Inappropriate Behavior - By Adults

Although we tend to think about “inappropriate behavior” as something that is mostly shown by children, the fact of the matter is that adults can be inappropriate as well. This often happens accidentally or because of repeating patterns, such as “Well, my parents did it, so it must be okay.”

Other adults in your child’s life may from time to time use inappropriate behavior, and we as parents sometimes can do so as well. Here are some things to consider about this adult behavior.

Of course the fact of the matter is that no one is perfect, and no matter how hard we try, slip ups will happen. However, we can make efforts to avoid some of the most common, and most harmful, forms of inappropriate behavior.

Other adults who are caring for your child should not supersede or go against your rules without discussing it with you. This can be a fine line, for instance, it is a “treat” of sorts for your child to stay with grandma and grandpa, and there is nothing wrong with a child having special privileges to a degree in a “special” situation. However, if you have a strict rule in place that your child is not to watch television after 7:30 p.m. (so that he or she will go to sleep at a decent hour) then Grandma and grandpa should support this rule. If you find out that grandparents are breaking your rules, discussing the matter with them might help. They may simply not understand why it’s so important to you that your child get to sleep at a certain hour, and so forth. It is especially inappropriate for caretakers to undermine you by saying things like “Well, that’s a stupid rule, you don’t have to do that here, and I can’t believe mommy would make you….” and so forth.

Caretakers such as babysitters, etc., should never take your child somewhere that you are not aware they are going. It is entirely inappropriate for you not to be aware of where your child is going to be at all times, especially young children.

Whether parents are married or separated, it is entirely inappropriate for a parent or other adult to speak badly of either of a child’s parents, or stepparents, regardless of the circumstances. Remember that when you are talking about a child’s parent, you are talking about a part of your child. This type of discussion in a negative way should never be held within a child’s hearing.

It is inappropriate for parents or caregivers to fight or argue within a child’s hearing. This is one of the most frightening experiences to a child. Just because your child is in bed and presumably asleep does not mean that he or she can’t hear you, or that you won’t awaken them. It’s normal for parents to have disagreements and even arguments but raised voices and insults are frightening and can be harmful to children.

Violence of any description is never appropriate in a home. If there is violence in your relationship (even if it has only happened once) consider getting expert advice. In general, violence tends to get worse in relationships, not better. Your children could be at risk not just emotionally but also physically in this scenario.

It is not appropriate for adults or parents to say hateful or harmful things to children, even as a joke. Children are not always able to tell the difference between something you mean and something you don’t mean. “You are such an awful boy, tomorrow I’m going to take you to the police station and get a new son…” might seem to you to be so totally outlandish that no child could believe it, but your child may lay awake all night in deeper fear than you can imagine. Remember that (especially when your child is young) you are the ultimate authority in your child’s life. Children are very literal thinkers, and typically very trusting. An “offhand” comment to you may be something that haunts a child for years. Be cautious with what is said in a negative way to a child.

It is generally inappropriate for an adult to smoke cigarettes in the room with a child, particularly babies and young children. It has been proven that cigarette smoke is very harmful to a child’s developing lungs and can also contribute to frequent ear infections, etc. Smoking in front of children also makes it much higher likelihood that your children will smoke as teenagers and adults.

It is inappropriate to allow a child to see major sexual behavior by adults. A kiss or hug is one thing, heavy petting or groping is something else entirely. Children will see what adults do as being acceptable; don’t be surprised if after seeing you do something like that, that your child tries it with their playmates.

It is inappropriate to take medication in front of very young children. Sometimes this cannot be avoided, but in general, you can do this away from a child’s attention. The reason for this is that children can’t tell the difference between, say, medication and candy, and it also virtually guarantees that if your child finds a pill that he or she will swallow it, “because that’s what Mum does.” It is not only inappropriate but extremely dangerous to leave medication of any description (even aspirin or acetaminophen) in a place where a child can get to it. This can cause a child’s death.

It is inappropriate to drink alcohol as a matter of course in front of children. Alcohol may be legal, but it is not something that you want your children necessarily to think is an absolute necessity in life or what adults do every day after work. Obviously illegal drug use falls in the same category.

You may need to be cautious if you hold strong beliefs, which are at odds with society, such as the idea that a certain ethnic group or religious group is the cause of all the world’s problems, etc. Adults have a right to believe whatever they wish, of course, but what you say in front of your child will surely be repeated, and if your statements are full of hatred, racism, sexism, and so forth, you may be denying your child the right to make up his or her own mind.

In situations where the parents have divorced, or broken up, it is entirely inappropriate to use the children as messengers. They will feel as though they are being required to take sides. It is also inappropriate to speak badly of your child’s extended family on the other parent’s side. Let your children be open; don’t drag them into your conflicts. It is entirely inappropriate, also, to tell a child that a family break-up is their fault. Parents should also not “pump” their child for information when they have been with the other parent for a time, e.g. “What did your dad say about me?” Your child needs to not feel “in between” their parents. Remember that no matter what, your child loves, and needs to love, both parents.

It is entirely inappropriate, unless so ordered by a court of law, to keep your children from communicating with their other parent or to keep communications from their other parent away from the children. Your children need to know that they are loved by both parents and they have a right to communicate with their mother or father (regardless of how much you might hate him or her) Some parents in the midst of very difficult divorces or break-ups have the idea that they can just, for example, take the children and leave the country permanently, to keep them away from the other parent. It is important to know that to take an action like this can be a criminal offense and can even lead to the loss of parental rights by the parent who does something like this- it’s actually treated like a kidnapping. If you feel your child is irreparably harmed by contact with his or her other parent, use the proper channels. Get expert advice.

It is inappropriate for any adult to compare your child to his or her siblings or other children. Much self-esteem has been battered over the years by statements like “Why can’t you be more like….?”

Generally speaking, it is inappropriate to ever leave your child home alone, even for a few minutes. Many countries and communities have laws about this. In the US only a few states have legal age limits; these will vary from state to state. As a very rough rule of thumb, the recommendation made by experts is that most children should not be left alone at home until age 12. Find out what the law says in your community. If you violate this and your child is harmed, you could be charged with child neglect or endangerment.

Likewise, it is not appropriate to leave your children in a car, even for a few minutes while you “run into the store.” This is true even if it’s cold outside, or even if the windows are rolled down. Especially in hot weather, it is important to note that nearly every year some children die because their parents left them in a car. The interior of a car heats up to a level that can be fatal to a child very quickly. Take your children with you, always, when you leave a car.

It is not appropriate to shake a child (especially a baby) or to slap him or her across the face. With the former you can cause permanent physical damage or death, with the second you can cause emotional damage and/or this may be considered child abuse in your community. It is inappropriate to discipline your child when you are not in control of your anger.

No matter what your child has done, it is not appropriate, or legal in the United States, to just “kick a child out of your home.” You are morally, legally, and financially responsible for your child until the child is 18 years old or until or unless you are relieved of that responsibility by a court. This should only be an absolute last resort, of course. If you find yourself contemplating this course of action for any reason, get help and expert advice immediately.

It is inappropriate to react violently or extremely negatively if you find your child masturbating, if he or she takes her clothes off at an inappropriate time, or if he or she, for example, touches your breasts when he or she is not nursing. Children simply need to be taught the boundaries of acceptable behavior in society, and their exploration is natural. However, it is important to realize that if your child is showing repeated overtly sexual behavior, that you need to seek expert advice; there may be the possibility that someone has touched your child inappropriately in that way.