My son was rude

Dear Suzie,

My 11 yr old son was very rude towards a neighbour’s heavily pregnant wife. her husband wants an apology from my son to his wife. Although I completely agree with them, I know it is going to be hard to get him to do that, as he will be too embarrassed to do it. How do I go about getting my son to do apologize? Please help! From anxious Mum

Of course he should apologise. And of course he’ll be embarrassed but so what? If you haven’t already taught him that sometimes we have to do things that make us uncomfortable, its about time you did. It’s a valuable learning experience – if you’re nasty to someone it feels nasty when you have to face up to the music. Maybe next time you shouldn’t be nasty.

I completely sympathise with you but I also feel it’s about time everyone in his family had a reality check. Your avoidance of facing up to discomfort may be part of why your son is acting like this. In effect, you’re teaching him that when the going gets tough it’s time to run away. That’s what he’s doing but why shouldn’t he – you’re doing it too. So it’s time for another lesson. For you, that you’re the adult. What you say, goes. If you tell an 11 year old boy to apologise for being rude, that boy does what he is told, no argument. And for him, that rude words hurt and are not to be tolerated. He has to confront the pain he caused by going round and saying sorry. Maybe his discomfort will give him some insight into how she felt, and help him recognise that it’s not nice to offend and if he doesn’t like it, he shouldn’t visit those feelings on someone else. You love him and respect him. But you neither love, respect nor accept his behaviour and it has to change.

But I also think you and your husband need to sit down and think about exactly what was going on here. Why was he rude? Has there been a history of bad feeling between your families? Was it about her pregnancy? What feelings did that give rise to in him? Are there tensions in your family he was taking out on her? Whatever the reason, you need to come down hard on the behaviour while perhaps being helpful and supportive about the cause. Tell him he has to say sorry, but then sit down with him and listen to what he has to say about why he did it. It might help to get in touch with the parenting charity Parentline Plus, to get some support in exploring what this is all about in more depth.

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