Friday, December 3, 2010

Yell at My Kid, You Get a Time Out

On Twittermoms this morning, I was following a lively discussion about random adults who yell at kids in public. Since I have a lot of unfortunate experience in this area, I had a lot to say about the subject. My six-year-old is often corrected by adults he's never met. Generally there's no scuffle because most adults are civilized and my son is usually pretty well behaved. However even when he does something he shouldn't, I don't feel he deserves to be screamed at by any out-of-control adult including me. My son is autistic. On the rare occasions that he does upset another child or adult, it is most often because he doesn't understand what constitutes proper behavior in a given situation.
Recently, he wanted to play with a younger child at the playground. He's working very hard on learning how to engage other kids appropriately, but his minimal language skills, difficulty with eye-contact and generally impaired social skills make this very hard for him right now. He shoved the other child to get his attention, and the other child, and quite understandably started crying. I was right there, I always have to stay close not just to monitor my son's behavior, but to make sure other kids don't mess with him because he can't tell me when someone has hurt him. Unfortunately I still don't always have time to intervene before the other kid's parent starts screaming at my kid. And unfortunately that's just what happened here.
Let me be very clear, my son does not get to push other kids. It doesn't matter what his intention was; his disability does NOT EVER give him a free pass to behave in a socially unacceptable way. He must be corrected, but that has to happen through me, my husband or to whomever we entrust his care. Random adults should refrain from correcting him, not only  for moral reasons, but on a practical level they simply won't get through to him no matter how much they reason. Or scream.
So here, as usual, I started with a simple explanation: "He may not understand you. He's autistic." I don't apologize for him. He can do that for himself, and you can be sure I don't let him leave the scene until he does. And as usual the other parent was mortified when they learned they had just been screaming at a disabled child.
This often happens. Nine times out of ten, it's the OTHER adult who wants to run away from my son-- and me-- the minute I intervene,. The adult who had been hollering moments before is suddenly embarrassed by their own actions, maybe rightfully so, but what I need most from them is their continued presence, however uncomfortable that makes them. (I've not had to pin any large men to the floor yet to make them stay, but I'm certainly not above that. ) They don't get to leave until after my son recognizes what he's done wrong, uses his words to apologize and shows me he's learned from the experience. And so in the end, both wrong-doers, whether they meant to misbehave or not, are effectively corrected.
Now, I understand that my son's situation is unusual, but I think there are applications to typically developing children as well. Stay close to your kid in public places and keep an eye and ear out for any interactions they have with other children or other adults. If you can step in smiling before ANYONE starts screaming or crying, you can prevent children's--and adult--tantrums. If you actively take responsibility for your children by correcting them before anyone else gets the chance, or by politely asking how you can help before the crisis escalates, you can quash most brewing storms.
One last point. My  son and I always try to leave on a high note. Together we seek out the offended parties and say a friendly goodbye. That way, everyone has at least some good memories of the encounter, and are more likely to behave better next time.  
(Carol Greenburg)
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