05 November 2007

Dealing with Other People's Kids

You can't see it, but right now I have an amazon.com search open that looks something like this:

Books › "other people's children" › Family Relationships › Dysfunctional Relationships

As I near my twenty-eighth year I've come to realize I need to learn how to deal with kids. My Total Avoidance Strategy is flawed and increasingly impractical. So there you have it, step one, admitting there's a problem.

Now I've reached step two: ask for help. So I'm asking: HELP!!!

Why can't kids just ignore me, pretend I don't exist? I'd do the same with them and it'd be a win-win. Instead, it's the total opposite. I can see it in their eyes, "Oh boy, here's another adult to bother. Ooo, and this one's got long hair that I can yank on to get her attention."

I could only find one book on this particular subject. I thumbed through it at Border's, and unfortunately the author invested more time reveling in her own cleverness than presenting a viable battle plan for her readers.

Here's the kind of thing that happens to me:

On my last toddler encounter, I was drawn into the backyard (away from my dinner) on the pretense of a "bug hunt." As the tiny, sticky hand pulled me onto the porch I glanced helplessly at the other adults. They avoided eye contact and topped off their glasses of chardonnay.

On the outset, everything was fine. I'm cool with looking for bugs. Perhaps the little tyke is an aspiring entomologist and this foree will one day lead to a scientific discovery that kills all mosquitos everywhere forever. In that case, it would be worth letting my meal get cold.

We didn't find any ladybugs, worms, or pill bugs, so the next best thing (to a toddler) is apparently the dog's pooper scooper. I don't hate kids, okay? I tried to convinced the wee one to put down the feces-encrusted tool. When logic failed, ("the pooper scooper is ucky, okay?") I attempted to gently guide the pooper scooper back to its place alongside the house.

This, of course, brought forth tears and screaming. My instincts said "run" but, in the end I just put the pooper scooper out of reach and slumped my shoulders in defeat. Of course the screaming brought the parent running. It was embarrassing and irritating all at once.

I hate this kind of situation. I would rather be getting a cavity filled or having a pelvic exam.

Honestly, I think the main problem is that I'm too nice. This is the horrible dichotomy of the situation. Children make me very uncomfortable, but I can't tell a little kid to "get lost" because it would be impolite. I think kids know this - some kind of perverse instinct. They won't leave me a alone and worse, none of the adults will help me out. I feel like everyone else is thinking, "good, she's taking one for the team."

Also, why are kids so sticky? I've observed them at length, and even when no candy element is present, they manage to enstickify themselves. Do they make their own stickiness?

Okay, I digress. What I really need your help with is:

#1 How do I get toddlers to leave me alone?
Do I need to wear a t-shirt with a scary clown on it? Should I give kids the stinkeye whenever the parents aren't looking? Seriously, though, what do you do when the kid won't take "NOT RIGHT NOW" for an answer?

#2 How do I get out of a toddler encounter as quickly as possible? I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but I don't do babysitting. Never have, never will.

#3 If I get nabbed, and the kid starts misbehaving, what do I do? Come se dice "cease and desist" in kidspeak? Do I threaten to call Mom over?

Any help would be greatly appreciated... the holidays are coming, you know.


Unknown said...

I'm with you. I normally don't like other people's kids (well, I guess that would make it any kids since I don't have any...I like to think that I'll feel differently when I have my own...but I digress). First of all, they are not just miniature adults, so reason is out. Sometimes you just have to hold your ground and say no...if the parent gets mad at you because you told them not to touch nasty dog poo and that made them cry, well, the parent is in the wrong, not you. Some parents are overprotective and believe their little angel couldn't do anything wrong. They are stupid. More likely than not, the parent will be embarassed little Jimmy tried to throw dog crap around.

And you can't get them to leave you alone. They have a special sense for those who don't like them. It's like cats going to people who are allergic.

Anonymous said...

The trick is to do an end run - convince the parents that you are a bad influence on their festering germ riddled vermin so that you presumptively are excluded from interaction.

Anonymous said...

From a person who agrees with you completely, my advice - stop trying to be nice. The adage "You get what you raise" is one that I have lived with when raising my own child. Unfortunately for you, you are stuck with the children that other people have raised. I have noticed that most kids these days are allowed to walk all over their parents and rule the household with tears and temper tantrums. Stop being nice!! When you tell them "NO" in an adult voice they will try the same things on you that work on their parents. Walk away without a backward glance. They will try it a few more times and then stop because it is ineffective.

One day you will meet a child that was raised well and you will see the difference.

If you decide to have one of your own, then I will share my thoughts on raising something you actually like.

Dinah said...

Strategy 1: Tell your parent friends the story of the pooper scooper. And whatever other stories you can come up with in which you're stuck with a kid, and grossness ensues. Whatever draws the connection in their brains: "If I leave Megan alone with Captain Precious, he will return to me covered in poop."

Strategy 2: Would you rather be alone with kids, or have a reputation for being just a LEEETLE bit crazy? Here's the scenario: You're sitting with parents and Princess Sticky-thumbs is giving you the "Play with my dollies!" eyeball. You casually mention, "Ah, dolls. You know, as a kid my mom would always rip the heads off my dolls and tell me they were possessed with deadly ghosts. I really think it built character and made me the woman I am today. (twitch)"

Strategy 3: Be BORING. When stuck with Tyrraneous Tykus, kick off your time together by reciting everything you heard on NPR that morning. Take every opportunity to do something fun, and make it educational. No one wants to hang out with Teachy McBuzzkill. (NOTE: This strategy does not work with nerds. If you're stuck with that rare child who WANTS to learn, suggest playing a sport. Like Dodgeball.)

BookBuster said...

People, we're waaaaay overthinking this one. The trick's easy. Listen to the guy who worked with other people's autistic second graders for a year:

Become the most boring person you can imagine. Think "DMV" flat-line boring. Don't feign interest in what the kid's doing. Don't go into histrionics if the kid spells M-O-M-M-Y with blocks.

Speak in monotones, and when speaking talk about things that *you* find boring: tax deductions, microbiology, salt, etc.

If at all possible, where drab earth tones.

Avoid eye contact.

Believe me, kids are like cats, they'll just stare at you for a moment and wander off to greener pastures....

But honestly, I wouldn't recommend doing this. Lying to children is more fun than trying to repel them.

Tell little Zachary/Chelsea that dog poo tastes like cinnamon toast.

And if the kid follows through and rats you out to his folks remember this axiom: denial, denial, a thousand times denial...

mr. bread said...

Megan, I've been trying to come up with some reasonable advice to handle the kids, but ultimately it comes down to this:

I can't imagine why you couldn't just tell your friends "I don't like kids, please don't put me in a position where I'm responsible for/supervising your kids". In a situation like the one you described, the responsibility is mine, as the parent, to get up from dinner and follow my kid around if they want to go bug hunting.

We (parents) may not like it, but them's the breaks--if we want to sit around and have a leisurely dinner over chardonnay, we can hire a babysitter.

Unknown said...

In front of it's parents, offer the kid your favorite box cutter (or the classic "bag o glass")to play with as well as the rest of your chardonnay. Loudly proclaim that you're to tired to finish it anyway and ask everyone if they think it's a bad idea to mix quaaludes and xanax with alcohol. Even if the child still thinks you're neat it's parents will be too freaked out to ever let you get within a hundred feet of their sticky little bundle of joy. The added bonus is that the newly frightened couple will most assuredly pass the info on to other concerned parents at playdates, pta meetings, soccer practice, etc. Soon there won't be a child within Orange County allowed to so much as look at you.

Carvell Wallace said...

my kids (4 and 6) respond well to adults that don't think they're the least bit special. They are mature, and capable of holding legitimate, reasonable conversations with them and ending interactions in a timely manner.

It's the ones that go all:

"oooh you're so cute! what a pretty dress!" that get the brunt of boorish behavior.

Honesty is the best policy. Tell Zoe or Tyler or whatever these people call their kids nowadays that you don't want to play. Tell them to find another adult. Tell them you'll gladly make small talk as long as long as you don't have to leave your wine, and there's no whining or childish behavior.

tell them you don't like playing with kids.

honestly, the friends of ours that take this approach always bring out the best behavior in my lovely little douchebags.

Angela said...

Surprisingly enough, children are actually quite smart… at a very young age even. About a year before I got pregnant I was hanging out with a friend of mine that had two small children. The little girl was 2 and the little boy was 4. I’ve always liked children just fine…from a distance mostly and because of the way that a lot of children act. I found that I didn’t want to be rude to kiddos because these kids are going to grow up and be adults and I didn’t want to be one of the people that say through actions that “hey, it’s ok to be rude as long as you aren’t interested in or are being bothered by the person.” In my mind it isn’t ok to be rude. However, being assertive… well, that is a different story. Ok… so back to the 2 year old girl: She wanted a drink of MY bottled water. So, she asked for a drink… I said no. A few minutes later I hear this little voice again ask… “Can I have a drink of your water?” again I say, no. this went on for probably 5 or 6 times. Finally I said, “why don’t you sit down with me so that we can have a little talk.” So, the 2 year old climbed up on the couch and I began to explain, “I’m not at all trying to be rude but I don’t really like to share my drink with little children, you see, I don’t have any little kids of my own and so I’m not comfortable with sharing my drink. Once I have kids of my own then I probably wont care who drinks out of my drink, but for now I would prefer not to, ok? Do you understand?” then… the most bizarre thing happened (in my eyes anyway) this little 2 year old that had been bugging me all day for a drink out of my drink said, “ok” then got off the couch and asked her mom to get her a drink. I was amazed!!! At 2 this little girl understood an adults reasoning and then it was done. She didn’t ask anymore. So, just tell the kid. Don’t say “not right now” because a child hears, Oh yeah… I TOTALLY want to do that and as soon as I can, we will! So, the child tries to help you to do it faster by asking repeatedly and grabbing your hand to guide you away so that you can get out of the dreadful adult conversation that you are in. instead, say: “No thank you. I don’t want to look for bugs/color/play in the other room/watch tv, thanks for asking though, I don’t like to do that.” or if it’s something that you don’t mind doing then put a time limit on it. “ok, I’ll go but we have to come back inside in 5 minutes.” While you’re out there maybe give them a 2 minute warning just to remind them and then when you want to go in you say “ok, 5 minutes is up, time to go back inside.” Kids are actually pretty easy, believe it or not, but the key is to give them information and then you have that on your side. “sorry, we have to go in… it’s been 5 minutes and I told you that we were only going to be out here for 5 minutes.” If the kid gets huffy, putting it back on the parents usually works too, “Oooooh, let’s go talk to Mommy or Daddy and they’ll take you out to hunt bugs. I heard they’re good bug hunters!” and that should be the end of it. You just gotta talk to them. Don’t be rude though, you wouldn’t want a child or adult to be rude to you. and btw~ I now have my own child, whose 3 and I still don’t usually share my drink. Most of the time, if he needs a drink, I give it to him and then get my own later. =)
I’d really like to hear how future encounters turn out. Good luck to you and keep us posted. =)