The naughty step, early bed time, removal of privileges – the weapons in the parental armoury are powerful deterrents against unruly kids. But how, exactly, are you supposed to govern somebody else’s child? Should you, in fact, or is it none of your business what they do? For family friends, it is easy enough. There is an implied authority or a childish, “I’ll tell your Mummy and Daddy if you don’t do as you’re told”. The outside world is a tougher place. If you’re not comfortable with some degree of control over other people’s kids we strongly advise against ever entering a ball pool.
9 Meal times
If you sometimes feel like questioning your ability as a parent, just watch somebody else’s kid tackle a plate of spaghetti bolognese. Not only will they eat up every last morsel, they’ll manage to not spread it across their face and the table, and even say “please” and “thank you”. Then glance across at your own child as they push the pasta around for what seems like hours, while making a complete and unashamed mess and ask yourself what you did wrong.
A parent doesn’t think of their child’s classmates as junior’s friends or contemporaries. They know them only as germ-delivery agents. Watching a snotty-nosed urchin run up and slobber over your child is like watching your next two weeks of fever happen before your very eyes. Would it be possible to just keep your kids in a bubble until they’re 18? Answers on a postcard, please...
Every piece of advice we have ever read makes it explicitly clear that children develop at different paces and in different ways. We know it is true. But what parent can’t resist taking a look at another child’s report card to see how their own ‘Little Einstein’ stacks up against the competition. Not that it is a competition, of course. Perish the thought.
6 Bad influences
All children have that one rogueish friend. The one that gets them into trouble, leads them astray, makes them mischievous and is always at the centre of chaos in the classroom or elsewhere. Oh, and if your child doesn’t have a friend like that then they are probably the one who is a bad influence. Let’s not be too quick to judge others, eh?
There is an unspoken kinship between parents. A bond of togetherness that joins us all in union. An implicit understanding that as a society we all want our children to prosper together and advance as one. Unless, of course, you see another kid having a meltdown at a supermarket checkout. In that case you steer well clear and look on with a morbid fascination and remember all the times it was you who’d been put in that situation.
When your own children enter into a 30-minute monologue about the myriad differences between two seemingly identical Pokémon you need to at least feign interest. But surely it is acceptable to glaze over and think about literally anything else if a kid you barely know wants to discuss stages of Pikachu’s evolution. You’re not paid for this.
You’re a very nice, friendly, kind and caring person. So, it goes without saying that you publicly declare a friend’s baby to be gorgeous and the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen. You dote on them and make kissy faces. So it is very important to never, ever, under any circumstances, say to a single living soul that you think the kid looks a lot like Shrek.
You’re never a better parent than when looking after somebody else’s children. It’s okay to lose your cool, nap or serve a bowl of cereal for dinner when it is just your kid. But, when you know the other child will be interrogated when they get home, you have to raise your game and pull out all the stops to make sure you receive a positive parenting report.
The moment your kid starts nursery school they’re no longer your babies. Sure, they’ll come running to you when they scrape their knee and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get the occasional cuddle. But when they start making best friends of their own choosing, you’ll never be as close as you were before. Somebody else is the one making them giggle with fart impressions and that is the way it should be. Obviously, you have a greater capacity for bribes than the kids in kindergarten, but it is best to let go a little and allow your kids to find their own way.
Will Milner is a contributing editor. He doesn’t enjoy playdates.