Living on Lord Howe Island

Feb
13

When your child insults an adult

Posted by Pinetrees Lodge – Friday, February 13, 2015



Help! We need some advice on etiquette. Parents, teachers, social scientists, psychologists – anyone! What do you do when you child insults an adult? And not just curious comments that weren't intended to be heard – “why is that man so enormous?”, “why does this taxi smell?”, “why is that boy wearing a dress?” – but proper eyeball to eyeball insults.

Luckily most adults have enough emotional know-how and self-deprecating humour to get through “fighting words” from a four year old girl. Like Great Uncle Bob (who you may have read about here) who answered Elsie’s question “you’re so old - when will you die?” with the answer “Little Elsie, the question should be, how did I survive?” – you see, Uncle Bob was 97 at the time and was one of the last surviving Rats of Tobruk, who was wounded countless times during the Second World War in North Africa and PNG (and still walks around 70 years later with a German bullet in his ribs).

Even young tradesmen, in their pub fighting prime, can swallow bossy rudeness from young girls with a laugh. Like the tilers from Port Macquarie who worked on our renovations last year. On arrival they wore over-sized ripped jeans halfway down their Bonds undies, with hoodies over caps over dreadlocks, and a disestablishment slouch to rival any first year Arts student – you know the look? Imagine their surprise when they were greeted by a proper young 5 year old, in school uniform, saying “excuse me, excuse me – I can see that you’re smoking – it’s not good for you, and I’m pretty sure that you’re not allowed to do that around here”. There may have also been something about “Amy White House dying of rugs”, but I was in too much shock to remember the details. They were polite boys at heart, so they put their smokes out, and said with a wink “we better not light up a funny cigarette near you”. And they didn't (near her).

More recently, Pixie (3, but soon to be 4) came running up the beach and said “Georgie, my Daddy said you look like a boy”. Unfortunately, Daddy was sitting right next to Georgie at the time. There’s history to this one. Georgie is by far the most stunning girl on Lord Howe (she appears in most of Andy Lloyd’s videos), and is as kind and generous as she is beautiful. About 6 months ago, Georgie shaved her head for charity and has been slowly growing it out. At one stage during Andy’s filming, Georgie had a moment of doubt and said that she looked like “some weird boy”. Pixie overheard us talking about this, filed it away for 5 months, and then delivered her recollection with point blank precision, without warning, subtlety or remorse. Take that Dad and Georgie. What was that about swimming lessons?

But the worst kind of insult is the one that is taken seriously and can potentially start a whole new round of inter-generational loathing. And this is where we need advice. A few weeks ago, we were driving home and stopped to say hello to a couple of local bike crusaders who were watching some baby chicks on the side of the road. Innocent enough, until Elsie (again, and now 6) says “excuse me, excuse me – why do you have your helmet undone? Don’t you know that’s against the rules?” Not good with these people – they’re serious about bikes – and then she finished with “I know you – you work at the ….. – you should know better”. It was late in the day, and the policeman had been at school talking about road rules (at least she was listening), but we now had a problem. The recipient isn't known for her sense of humour after a long day dealing with customers, so her silence was bad for us. As we drove off, we giggled at the clash of surly personalities (school and work can bring it out of the best of us), but vowed to apologise next time we crossed paths (which is pretty much every day).

Here’s the dilemma. Elsie, with her lack of diplomatic finesse, was right. It was a simple statement of fact, followed by some common sense advice. How do you explain to a 6 year old that even though, technically, she was correct, she should perhaps keep quiet next time because we all think that if we’re good people we should be allowed some leeway if we occasionally break the rules. We don’t like to admit, even to ourselves, that we’re misbehaving and we certainly don’t like it being pointed out to us in public by a 6 year old. The notions of right and wrong, truth and lies, consistency and hypocrisy, and fact and opinion are kind of complicated. Maybe we could have used our PM’s example of ‘core promises’ and ‘non-core promises’ to help explain the subtleties? Or better we just let her discover that grey zone later in life?

Fast forward a few days, and our two separate apologies, on behalf of our 6 year old, were rejected with a mumbled retort about her dad driving too fast along the airstrip road. Houston, we have a problem. Should we try again? You know – “she’s only 6 and….”, or is there another way? Help! Please advise.

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About Dani Rourke

HELP! I have 2 children, 25 staff and up to 85 guests. I was a lawyer for 10 years, but recently escaped. My husband and I moved from Sydney to beautiful Lord Howe Island to run Pinetrees Lodge, which has been in my family for 6 generations. I'm writing about family business, island life and the whole work/family disaster. Did someone say balance?

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