Below are three knotty scenarios, with some expert advice from child psychologist Claire Halsey and psychologist Ilona Boniwell, Psychologies’ expert family columnist.
You're staying in a hotel and there are some noisy children who play football right next to you (and everyone else!) on the beach, and kick sand over you and your drinks. What do you do?
‘Talk to the children’s parents,’ says Boniwell. ‘It is important not to be aggressive at all, but calm and nice. Tell them that you are having a rest and you feel the noise level is a little too much and is there anything they can do to help you. Try to put yourselves and the parents on the same side – then they will not feel attacked.’
If there are no adults around, she says, then talk to the children. ‘Say something like “It’s great that you are having a lot of fun, but unfortunately if you start kicking sand on me that means I cannot have fun. What do you think?”’
Halsey is more circumspect. ‘With strangers, in a situation where I am going to see them during the week, I would be tempted to just move to another part of the beach, because I could see it escalating. A situation like this is very unpredictable.’ The reality, she says, is that ‘people are much touchier about someone reprimanding their child than they used to be’.
Question your assumption that a child is being disrespectful, she says; it will help you feel less wound-up. ‘We all have a different sense of personal space. If those kids were playing on that piece of beach yesterday, they will feel you are invading their space,’ she points out.
Your 14-year-old son’s friend is cheeky when he comes to your house, and never says thank you. You brought him along on a family dinner and he ordered an expensive steak then left it. You want to pull him up, but you don't want to embarrass your son.
In your own house, things are easier, because you can invoke house rules, says Halsey. ‘Keep it light and jolly. Say something like “Hang on, I think you’re being a bit rude. We love having you here, but these are the rules.’’ If you are worried about embarrassing your son, talk to him separately, later on. ‘Say “I don’t want him being like this, but I do want him to visit”. Then ask your son how he thinks you should handle it.’
Boniwell has a great technique for the restaurant. ‘I would never just give teenagers a menu. I would say, “your limit is this much and you cannot pass it – no negotiation”. That makes it really easy.’ Setting boundaries in advance like this is, she says, an effective way to avoid conflict. ‘If they ask to go on the Xbox, say “yes, for half an hour” (or whatever) and if they do not come off after that time, pull the plug out.’
As for your own child’s embarrassment, she says: ‘Teenagers get embarrassed about everything. Where do you draw the line? It is a factor and if the behaviour had happened just one time you would probably let it go. But if the behaviour is continuous, then you need to intervene.’
You and your son often go on holiday with your brother and his 10-year-old daughter. When she is in a bad mood she ignores what you say to her. You draw up a rota of chores but she only does what she chooses, when she feels like it. You have lost your temper and shouted at her in the past. Your brother tells her off mildly but says you’re the grown-up and should be more understanding.
‘You should try not to lose your temper,’ says Boniwell, ‘but this is your family, so maybe you can allow yourself to get a bit cross, to show you are upset and that something is really annoying you.’ In doing so, you are sending a powerful message to your niece. ‘Because if you just accept her behaviour, it is acceptable. Her parents are accepting it and now so are you, and that is a problem,’ she points out.
Halsey advises letting your niece have some control when drawing up the chores rota. ‘Find out what jobs she likes doing. Then have a reward system if she does what was agreed,’ she suggests.
If she is rude, make it a rule not to lose your temper. ‘Kids need our empathy just like anyone else. How would you treat an adult who behaved like this? Ask her why she’s in a bad mood and if you can help – maybe she’s homesick. Or just move on and get on with something else.’