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Why Do I Apologize When My Child Acts Like a Kid in Public?

Playing in public is just fine for kids. Enjoy it!

The other day I was visiting a preschool and talking with a parent whose adorable six-year-old was wearing a pirate mask and carrying a play sword. He came up to me to me and said, “I’m scaring you!” I said “Oh-h-h. I’m so scared!” He smiled appreciably. Immediately the mother apologized for her son’s rude behavior. I commented, “Oh. He’s adorable. And so scary, too!” She grinned, her embarrassment turning into laughter and confidence.

Why do parents expect their kids to behave like adults when they are in the presence of other adults? It makes no sense. Kids are supposed to be playing and expecting to delight people. This gives them confidence and is developmentally on target. Why expect anything else?

Sometimes parents are so self-doubting that they give their children the wrong messages. It’s as if they’re saying to their kids, “Stop acting like a child!” Why would they do that? Are parents confused about what other parents think of them? Is the parent world so competitive that each mother is trying to outdo the other in their child’s phony politeness? How boring and sad!

Remember the saying, “Kids Do the Darnedest Things!” Well, they do and we should allow it and appreciate the joy they bring to those around them.

After all this was a preschool. In a beautiful play space another child was building a fortress with wooden and plastic blocks. He filled it with superhero figures and green and gray plastic soldiers. They were having a grand time fighting with winners and losers.

How wonderful the child could play out his aggressive fantasies with toys instead of with other kids. Then, a mother did it again. As I watched, she apologized for his playing war. I said, “He’s playing. It’s make-believe.” He knew it was pretend. It was as if she had forgotten.

I commented, “He’s expressing himself. This is exciting. Please don’t apologize for his vivid imagination. In fact, all the warriors who fall seem to get right up. This is a very pleasant war!” Finally, after pausing, she caught my drift and she smiled and said to her son, “Great story. Who’s your favorite guy? What’s he doing?” Now she was on to something as she was conversing with him about his play and helping him turn it into a story about his favorite fighter.

Kids are supposed to be kids with vast imaginings that communicate all the wonders of the world that they are learning about. The more they play, the more they learn, socialize, discover and wonder. We’re the ones who should be adapting to their worlds, not vice-versa. Of course, in the long run, they need to learn restraint and how to be pleasantly social around adults, but playing in the company of adults is delightful, not impulsive or out of bounds. Let’s enjoy it!

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