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January 17, 2014

To share or not to share (bad news about someone else’s child)


By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

“Mommy, I’m worried about the first grade boys,” my 10-year-old daughter recently confessed. “They are saying a lot of bad words.”

“Bad, huh?” Since many of my daughter’s friends had been taught that “stupid” was a curse word, I assumed it would be one of the milder forms of playground profanity.

“They say the f-word and one of them was talking about rape and his penis.  They do it all the time.”

My daughter’s elementary school community gathers on sunny days at a tiny nearby park where different ages play together and the parents sit by and chat about the PTO, their kids, and where they’re looking for middle schools. The mood is generally sweet, the sense of comradery and looking out for one another’s children pervasive.  But it’s a community, not a tiny klatch of friends who know each other well.  

So as I quizzed my daughter about the 7-year-old boys who she’d heard sling cuss words like gangsta rappers, I mulled over my options.  To share or not to share?  No one likes hearing anything negative about their child, even when it’s true, or more like, especially when it’s true.

Should I take my 10-year-old’s word for it, relay the hearsay of a child, and freak out these mothers who I barely knew? Or should I, as my daughter implored me to do, stay silent?

It’s not something we get training in when we become parents. There is no chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting on navigating the treacherous waters of conflicting parenting styles, playground gossip, children’s often hyperbolic reportage.  But there isn’t a parent out there who isn’t faced by the dilemma: When is it appropriate to inform another parent that their kid has done something wrong?

I’ve done it before and it wasn’t fun. When my daughter was 8, she had friend over and the girl started a minor food fight with the chocolate pudding I’d made them. I swooped into the room and cried, “Hey what do you want to do, eat it or throw it?” –thereby breaking a whole slew of parenting best practices, chief among them: Wwhy was I asking a question?  She snorted: “Throw it!” Later, instead of passing a CD to my daughter, she flung it across the room, catching my daughter under the eye.  Then finally, when playing some game involving getting into a cubby hole, the girl kicked her way out, breaking the hinges.

I wrote an email, feeling like a self-righteous idiot the entire time. Her parents – I’m certain listed in heaven’s Who’s Who of the nicest people in the world – called to say the girl wanted to apologize and explain her side of the story.  We talked briefly and I assured the girl there were no hard feelings and it was okay.  All was very courteous, but the whole episode did cast a chill over my daughter’s friendship.  It was the last time she came to our house, and my child was never again invited to hers. I wasn’t sorry I’d spoken up, but I learned that you can’t always control the aftermath of such minor confrontations.

So as much as I didn’t want to talk to these mothers of the little boys with trucker mouths, I tried to think about what I would want them to do if they or their children observed my child doing something so blatantly antisocial. I’d want to know, even if in the end I didn’t agree that the behavior was so bad.  

A couple of days later I mentioned it to one of the mothers, who is also on the Who’s Who list. She was concerned, but seemed perplexed that her son had been among those mentioned.  She explained that sometimes her son – who is a total sweetheart – sometimes stayed away from the other boys because they played too roughly.  “He’s kind of sensitive,” she explained. A day later, one of the other mothers   approached me to say she’d heard about my concerns and wanted to assure me her son is only 7 and doesn’t know those words, but that she would talk to him and that she was sorry if anything had upset my daughter.

I don’t know if it will have any effect – my daughter says the trash talking tykes are pretty relentless in their profanity.  I also don’t have any idea what 7-year-olds uttering words they most certainly do not understand actually signifies. But I’m not so naive as to assume that I made myself popular that day I chose to cross the line and tattle on another child.


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I think you did the right thing by telling the parents. I would tell them in a heart beat if it was affecting my child. The way I see it, my child comes first and my popularity among other parents comes second.

If the other child's behaviour affects your child, you did the right thing. I would expect another parent to inform me if my child was using inappopriate words around others.

My daughter is in 5th grade. when she have studied in the same school since kindergarden, but in second grade she began to have problems because a new girl started taunting, name calling "stupid" and other names all the time, in other words she is bullying her and now no one want to be her friends. She is always by herself in the playground and in the Lunch table', all this breaks my heart. This girl is very bossy and manipulative but for a reason all the girls wants to be her friend. My daughter self-esteem has been affected. I have latin roots and my husband was born in USA. This girl's mother is a Girl Scout Troop leader I told her about this problem becuase I thought she would talk with her daughter, ( my daughter is in this Troop but the Toop leader daughter always mistreat her in the diferents GS activities, other times she igonered her and excluded from participates in the GS activities, we moved from another Troop to this troop because we were receiving from the other GS Troop Leader the the same treatment) but her daughter is acting now worst towards my daughter and the mother just call me or is nice with me when she need a favor from me, to be honest I feel used and I believe this mother do not care if her daughter is hurting my daughter. I always send a card and a gift to the GS Troop leader to say thanks for her time, efforts and dedication to the girls and in her Birthday the same. Am I doing something wrong? Please tell me. I talk also with the school principal but they havent done anything to solve this problem. I think probably they dont want my daughter becuase she is part Latin. I want to say my daughter is a talented girl, she has excelent grades and has been a School terrific kid, aso is involved in several Sports, she is a kind and good hearted person, In my desesperation I have told her to defend herself and stop this girl but she said she doesnt want problems. What do you think I should do about all this?

Take your daughter out of this and all other scout troops. Have her find other interests and new friends. If you find the same problems happening, seek professional help.

I would have told the child that we are happy she has come over to play, but there are rules in our house that may be different from her house or from school. I would clearly explain the expected behavior at your house. Food is for eating because so many children do not have the opportunity for snacking that we enjoy and so throwing it is disrespectful, safety is a top priority, so we hand things to each other etc... If you see behavior you do not like, you correct it calmly then and there. As a classroom teacher for 15 years, I believe that children want to behave well. I also know that different behavior is tolerated in different families and that I have no say or control over home life of a child. Typically, telling a child's parent will not cause a change in behavior, it will only set up a bad dynamic between families. I do make an exception when I am concerned for a child's well being, I would then contact the school guidance councilor and tell her what my child has reported (especially if there is talk of rape) and I would talk to my own child about how to handle herself in those situations because it is a life lesson. My concern in that situation would be for the well being of the first grade boy, not that my child was hearing inappropriate words, I can give my children skills to handle that. I feel that it is my responsibility to give my children the skills to participate in the real world by modeling and conversation. I do not believe that tattling on little children to their parents is a valuable life skill or actually works in solving problems just as it does not in an elementary classroom. Again, I want to be sure to explain that I do believe in communicating genuine concerns about a child through the correct pathways.

I would express my concerns to the Principal and let her make decisions about how to take care of the situation.

I have been on both ends of the spectrum on this situation. My first grader was amongst a group of other boys on the playground at recess and while didn't use profanity or violent sexual references, he said the word "penis" and a girl passing by happened to here it (it wasn't directed towards her).

The school received a very angry call from the girls mother that day, and the teacher relayed it to me. While it didn't bother me that someone informed me that he used the word in an inappropriate setting, it truly felt like the woman was tattling on my son with the intent of getting him into trouble rather than resolving an issue. All it took was explaining that although the above mentioned word wasn't bad, but it isn't appropriate to use unless you are asking a parent or doctor a question. He got the message and it wasn't a problem again. I would prefer to be informed when my son teeters on the border of crossing the line, but I don't like when a grown woman/man angrily tries to pursue the punishment of a child they don't even know because of their own inability to address the issue with their child first.

He's also been in the situation where he's been exposed foul language and inappropriate behaviors. Thus far, a single child has taught him the significance of "giving the middle finger", some rather unsavory words (the f-bomb, and the mother-f bomb), and introduced Freddy Krueger into his knowledge base. While this may seem tame to some, those are words, concepts, and characters that I was not ready to open him up to. We talked, he understands the difference between good behavior and inappropriate behavior. I later came to find out that many other parents had complained to the teacher about the exact same issues. The kids parents blamed "Netflix". Really?

I think its the actions of the parents and adults surrounding the child that will dictate their behavior. We can't force a child's parents to take notice and account for their kids actions, but we can govern how our own children understand what's appropriate and what is not.

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