Welcome To The Bitchery

What is the appropriate expectation of a six-year-old?

Just got back from a trip with my husband and his niece and two grand-nieces, the oldest of whom is turning six next week. I've never been a parent, although I helped raise my two little sisters and have helped babysit numerous times in my life. I'm 57 and my husband is 68. Neither of us has ever had kids. I've known these two children since they were born, but have never been around them more than about twice a year.

First of all, let me say that I understand it is not my place to say a thing about the six-year-old's behavior. I understand that, and I am not in a position to say anything. Or at least I don't think I am. I have been Googling and Google seems to agree. The best course of action is to keep my mouth shut and keep out of it.

We were probably wrong to have invited the niece and children that young on a trip with so much walking and so much excitement, leading to so much tiredness. I am trying to separate in my mind the tiredness factor from certain behaviors I found quite alarming and upsetting.


I am not the one who invited them. My husband did, and actually the extended family invited themselves, which is fine with me. I was glad everyone was able to come. However, others in the extended family included two four-year-olds who must have been just as tired and just as excited from being away from their normal schedule, and I didn't see any abnormal behavior from them. I've known all these kids since they were born, but I've only been around them about twice a year.

Sorry so long-winded. OK, so here are some of the things the six-year-old did:

Running far ahead of her mom and the group on busy streets, and refusing to stop and come back when called. At one point, the first day, the mom said "J. would you please stop trying to run in the street?" It seemed to me the mom said this either in a way that didn't project any authority or almost as if the behavior was considered cute.

Refusing to hold a hand when crossing a busy street. This was the group's first visit to an extremely crowded and busy city. My husband had given her a hat and at one point she was throwing it down while crossing busy streets, also while refusing to hold a hand. I think she started throwing the hat down in response to being told to hold a hand/her hand being taken by me. These streets are busy (Chicago) and at one point when she threw the hat down while crossing, I said "Give me that" and scooped up the hat. She began to cry. I figured I was about to get into trouble with the rest of the group for being "mean" so I bowed out of the situation and stopped trying to take her hand when crossing streets.

Repeatedly jumping in puddles, which I didn't think was my business if her mom didn't mind. I wasn't sure if her mom minded though. Her mom spoke of all these behaviors like "Oh please stop" but in my opinion without a voice of well-established authority—although, again, it's not my business in a way and I don't know for sure if this is typical of when they are at home with their mom. Again, splashing in every puddle didn't seem to me like a huge problem if their mom didn't mind. It's the kind of thing most parents don't allow.


The first time we got to a subway platform (this was the first subway they had ever been near) I took J. by both hands, looked her in the eye, and said "This is serious. Do not go anywhere near that blue part. Stay right here and hold a hand. Someone could accidentally bump you (I said this in earshot of the mom in case she was not aware)...It happens all the time." Still, the little girl did not want me to hold her by the hands so I trusted the mom to keep her from running around like she had been doing on the streets, but I was very worried, having just seen how little control her mom seemed to have. Telling the little girl not to do something seemed to spur her to do it, I was beginning to see.

On the way in to any subway, children her age are supposed to go under the turnstile instead of push through it, because it costs money if they push through. The attendant told the little girl this, and we told her this. She would not stop pushing through the turnstile. Her mom was like Oh she loves to push buttons, and Oh she is fascinated with turnstiles etc. No seeming sound or expectation of authority from the mom, but instead, either a sense of resignation that the behavior was inevitable, pleading with the child, placating the child, or acting like the behavior was cute. I explained that on our way OUT of the subway, she could push the turnstile, but that wasn't good enough. Thereafter, every time we entered the subway, she insisted her mom go through at the same time so she could push it, and the one time that didn't happen and she was made (by one of the other people in busy confusion) to go under, she pouted and cried for what seemed quite a while.


Later, when I wasn't around, she was hit in the head quite hard by a gate to a ride, but I don't know exactly how that happened—if she proceeded to run ahead when she had been told not to.

When I would try to use various vending machines for luggage and the subway payment cards, she would run up and push the buttons and no one tried to say anything to get her to back off and let me (the only one who had studied the system and how to purchase the quite-complicated tickets) complete the task without interruption. At one point it was a luggage locker that demanded a fingerprint reading and the same finger when you come back. The child kept getting up in the buttons and pushing buttons and no one tried to say anything. At the museum, she ran ahead onto elevators and pushed all the buttons, and no one tried to say anything except the mom said "She's fascinated with buttons." It seemed like the mom thought this behavior was cute, but I'm not sure.


At the zoo, her mom bought both children toys and J. was throwing her toy repeatedly in a busy area blocking other people's path. Her mom explained "I spent $15 that I don't have on that, stop throwing it" and the child, behind her mom's back, said to me, "I'm still going to throw it," and still did. By this time, I had been googling and Google said it was best for me not to try to say anything, so I didn't. I had already tried to get her to stop grabbing my husband's tablet and my phone just a few minutes before, when the mom was not around, to no avail. She was on a tear. I had gotten down on her level, looked her in the eye, and said, not yelling, "I am not playing. Stop grabbing my phone." But she did not stop and I got up and put the phone in my backpack, resolving that what I thought I knew (get down on their level, calmly look them in the eye) did not work and I was likely to get in deeper trouble if I didn't let go of it, so I let go of it.

At the zoo, she hit her two-year-old sister hard, in the face. Her mom said "When you two get home I will put you in your room and close the door and you can go at each other, but not in public please." This was almost said jokingly, and one thing I took from it was the "not in public please" had that same "please" tone that I didn't think was working at all, the entire time, from the mom. I know some behavior is worse in public and I cut slack for that, but this was full-on hitting in the face. I don't think my husband had ever seen that either, but earlier he had said "J. hits HARD" so I found out J. had been hitting him...and also he said "I hope she doesn't turn into a bully." He said when his niece was growing up "she had a temper too." I'm not sure what his thinking is on this but I'm treading very carefully because I have a feeling that to them, I will seem like a "meanie" if I think a parent should have more control and authority over a six-year-old. I told him I didn't see anything abnormal in the two-year-old (they have different fathers) but that this running ahead away from the parents on a busy street, refusing to hold a hand on a busy street crossing when told, refusing to go under a turnstile when told, and above all, hitting, in a six-year-old was off the charts.


I told him "Watch when (parents of four-year-olds and one eight-year-old) get here, it will be a GIVEN than the kids hold a hand crossing the street ( I didn't expect the 8-year-old to, but he did) and it will be a GIVEN that they sit down on the bus and don't run ahead. And it was true. The parents of the four-year-olds and 8-year-old are Latino and African-American, and maybe it doesn't matter, but I said that the parents of the four- and 8-year-olds "project authority in their voices and demeanor because they picked it up and saw how it was done" and I think that is what is going on. I think the mom of the 6-year-old does not know how to "project authority" and has been doing the "oh please don't," wring-hands, for a long time. However, there could be more going on. I didn't see anything like this a year ago.

The entire trip, even with the other adults around, every time we got near a busy street, it was "Oh please stop scaring me." Not "Come. Here. Now." At one point, the two-year-old was standing up in a bus seat and the mom goes "I wish you would stop scaring me." Not, "Sit down." On another bus ride, the bus driver said "All children MUST be in SEATS" because the six-year-old was running up and down the bus. At still another point, the train conductor got onto the mom because both children were running and climbing on equipment.


I'm not in a position to convince these people that it's really, really OK for an adult to project that the adults are in charge. I figure I sound like a meanie and fuddy-duddy for feeling that this mom is not using the authority that she should use and make it clear that the adults are in charge instead of "I wish you would stop scaring me" and "when you get home you can hit your sister in your room." That really shocked me.

I did not see this behavior a year ago. The mom was with a guy for a while, about a year ago, who I thought was too strict. I thought he yelled at the now-six-year-old when she wasn't doing anything wrong. She broke up with him and kicked him out for being too hard on her kids. Could an overreaction in the opposite direction cause this kind of behavior a year later?


I hope this doesn't have anything to do with it. The six-year-old's father is in jail and has been since before she was born.

If I sound like a snob or meanie I'm sorry. I once dated a guy who had what I considered divorce guilt and managed his kids in a similar manner—"Oh I hope child doesn't throw a fit" instead of having a plan and a reward system or any kind of plan. His subsequent wife couldn't take it either, but the kids turned out fine after all. I had severe doubts but I'm glad they turned out fine. It seems to me this is a case of the parent thinking it is "mean" or "too strict" to set boundaries, project authority, and make it stick, and my husband despite his age has hardly ever been around kids. I certainly don't want to come across as an outsider meanie and ruin any relationships with the extended family.


At what age are normal children expected to stay with the group on a busy street when the parent says to hold a hand? At what age are normal children expected to sit down on a bus instead of running around?

At the zoo, since I felt the two-year-old was genuinely too small for all this running around, I offered to rent a wagon but the mom said she couldn't keep her in a stroller or wagon...she would undo the strap and get out. At what age does a normal parent expect a child to stay in a wagon or stroller if the parent says so? Again, I thought we were expecting too much walking out of the two-year-old, and I didn't see any behavior I considered abnormal for a two-year-old.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter