Tell parents they're doing a bad job?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 31, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hello,

How do you tell a 10-year-old to stop being a bully without the getting the parents mad?

My boyfriend's 10-year-old niece and god-daughter has always gotten her way, as no one wants to deal with her or they don't want the parents to get mad at them.

I've always noticed that she's a brat but lately she's just a bully to her two cousins (girl,10, and boy, 9). For example, last night was the boy's 9th birthday and the family came together for cake and coffee. But instead of focusing on him, she raved (her arm was fractured about 2 weeks ago) that she can now take a shower and doesn't have to wear a sling, and while the other kids were clearing the dishes she was in the living room with the birthday boy watching TV.

Usually for their gifts, we would take them on an outing of their choice. He wanted to go roller skating, but the parents said no, as what would happen if the girl fell. :( So the boy instead chose Plaster Fun Time, which is the girl's favorite and which she'll choose on her birthday as well. So in the end, she gets the attention and her way as well.

What can if anything be said to either her or the parents without riling anyone up?

Thank you.

From: Libby, Quincy

Dear Libby,

Brats are made, they aren't born. Which is to say, what you're describing doesn't sound like bullying, it sounds more like parents who aren't good at setting limits. But what was so bad about this girl not helping to clear and watching TV with the birthday boy? Maybe he asked for her company? Maybe no one asked her to help? Is it possible the birthday boy was showing empathy in choosing the plaster party theme and not that he was bullied into it?

Meanwhile, since you're not a member of this family, my advice is to stay out of it. Nobody wants to hear what's wrong with their family from an outsider. If you were a family member, I'd say that if this child is at risk and the parents are inappropriate, to heck with what they will think. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do and risk hard feelings. Obviously, that family member would want to be tactful and loving and be sure to make "I" statements ("I'm wondering ....") rather than accusatory "you" statements ("You're too .....") which only make people defensive. The other thing a family member can do is set clear, consistent limits in their interactions with the niece.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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6 comments so far...
  1. If this was a clear case of bullying, and a repeated pattern, and your children were the targets, then I would say to speak your mind and the heck with getting the parents mad. However, you don't have any skin in this game and it sounds like you don't have children so I will agree with Barbara that it's best to stay out of this dynamic.

    Posted by Jbar August 31, 10 07:54 AM
  1. Teach your children how to handle bullies, and realize that the touchy-feely stuff they teach now-a-days does not always work out so well.

    Posted by PT August 31, 10 09:02 AM
  1. Could we reserve the word "bullying" for repeated, malicious targeting of an individual or individuals, and stop using it as a synonym for "being a pain in the neck"? It's becoming a catch-all term for any act of insensitivity or selfishness or carelessness to the point that it's going to become useless.

    I read the first sentence and was expecting to find out that the girl beat the birthday boy over the head with his own gift or something.

    Posted by di August 31, 10 09:38 AM
  1. Agree with di.

    If you call this bullying, you really are out of line. Unless there is far more to the story -- is she physically abusive? Does she threaten other kids? Does she taunt them constantly and maliciously? If not, stop with the bullying talk. You will *needlessly* antagonize every one of your bf's family members if you call her a bully. (To be clear: it would be needless because it is not bullying!) Bully is a loaded word. Use it carefully. She didn't help with dishes, she thought her broken arm was a big deal a mere 2 weeks after breaking it, her cousin picked her favorite place for his birthday. So what?

    Maybe your expectations for behavior for children of this age are out of whack, because what you describe sounds simply like a slightly lazy, slightly dramatic girl. Which describes many 10 year old girls. Unless people told her to help with the dishes and she pitched a fit and refused, I'm not seeing why this is a big deal.

    If she is truly bratty, however.... well, stay out of it. So she is a brat. Not your issue. You are not family, and your kids, if you have any, don't appear to be antagonized by this girl. You just don't like her very much and seem to resent her. Kids are people, too, and we don't like all the ones we know. Unless there is way more than you've said, just let it go.

    Posted by jlen August 31, 10 10:47 AM
  1. this letter confuses me. I am not sure if this is just a venue to vent about these kids being bratty or there is actually more to this story than she is letting on. I will agree with the others and wonder why the bullying term is being thrown around. Like DI and JLEN said bullying is a loaded term and is being overused. Please give us some more information :)

    Posted by JD August 31, 10 11:32 AM
  1. The three examples here are not bullying and in my opinion not even a big deal.

    1. Not doing the dishes: Maybe she was keeping company with the birthday boy instead of having him watch TV alone on his birthday? Was she asked to help?
    2. Making a big deal of her cast: She's 10. She fractured her arm. Talking about it sounds like what normal kids do to me. Did it somehow prevent the birthday boy from having fun?
    3. Choosing Plaster Time: The parents said no to roller skating, not the girl, presumably because she just fractured her arm. Unless she threw a tantrum, it's not her fault they said no instead of telling her not to skate. And can't it be possible that the boy likes Plaster Time too?

    Posted by mia August 31, 10 01:21 PM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. If this was a clear case of bullying, and a repeated pattern, and your children were the targets, then I would say to speak your mind and the heck with getting the parents mad. However, you don't have any skin in this game and it sounds like you don't have children so I will agree with Barbara that it's best to stay out of this dynamic.

    Posted by Jbar August 31, 10 07:54 AM
  1. Teach your children how to handle bullies, and realize that the touchy-feely stuff they teach now-a-days does not always work out so well.

    Posted by PT August 31, 10 09:02 AM
  1. Could we reserve the word "bullying" for repeated, malicious targeting of an individual or individuals, and stop using it as a synonym for "being a pain in the neck"? It's becoming a catch-all term for any act of insensitivity or selfishness or carelessness to the point that it's going to become useless.

    I read the first sentence and was expecting to find out that the girl beat the birthday boy over the head with his own gift or something.

    Posted by di August 31, 10 09:38 AM
  1. Agree with di.

    If you call this bullying, you really are out of line. Unless there is far more to the story -- is she physically abusive? Does she threaten other kids? Does she taunt them constantly and maliciously? If not, stop with the bullying talk. You will *needlessly* antagonize every one of your bf's family members if you call her a bully. (To be clear: it would be needless because it is not bullying!) Bully is a loaded word. Use it carefully. She didn't help with dishes, she thought her broken arm was a big deal a mere 2 weeks after breaking it, her cousin picked her favorite place for his birthday. So what?

    Maybe your expectations for behavior for children of this age are out of whack, because what you describe sounds simply like a slightly lazy, slightly dramatic girl. Which describes many 10 year old girls. Unless people told her to help with the dishes and she pitched a fit and refused, I'm not seeing why this is a big deal.

    If she is truly bratty, however.... well, stay out of it. So she is a brat. Not your issue. You are not family, and your kids, if you have any, don't appear to be antagonized by this girl. You just don't like her very much and seem to resent her. Kids are people, too, and we don't like all the ones we know. Unless there is way more than you've said, just let it go.

    Posted by jlen August 31, 10 10:47 AM
  1. this letter confuses me. I am not sure if this is just a venue to vent about these kids being bratty or there is actually more to this story than she is letting on. I will agree with the others and wonder why the bullying term is being thrown around. Like DI and JLEN said bullying is a loaded term and is being overused. Please give us some more information :)

    Posted by JD August 31, 10 11:32 AM
  1. The three examples here are not bullying and in my opinion not even a big deal.

    1. Not doing the dishes: Maybe she was keeping company with the birthday boy instead of having him watch TV alone on his birthday? Was she asked to help?
    2. Making a big deal of her cast: She's 10. She fractured her arm. Talking about it sounds like what normal kids do to me. Did it somehow prevent the birthday boy from having fun?
    3. Choosing Plaster Time: The parents said no to roller skating, not the girl, presumably because she just fractured her arm. Unless she threw a tantrum, it's not her fault they said no instead of telling her not to skate. And can't it be possible that the boy likes Plaster Time too?

    Posted by mia August 31, 10 01:21 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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