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Following up on the blog from last week (June 29, 2012), I’d like to give some attention to correcting a visiting kid’s behavior. You know what I mean:

  • using profane language you don’t allow at your house;
  • being mean to the younger brother;
  • making a mess and not cleaning it up.

These are several possible things to consider.

  1. Do what my mother-in-law calls, “interpreting to the high side.” Every child (and teen) sometimes does something with questionable motives. . . maybe not even that questionable: outright wrong-headed. She suggests that on the first time, maybe even more than the first time, we interpret the kid’s behavior with the highest possible motivation. In the case of shouting a profanity while watching a game on T.V., “John, I just love your enthusiasm for your team. Can you rein in your speech a bit please?” Teasing a younger sib can become, “Thanks for taking an interest in Sarah’s little brother. He likes to play with the big kids too.” My mother-in-law points out the kids are often building their self-concept and aren’t really sure why they do something. If we can build a bridge of communication and inclusion, somewhere down the road we stand a better chance of guiding a kid toward more appropriate behavior. . . especially if he feels we already like him (as opposed to, “Mrs. Doodah always has it in for me!”).
  2. Secondly, if we need to correct a kid’s behavior, begin from the perspective of “you’re a good kid.” The correction of a visiting kid being mean to a younger sibling might sound like, “John, Buddy always looks forward to you older guys coming over. I’ve seen how you include him and how kind you’ve been. I know he can be irritating. But the sharp way you spoke to him just wasn’t like your usual good-guy self. Having an older kid help guide him can be so helpful. I hope you’ll speak in a way he can continue benefitting from you.” Notice how we’ve also added recognition that John is older and has a potentially powerful role for a younger boy.
  3. Finally there is my mom’s adage: Praise in public; correct in private.This doesn’t apply just to teens but to anyone. Which of us likes to be called down in public? I do my best to lavish praise on enthusiastically and publicly whenever I can. I consider it something like money in the bank. But when I have a criticism or correction to deliver, I make a point to pull the kid aside, close the space gap between us (like putting my arm on his shoulder), engaging eye contact if possible and stating my concern in as few words as possible. For example, “John, when you tease Buddy, it makes you look like a jerk and him look like a brat. I don’t believe that about either of you. Knock it off.” Again, I try to present him in the best light: I don’t believe that you’re a jerk but you make yourself appear that way. If I can, I also include how his behavior may lead others to view him, or to react to him. But I would do my best to keep the correction as low on emotional content and as brief as possible. It is especially useful to remember about boys that they are extremely humiliation-averse. By that I mean, being shamed, especially in front of other guys, is about the worst thing you could do to him. It almost guarantees that he’ll come back with a vengeance. . . if not today, another time in the future. We need to make our corrections in such a way that a kid can save face, have an easy avenue to fixing what needs fixing. After all, we’re not setting out to destroy the kid.

It’s helpful to remember that kids are growing, learning, and sometimes making mistakes along the way. As caring adults, our job is to help them see a better way in which they can get their needs met. Viewing them from the high side, praising in public and, when we need to, correcting in private will take us and them a long way toward growing up!

Next time, dealing with new-fangled etiquette on filming and posting images of others! As always, I’m interested in your comments.