Under the influence of other kids

Jul 9, 2008 at 11:03 p.m. ET

Almost every community has them: kids who are basically nice but perhaps have a slightly negative influence on other kids, often subtly so. When I encounter kids like this in my kids'social circle, I mostly handle it by keeping a touch of distance between my kid and that one. But what do you do when that dynamic exists within an extended family?

Bratty TeenMy kids have been spending the last few days with far flung cousins. I've noticed changes in attitudes and behaviors in that time, and it's increasing in intensity. Sadly, I feel relief that there will be separation between the cousins very soon. Within the next few hours soon.

Different homes, different styles

These cousins are good kids, but they were raised very differently. Whether one way is right and one way is wrong is not the point, it's just all different. With shorter visits, some of the differences are less noticeable. When visits stretch in length, they are more noticeable.

It's little things that are causing some of the stress: comments about what they can do that my kids can't, what they have that my kids don't, shock (feigned or real, I don't know) that my kids have chores to do at home and expectations about behaviors.

About some (mostly inconsequential) things, I can say something, as long as I say it with a light tone and joking manner. About other things, I must be silent. It's a dicey thing criticizing someone else's parenting, and even dicier when it's family. Just as I would not want my siblings telling me how I do something with my kids is wrong, I don't do that with my siblings. Instead, I try to work around the situation as best I can, reiterating expectations while knowing the visit is finite.

Maintaining respect - and boundaries

I want my kids to know and have fun with their cousins; family is so important! If we were around the cousins more, I probably would have to say something. Either that, or with the increased time together, the novelty of time together would be reduced and we'd understand and respect one anothers' family dynamics a little better. The trouble is, when visits are less than ideal, one often is less likely to plan for more time together. 

In the meantime, it's an ideal time to talk to my kids again about our family's point-of-view, our values, our goals - and help them to understand how we are all different and the need to respect those differences. Distance can be good for perspective on those differences. After all, if we were all exactly the same, the world - and our families - would be pretty darn boring.

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