When They’re Not Being Little Jerks

If you say “cool” one more time, you’re going to be in trouble.

I actually said that sentence yesterday. I said it to my nine year old daughter and she nodded her head to signify that she understood. To many parents, this story makes sense. To some others, maybe not so much.

For those not following, here is the backstory which puts it all into context. It begins with her eyes glued to an iPad and my hand loosely clutching a ziplock of Crayola.

Olivia, you left your crayons on the table. You need to put them away.

Cool.

I’m serious. No more garbage on the table.

Cool.

Put it in your art drawer.

Cool.

If you say “cool” one more time, you’re going to be in trouble.

See? Makes sense. In many cases, it’s not even what our kids say, but how they say it. It’s the look in their eyes when you put dinner in front of them or the quick way in which they say “nothanks” when you offer to do something you perceive to be fun. You don’t have to be expressly called a dipstick by an elementary school kid in order to feel like one.

howThe issue, though, is not one of malice. In many cases, her reactions are natural and, while they may be done offensively by anyone even close to my age, they’re pure accidents on her part. It’s just how kids view the world without the filters we all have come to adopt. Well, maybe not all of us.

To this day, Olivia and I still battle over her interactions with the school crossing guard. Nearly every morning, Stacey, in her florescent vest, will be bubbling over with excitement as she blocks traffic so we can pass. She excitedly greet us.

Good morning! Are we excited for the end of the school year?

No joke, Olivia will physically turn her body away from this infectiously happy woman towards me and shrug her shoulders. I nervously laugh it away as if I’m in “Weekend at Bernies” and someone just saw Bernie fall into the salad bar. It’s not until we walk away that I get to explore what possible reason she might have for acting this way.

I get more annoyed with each fake smiled step we take away from the street corner before I finally find out her issue. When I ask why she shrugged her shoulders to Stacey’s question, her answer made all the sense in the world.

I didn’t know. I hadn’t thought about if I was excited before she asked. So I shrugged.

It throws you off a bit, right?

Well, it’s rude.

Why?

Because she doesn’t need to know the exact truth. It’s like asking how you’re doing today. No one wants to hear a long drawn out answer. They want to hear “great!” It’s called small talk.

Here’s the insanity of all this. As I explained it to her genuinely befuddled face, I could hear the words sounding ridiculous as they poured from my mouth. Her way seemed right. If someone asks how you are and you’re not sure, say “I don’t know.” That makes sense, right? It makes sense to kids. That’s why they do it. It’s the adults, with decades of forced-upon social pleasantries, who have configured the world into a game of polite back and forth.

That’s why it baffles me when I see some parents fighting tooth and nail with their kids over an unintentionally hurtful comment. The bewildered mom or dad will turn to me and incredulously ask, “Can you believe he told me that my shoes were ugly?

Yes. Yes I can. He’s seven.

It’s easy to be mad at your kid for acting the way you dread they’ll act when they grow up. However, it’s more important to find out why they did it. Not every mean comment is meant in a mean way. Sometimes you can offer a bright smile and a question of, “Did you like the dinner I made you?” The reply might be, “Not so much.” It’s not said to hurt your feelings. It’s said because they didn’t like dinner so much and you asked. You need to be ready for it.

It’s not just verbal interactions that get lost in translation either. Once, I was pulling Olivia and Lucas back from pumpkin picking in our little red wagon. As is often the case with a child on the Autism spectrum, Lucas grinning for a picture can be very tough. For some reason, though, he was all smiles and I was very eager to get the perfect selfie. I aimed the camera at the three of us and began calling out.

Olivia! Look at me. Look. Look over here.

She stared straight down at the pavement in front of her as she rolled forward. I turned my head and pleaded.

Please, Olivia. Hurry. Look at me. He’s going to look away.

Her gaze didn’t move. His smile faded and the moment was gone. Incredibly irritated, I questioned this blatant display of opposition. What was her problem?

Why didn’t you look at me?!

I did! I was looking at your pants!

In a world of silent letters and salad forks, it’s genuinely hard for kids to know the proper things to say or do sometimes. Sure, there are plenty of times when their bad comments or actions come from a bad place. There are plenty, though, where they just come from confusion and youth. The bottom line? You can ask a question like, “Doesn’t grandma look pretty today?” But brace yourself for any possible answer.

Plenty of kids grow up to be jerky adults. It’s up to us to correct their thinking early on and it’s impossible to do that if you’re constantly reinforcing the idea that they’re “rude”. Sometimes your kids are jerks, but sometimes they’re just kids. We’re the ones who need to sort out which is which and handle it accordingly. It’s not an easy parenting task. But then again, none of them are.

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