Why I Refuse to Deal with My Kids’ Rude Behavior in Public

My family and I were sitting at lunch with another family when my 5-year-old daughter got mad. I don’t remember what she was mad about, but it was probably something critically important to a 5-year-old. Possibly the restaurant didn’t have what she wanted on the menu, or maybe somehow I had cut her food incorrectly because my mind reading skills were off that day.


And so my little darling daughter got rude. And by rude, I mean she got mean to me. “No,” she said shaking her head. “I’m not eating my stupid lunch and I’m not even going to stay at this dumb table.”

Everyone at the table looked to me to see what I’d do. “Can someone pass the ketchup?” I said as I went on about my meal.

The other mom at the table appeared to be shocked that I wasn’t going to do something about my daughter’s rude behavior. But I was doing something. I was doing nothing, which is something when you’re a parent.

“Aren’t you going to do something?” the other mom asked.

“Yes,” I said calmly. “I’m going to eat my lunch.”

Later, in private, I talked to my daughter about her rude tone. We talked about how words are powerful and how they can hurt others. And we talked about respect and discussed why it’s important to treat everyone with respect.

We had that conversation in private because I’ve learned the hard way that dealing with kid’s rude behavior in public is a total waste of time and energy. My daughter is my second child and so I’ve been down this rude road before.  See all kids get rude. No parent is spared sassy mouths, eye rolls, unkind words, or full on public stalemates from their children.

My son, who is my eldest, likes to get rude by being a cool dude in front of his friends. At home he’s a loving puppy dog, but when his friends are around he’s defiant. And yes, rude. But I know that if I put my foot down in the moment, he’ll miss the point and focus on being embarrassed in front of his friends. And so unless something dangerous is going on, I let it slide until later when he’s alone. And then, when I’m not quite so angry and he’s not trying to impress his crew, I politely impress upon him why his behavior, tone, or words aren’t acceptable. He sees that in our family we have rules and manners toward one another and toward other people. But he also sees that even when he’s in the wrong, his parents are respectful.

And both kids aren’t above, on occasion, being rude to a stranger in public. Even in those instances, as much as it embarrass me to watch my child be rude to a waitress or polite stranger, I don’t immediately intervene. Instead, I might wait a few minutes and then speak to the offending child about their manners. In general, they feel baldy that they were rude to someone who was being kind to them. And in some instances, on their own accord, they’ll go back and apologize. The impact is much greater if they’ve decided to apologize rather than me forcing them to do so.

And yes, sometimes that means my kids don’t apologize or correct their mistake. It pains me to know that my kids were rude to someone and it wasn’t corrected, but I know that most people understand that kids are learning. And that means, kids aren’t always polite.

Some kids are rude because they’re allowed to be rude at home and they know no difference. In my experience, however, most rude kids are rude because they’re testing boundaries. They’re trying to get a rise out of their parents. They figure the best way to do that is to be rude in public. And usually, it is.

So I’ve learned the hard way that disciplining either of my kids in public only guarantees I’ll humiliate my child and myself. Dealing with it privately gives me a chance at solving the problem. And let’s face it, dealing with rude behavior in public gives kids the negative attention they’re seeking in the first place. I’m not rewarding that with my time, or energy.

But more importantly, by waiting to deal with rude behavior in a more private moment, I am giving my children the respect I want them to show me. I am taking the high road and modeling respect. It’s not as satisfying as making a scene in public so every other parent can rest assured that I’m not one of those moms who never disciplines her kid, but it does help reinforce good manners to my child. That’s really all that matters, now isn’t it?

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