Whole Parenting Family

When Your Little Kids Are Rude to Family


(More gems from our photo session with the talented Emily Rumsey)

I hurried downstairs after my bath tonight (sore bum from tripping on our freshly and now padded! carpet! padded! basements steps needed a little soak) upon hearing my oldest (5.5) shouting I WON’T and the tell-tale escapee foot-falls. And I had a good idea to whom that punctuated tone was directed.

My saintly father who agreed to watch the kids while I bathed. Their “Baba.” The most hands-on Grandfather I could ever dream of. The child whisperer who can whisk three kids out to a riveting and rivalrous game of bocce ball with the neighbor afternoon after afternoon, week after week, and still win while holding the baby in the carrier. The man who reads Tintin in funny voices. The man who rinses cloth diaper poopies out for me with the same frequency with which those diapers are pooped.

Maybe your kids don’t see their grandparents enough to be, well, kids, in front of them, or at them. Or maybe they’re not close enough to the grandparent to get to that level of rudeness. We’re lucky enough to have my parents living with us half-time, so those occasions for kids to, well, be kids, arise on a naturally frequent basis.

Staring my son down from his hideout on the library couch and firmly guiding him back to the kitchen where the injured party remained with the tot, he knew I meant business. Shouting at his grandfather: never okay.

This approach has worked with my kids and my parents when the kids are acting rude:


“How would you feel if someone came to our house and was rude to Dada or me?”

Always the same fervent response: I would be so mad at that person. I wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t want them to be like that.

“Well, these are my parents. So how do you think I feel?”

That usually starts the conversation about manners and politeness on the right foot. Properly chagrined and empathetic, they’re more open to working it out. Of course the three and a half year old doesn’t get the nuances, but she’s learning by watching her brother. They listen to the correction from their grandparent, always followed by a loving hug, and they attempt a heartfelt apology.

The nuts and bolts of my expectations for them come out after the anger has subsided. The anger trigger? Almost always the same: they don’t want to be stopped from doing what they want to do. #welcometotheclub

I want our son to understand that I get it. I get wanting to do what you want to do. And being angry when someone stops you. That’s a normal way to feel, but the quick follow up to that valid feeling is an ability to exert self control, and recognize the right thing to do, along with what’s going to make you satisfied as a person in the long run. These are such a wonderful life skills to learn: to set aside what you want to do because someone you love is asking you to. And five years old has been a great year for the ability to understand them!


Typically we have a breakdown like this before bed after such an incident during the day: a) empathy, b) example in my life, c) correction, d) long-term look.

“I understand you want to do what you want. And I understand you want to do it all the time. So do I. But when I treat the people I love rudely to get my way, I’m not happy because they’re hurt. So even though it feels good at the time, it doesn’t feel good later.”

The kids asleep, my husband getting in a jump start on a long week of work ahead, I’m able to sit and think//feel this through. What does it mean for me to not do what I want when I want to, especially when it isn’t good for relationships with people I love?

Now I’m not repeatedly kicking a rubber ball at the window, but on the phone to my patient & sympathetic sister, I am readily able to rattle off anything that has annoyed me or even irked me but never quick to praise those around me who lift me up and make my life so so so much easier (you know who you are, MOM, KK, DAD)! I repeatedly ignore household chores I despise, somehow fantasizing that they’ll do themselves? #delusionsofahousewife I justify my repeatedly poor habits because I have every excuse conceivable (and all of them totally without merit except maybe the one about only having 24 hours in a day).

Taking my own pep talk to heart, it feels so amazing to be able to parent these kids. These little people who need our direction, our boundaries, our guidance. It’s such a privilege. An exhausting, humbling, mirror. And a reminder to strive for my best, broken self, too.



  1. Christy on October 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    So great, and I think these photographs are so beautiful, Nell!

    • Natural Mama Nell on October 13, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      My girlfriend is a great photographer!! Thanks for your love, sister.

  2. Laurel on October 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Those blue eyes! Wowzers!

    These are great thoughts on re-directing rude behavior, Nell — for littles and bigs! 😉

    • Natural Mama Nell on October 21, 2015 at 11:09 pm

      He’s such a blue eyed babe–haha! Hope they can be helpful!