How to Deal with Schoolyard Antics: Tips from the Etiquette Expert

Our etiquette expert Elise Mac Adam, author of the new book "See Dick Bite Jane: A Think and Do Book for Parenting Predicaments Big and Small," helps parents handle some hairy schoolyard situations that you too might face.

etiquette expert; little girl pointing finger; young girl as authoritative figure

Elise Mac Adam is an etiquette expert who doles out helpful, straightforward advice designed to put bullies in their place - whether those bullies are sandbox strong-arms, nasty neighbors, or your own little angel-turned-devil. Here she answers questions from four parents struggling with different uncomfortable scenarios, from a mom who thinks her gifted daughter is being mistreated by her teacher to a parent whose child was bit by a fellow preschooler!




Dear Elise,

My son's best friend's family is wonderful, but they make me uncomfortable. This family is much better off than I am and they frequently invite my son on expensive (for me) excursions to the theater or the circus, that sort of thing. I try to pay his way but I can't do it all the time and every time I offer, it is always this mini-wrestling match over these tickets and things. I feel so guilty accepting handouts, but I don't want to say "no" to these things that my son will love to do with his pal.


Dear Broke,

If this family is truly aware of your financial limitations, you have less to worry about because clearly they can afford the tickets to these things and they are looking to make their child (and themselves, by extension) happier with your son's company. He adds more than he costs to have him come along.

But these financial disparities are uncomfortable for you and your son will also become increasingly aware of the differences. The best you can do is to offer positive, happy alternatives. You can invite your son's friend over for special projects at your house, and find interesting free events they might like. Don't compete; offer variety.



Dear Elise,

My friend just told everyone my daughter's scores on the big get-into-Kindergarten test that the children all took. My daughter didn't get the highest score in the world and I was okay with it until I started getting the sympathetic looks from everyone. I'm so angry with my friend for blabbing. What do I do?

-Protective Mother

Dear Protective,

The scores are out and the few people who can remember them even a few hours after hearing what your daughter got don't have enough to think about. There's nothing you can do now except interrupt your friend when these conversations arise and say that you're fine with your daughter's score but that you don't think endless discussions of kid test results are healthy. If you don't feel it would escalate the situation, you could ask your friend not to discuss your daughter's test scores with others. Then don't talk about them any more. Your friend may be desperate to get her digs in, but you don't have to participate. And now you can add another name to your list of people not to talk to about your child's achievements.



Dear Elise,

My kid got chomped at preschool! He had tooth marks on his arm for a while, but the skin wasn't broken and I know everyone is up to date on shots, so I don't think I need to go nuts, health-wise. But I'm obviously furious! The teachers said he was fighting with another little boy over a toy, but I just can't accept that this sort of thing can happen, and the other kid can get away with it.

-Bitten Baby

Dear Baby,

I'm sorry your kid got nipped. At this point, all you can do is maintain contact with the school. You don't want your son to be this other kid's teething object, but you need to trust that teachers and administration will take care of the situation. If the situations were reversed, you'd be equally miserable and horrified, but you wouldn't want your child to be a social outcast for doing this-once.

The school needs to make sure this doesn't happen again and you and your son's teachers need to make sure the experience isn't making your son skittish. Keep a close eye on the situation and be sure to let your child's teachers know if you hear about further inappropriate behavior.



Dear Elise,

My daughter is really smart. A lot of parents say that, I know, but my daughter is exceptional. At our parent teacher conference last week, her teacher said that she was having social problems and we should look into getting some therapy for her. I became really angry and told her she was wrong.

 I can't believe that this woman thinks my kid has problems! My husband thinks there isn't any harm in having her evaluated but I can't get around the fact that my kid's teacher thinks she's defective just because she's smarter than everyone else. I made an appointment to talk to the principal, because this woman should be happy she has such a smart student, not looking for problems with her.

-Mom of a Genius

Dear Genius,

It is not uncommon for exceptionally smart people to have social difficulties. Your daughter's teacher's comment sounds like the remark of a responsible teacher who is looking out for your kid. She wants your child to be happy and senses that she needs help. You do not have to get your child evaluated and if you do, you don't necessarily have to follow the recommendations, but why wouldn't you?

 You may know your daughter better than anyone else does, but surely you remember when she was little and only you knew that when she said "Waa appum jak," she was asking for apple juice. This is the same scenario. You may be too close to her to know she is struggling. Ideally, you'd be happy that someone sensitive is looking out for her best interests.

 You don't need to accuse or tattle on this teacher who is trying to help. If you don't want to take the suggestion just say: "Thank you, we'll think about it," hope you've heard the last of your kid's potential issues, and consider asking your child's pediatrician for advice. If you hear it again, you may have to rethink your attitude.


See Dick Bite Jane: A Think and Do Book for Parenting Predicaments Big and Small, by Elise Mac Adam




Elise Mac Adam is a mother of two boys in New York City. Her new book, See Dick Bite Jane: A Think and Do Book for Parenting Predicaments Big and Small (at right), is available in bookstores now.