when entering a house full of people, some of whom they don’t see on a regular basis. Adults can adapt quickly to these situations; kids—not so much. I want him to know that he is entitled to his personal space even amidst an onslaught of puckered lips and outstretched arms.

2. I want to respect his body
One of my huge tenets when it comes to kids knowing when to say ‘no’—even to adults—is to always respect a child’s body. How often do parents warn their kids about inappropriate touching when we ourselves force them to hug and kiss those they don’t want to? Especially when it comes to strangers, we often send the mixed message of “Just say no” with “Hug this strange man even though you don’t want to.” I want my toddler to know that—with few exceptions—he has absolute jurisdiction over his body.

3. I want him to want to hug everyone
Before you start thinking I’m anti-hugging, I actually love that my family is quite the hugging type and enjoy seeing my toddler greet everyone. However, when I was a kid—especially as an I’m-too-cool-for-this teenager—I honestly didn’t want to hug everyone. I want my toddler to show manners and respect and express genuine interest in those around him.

So, instead of forcing him to give hugs, we:

  • Model proper behavior. When you want your kid to say hi to everyone, it’s probably best to lead by example. Usually with my toddler in tow, I try to say hi to everyone so he sees that saying hello is a pleasant experience.
  • Hype up the crowd. On our way to a party, we talk about the people we’ll see. “Remember how tita L taught you that song about fingers and toes?” or “Grandma will be there; remember she visited us last week and said we’ll see her soon?” This way, he gets excited about the people he’ll see.
  • Tell him what to expect. Similarly, we also describe the party: “There will be lots of people there, and they’ll probably all come to the door when we walk in.” With descriptions, he’ll have a better idea of what to expect.
  • Ask him first. Once he’s finally at the party and people are clamoring to hug him, I ask his permission first. For instance, I’ll say, “Want to give your cousin a hug?” or “Let’s go say ‘hi’ to your tia.” The tone is always one where he can refuse rather than one of forced commands.
  • Tell the truth. Usually he likes hugging people, but for the times he doesn’t, I try and stick to the truth rather than excusing his behavior with false notions. For instance, I’ll say, “Looks like he doesn’t want to give hugs right now. Maybe in a few minutes he’ll be up for it.”
  • Offer an alternative. Just as my brother-in-law extended a high-five in lieu of a hug, giving alternatives can offer my toddler a chance to say hello without having to full-on hug someone. In addition to high-fives, we also suggest waving his hand, simply saying “hi” or giving hugs at a different time.

I’m hoping to interweave cultural expectations and manners with respecting my toddler’s space and decisions. I would hate for my family to feel disrespected because I don’t force him to greet everyone; nor would I want to disregard my toddler’s feelings. Instead, I’d like him to grow up willingly giving hugs—or high-fives—all on his own.

Does your family have expectations that kids should hug everyone? Have you run into problems where your kids would rather not hug and greet others?

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4 reasons I don’t push my kid to perform

4 reasons I don't push my kid to perform
My cousins and I were laughing about a photo of us when we were kids: our parents had us act out the nativity scene for Christmas, complete with costumes and a baby doll wrapped in a blanket. And while I’m sure I didn’t mind playing the part of a shepherd, I hesitate to think that we actually enjoyed the show as much as our parents—in that photo, all but one of us looked miserable.

It didn’t stop there; for another Christmas, our parents dressed us up in over-sized, gift-wrapped boxes, and probably made us sing a jingle or two. And well into middle school, many of us were still singing at family parties or—I’m ashamed to admit—choreographing hip-hop routines to dance at weddings.

I told my cousins, “We need to do this to our kids. It’s our turn.”

I was kidding. In fact, I do my best not to push my toddler to perform. But sometimes I still shine the limelight on him, and I’m not talking about dressing him up as a shepherd. A few days ago, I was with a friend when I asked my toddler, “Do you want to sing one of the songs you know?” He didn’t respond, so I started it off for him, “Twinkle twinkle little star…” Still, no interest. In that moment I realized I was showing him off; I wanted my friend to see all the cool tricks and talents he can no do. And while it’s natural to feel proud, I knew I shouldn’t have displayed him like a novelty. Thankfully I caught myself and pressed no further.

We often want our kids to perform for various reasons, whether it’s to highlight their talents, brighten other people’s feelings, or encourage kids to continue their talents. If kids are willing to put on a show or even initiate their own performances, then by all means, raise the curtains and take a seat. And for some temperaments, showmanship comes naturally—one of my nephews is a natural performer and thrives with attention. He’s not one to deny a request to perform.

My toddler usually performs when requested—get him started with his Foot Loose dance and he’ll go on tapping his feet away, laughing all the while. But there are times when he’s just not in the mood. He may even go along with a request to recite a few lines or count to 20, but do so monotonously or irritably. It’s these times that I have to be mindful to respect his feelings for several reasons:

  • He may end up feeling like a novelty; someone called on to perform (try to think of the last time you asked an adult, “Hey, why don’t show so-and-so how you play ‘Under the Bridge’ on the guitar?”).
  • He may become bashful or embarrassed from being in the spotlight. While my toddler is only two, there will be a day he’ll realize that people’s laughter—however innocent the intent—is aimed at him, and he may not like it.
  • He may not feel ready to perform. If he’s just learning how to identify a few words, he may not feel 100% confident about reciting a whole book in front of people just yet. Pestering him to do so may frustrate him, or worse, cause him to stop pursuing it.
  • He may equate learning with praise from other people. Receiving attention might lead him to externalize his rewards rather than pursuing talents for his own personal, internal satisfaction.

More often than not, I don’t need to push my toddler to perform. When left to his own devices, he’ll eventually warm up to the crowd and start making his own jokes, or willingly sing Twinkle Twinkle and 20,000 children’s songs when asked. But if he isn’t in the mood—he isn’t smiling, doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the attention, or is ignoring me—then I take a step back. I want to respect his space and allow him to interact with others in what seems most natural to him, not because his parents said it’s show time.

Do you find yourself pushing your kids to perform? Do your kids like putting on a show on their own?

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Are mommy groups or play dates a good way to make friends?

On mommy groups and play dates
My toddler doesn’t get to interact with too many kids his age. If he’s not with his parents, he’s at my aunt’s. Sure, he has cousins and even a few play mates, but we don’t see them on a regular basis. On one hand, I’m perfectly fine with this—I tend to think that children actually benefit from adult-oriented interactions than peer-oriented ones. But I also understand the important skills he’ll learn by mixing with other kids his age.

When my toddler was about eight months old, I signed up for a local mommy group. The group was active, but most of the kids were either too old or too young for my eight-month-old to play with. And with the exception of a few moms (one of whom I’m still friends with today), I also didn’t feel welcomed or comfortable. After a few play dates, I left the group.

So I started my own mommy group. I narrowed down the criteria to babies born within three months of my toddler who lived near by. Finally, I felt like I could at least be that welcoming committee that I sorely needed in the other group I left. I could plan fun play dates and outings. And I could meet many friendly moms, almost all of them close to my baby’s age. But since my group was so narrow, I didn’t have a wide membership. I also felt obligated to schedule and attend a zillion play dates that eventually wore down on my I-go-by-my-own-schedule baby. Plus, considering that running the mom group cost money that I couldn’t afford on my own, I had to close the group down.

While mommy groups provided the interactions I sought for my toddler to practice his social skills, they are far from what I consider a “village” type of community. We don’t have friendships with other families where we regularly get together, and where parents are friends among one another just as much as the kids are.

In my ideal world, we—children and adults—would develop close friendships so that our interactions aren’t solely for the kids’ sake, it’s for the adults’ too. My nieces and nephews have this relationship already—there’s a good group of them who are close in age, and my siblings and I love getting together among ourselves as well. 

As a kid, I was lucky because not only did I have siblings to play with, I also had cousins who lived right next door. Every day was a new adventure, whether it was to dance to Foot Loose in a darkened room with flash lights, pretend to be the A-Team (I was Murdock), mold play dough or build forts out of blankets. Even without cousins, I remember playing with neighborhood kids who usually went to our school. Making friends was easy.

Nowadays, not so much. Granted, my toddler is only two and isn’t exactly knocking on the neighbor’s door asking to play. But I find that parents initiate most of the social interactions. We sign them up for Gymboree or music class. We schedule play dates with friends who also have kids. And we attend mommy groups.

I’m actually happy that my toddler still prefers his parents over peers and that he doesn’t have friends trying to undermine our authority and guidance (“Kids rule… parents drool!” *rolls eyes*). At the same time, I’d still like for him to navigate the waters of socializing with kids his age and learn how to be kind, assert himself, communicate clearly, build his imagination, and all the other benefits of playing with kids.

So in my quest to find my toddler more opportunities to practice his social skills, I joined another mommy group. Except this one is a parents group, with moms and dads included. We attended our first play date at a local park yesterday and actually had a great time. Hopefully he’ll continue learning how to make friends, even if his mom and dad signed him up for it.

What are your thoughts on mommy groups, play dates and classes for kids? Why do you think there’s a proliferation of mommy groups and classes for kids?

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