Every time my neighbour’s kid comes over, the rules of our home go out of the window. For instance, he’ll bring over a two-litre bottle of cola, large bags of chips and other junk food my kids are only allowed in limited quantities once a week. I’ve explained this to him and his mother, but to no effect. How can I discipline the neighbour’s out-of-control, but sweet and affectionate child when he comes into my home, without being a complete party-pooper for my kids who adore him and are his best friends?
Always a tough call when you’re struggling to set down rules about such things and an overindulged kid enters the picture. Actually, this kind of thing is not really indulgence on his parents’ part, but more lazy, path-of-least-resistance parenting. And you will continuously encounter this. Right now, it’s about junk food, later it will be about pocket money, clothes, late nights, driving the car, boyfriends, girlfriends and so on.
Disciplining the neighbour’s kid is not your mandate and, anyway, it seems to be difficult to even attempt, since there’s no move from his parents to exercise control. So, here’s what you’ll have to do: First you’ll have to take your kids into confidence and plan some kind of gambit. Sit them down and have a chat in which you may have to subtly (got to cultivate that one, if you don’t already know how!) indicate to them that the neighbour’s “poor” kid seems not to have access to more interesting food and activities.
Come up with a plan with your kids to put together fun food and drink when the neighbour’s kid comes over. If you have the time and energy to do it, it will be well worth it. If you’re not cooking-inclined, buy some kiddies-in-the-kitchen kind of cookbooks and let them muck around a bit—chikki, nimbu-pani, bhel, home-flipped burgers—there’s plenty of decent kid food you can entice them with.
The next time the kid from next door shows up armed with junk food, you can all look dismayed (acting skills need to be honed here). Then tell him to bring over something less boring next time. Add a smiling suggestion that if he can’t, you’ll be happy to provide it. Basically, you’re working at de-glamourizing the junk he’s addicted to eating and bringing. I know this sounds crafty and manipulative, but, well, so be it.
The other, slightly lamer, option is to negotiate with your neighbour and reduce the quantities—half-a-litre of cola distributed in small glasses and a few chips, not the fatso-sized bottle and chip packet.
The bottom line is to get very firm and brook no arguments from your neighbour (senior and junior). Declare your home a cola- and chip-free zone on some days, and simply stick to it. I know it doesn’t feel good to always be the resident dragoness, but what to do? You and your kids can’t be held hostage in your own home by someone’s sloppy eating habits and lazy parenting.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org