There is always that one kid who disrupts playtime, the one you feel is a bad influence or a menace to everyone else on the playground. You know that kid: the one everyone complains about. The one who makes other kids cry. 'Yung sutil.
There are no sutil kids, just sutil parents,” says writer and mom Lara Perez*. “Kids act up for many reasons: lack of attention at home, lack of discipline, no proper guidance, and more,” Lara says. “As parents, it is easy for us to label children who don’t behave the way we expect them to. Usually, however, all these kids need are understanding and an explanation. Let’s first find out where they are coming from.”
Family and marital counselor and child psychotherapist Bec Yao, Ph.D., says there are many possible causes of misbehavior. “[A child misbehaves when] he is constantly neglected because [his] parents have to work, and they don't realize that their child needs more than just material goods. Or when a couple constantly fights without realizing the impact this has on their children--if a child witnesses one of his parents threaten to leave the other, it can be traumatic for the child. These issues could surface when a parent is called by the school due to disciplinary problems."
“Early on, if discipline is not consistent, then the child becomes confused,” warns Dr. Yao. “For example, you have a no-gadget rule on school days. However, parents and other caregivers break this rule because the mom might be too tired of her child’s nagging, the dad might want more pogi points with his child, or the grandparents are tired of imposing the rule and pity the child. Remember, discipline and rules must be consistently implemented by all individuals who have an impact on the child.”
Kindergarten teacher CD Lastimosa, of the Leap School for Young Children in Quezon City, emphasizes the importanct of discipline. "Each child is different, so parents may have different discipline methods. Setting boundaries at a young age is very important so that the child can already understand what is right and wrong.”
Here are some cases where one would consider a child sutil, and how to deal with them:
SUTIL KID #1: The child who lies Lara witnessed a child trying to lure her son, James*, 6, into an unsafe area and then lying about it. “I told them both to move away from the area. My son did, but the other kid did not and [even encouraged] my son to go back because it was fun,” she says. “I told the child’s mom that her kid was playing in an unsafe area. She called her son and asked him to stop, but the boy said, ‘I was not playing there. I was just getting something.’”
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How to deal: Though it’s tempting to argue about the truth, Lara just made sure her son knew what the rules were. Dr. Yao says she did the right thing. “If your child witnessed the other kid telling a lie, explain to your son what happened. You cannot change the other child’s behavior overnight, but this is a great opportunity to teach your son that lying is not good,” she says.
SUTIL KID#2: The child who bullies Janet Borromeo*, preschool teacher and mom to Jordan*, 6, and Matteo*, 1, says her eldest was bullied in school. “[The bully] would ask Jordan for money and toys. If he refused, the kid would say, ‘If you don’t give it to me, then I wouldn’t be your friend [anymore].’”
How to deal: Janet empowered her son. “I told Jordan that real friends do not ask for money and do not trick anyone into giving them money or toys,” she says. “I also taught him to say [to the bully], ‘Sorry, I don’t have any money. If you don’t want to be my friend, that’s too bad.’”
It is also important to make sure your child feels safe, stresses Dr. Yao. “Assure him that you will not allow other kids to bully him. Call the attention of his teacher or guidance counselor with a [gentle reminder] that if the bullying doesn’t stop, you have taught your child how to defend himself.”
Dr. Yao adds, “Keep communication lines open with your child’s teacher,” adds Dr. Yao. “Send the message across that you are a concerned parent and that you are always available for your child. That way, the teacher will also be assured that she can call you anytime.”
SUTIL KID#3: The child who tempts Clara Silva*, stay-at-home mom to Tricia,* 6, Anton*, 5, and Leo*, 3, says her second son has a friend who encourages him to do things he isn’t allowed to do. “I tell Anton not to jump on the bed or couch, but the son of my husband’s friend tells him he will be the only one not having fun [if he doesn’t do it],” she says. Her daughter’s carpool mate also tells Tricia not to wear her seatbelt because she doesn’t have to.
How to deal: Clara reminds her kids to work it out themselves because they already know what is expected of them. However, because she is friends with the mom of her son Anton’s playmate, she also relays to her in a matter-of-fact way what happens during their playdates. “It depends on the level of relationship I have with the mom,” she says. “If we are not close, such as the case with Tricia’s carpool mate’s mom, I make it sound light and for-your-information only.”
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Dr. Yao says Clara is on the right track. “She can talk to the parents if she knows them. Otherwise, she can only make sure that her kids follow her rules.”
SUTIL KID#4: The hardheaded child Every Sunday, Andrea Lopez*, work-at-home mom to Percy*, 6, says her son is faced with the hardheaded child of her step-sister-in-law. “This kid always grabs toys from my son, hits him for no reason, cries if he doesn’t get what he wants, and then does the same things all over again even after he says sorry! Every Sunday!” she says.
How to deal: At first, Andrea let the sutil child’s parents deal with their kid. She also explained to her son that he should tell his cousin to stop. This backfired when the boy began hitting Percy. “It was tricky because he’s the child of an in-law,” she says. “I didn’t want to offend her and create friction between us. I told my son to tell his cousin that he would stop playing with him unless he starts being nice. It worked! The hitting stopped. The grabbing stopped. The crying... well, we’re still working on that.”
Dr. Yao says hardheaded behavior is usually a cry for the parents’ attention. She also suggests to try being nice to the boy. “Since this is a regular Sunday thing, then it’s possible that the kid will slowly realize that he does not need to behave the way he does to gain some attention.”
Sutil kids aren’t necessarily horrible -- they’ve just been dealt with an unfortunate situation at home. It is our role as parents to make sure that the child isn’t intrinsically evil (though it may feel that way!), and to make sure our own kids do not get hurt or influenced by bad behavior.
*Names changed to protect privacy. A version of this article (“Naughty—Not Nice”) originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Smart Parenting Magazine. Minor edits were done by the Smartparenting.com.ph editors.