Intersections – Rules for kids

Posted by March 25, 2015
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

The best tool you can give a child is a shovel. – Hillary Rodham Clinton

My only job in life is to keep her off the pole. – Chris Rock

By Nicki Salcedo

I got really mad last week. You know when you get so angry, you’re afraid you’ll say something crazy? I was so angry, I was afraid I was about to reveal my true self. That’s when other people should be afraid.

There’s a kid who’s been picking on my child, and I wasn’t sure of the best way to handle it. And I almost never handle anything the best way.

First, I told my child to stand up to the other kid. The problem continued.
Second, I alerted the teacher. The problem continued.
Third, I talked to the other child.

I saw the instigator after school one day.

“I hear you’ve been teasing my kid. Do you think that’s nice?” I asked.

The child’s face went pale. His eyes got watery. I heard a quiet, “No.”

“Well, I expect you to be nice. If I hear that you’re saying mean things again, I’d like to talk to you about it. Again. Okay?”

I said this channeling my best Eddie Haskell and Nellie Oleson. Kids today don’t know about Eddie and Nellie, but there is something ominous about delivering a message is a sugary-sweet tone. Yes, Mrs. Cleaver. I was smiling like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy. Talk about crazy.

The instigator agreed to be nice. So far there has been no more teasing.

Everyone has advice for dealing with bullies. Kids need to be confident when challenged by a bully. Kids need to stand up for themselves or their friends when bullied. All the anti-bullying education is for the victims. I wish for once we would focus on the perpetrators and tell them to shut the f*ck up.

That’s right. Kids need to be quiet. Kids need to be corrected. Kids don’t always know the right thing to do until an adult tells them. Believe me. My kids have been guilty of being jerks, too.

When my daughter was the culprit of hurting her friend’s feelings, I gave her some advice.

“You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you have to be nice to everyone. If you can’t be nice, go get a book and sit in the corner. That’s how I became such a good reader.”

Bullies aren’t bad kids. They are kids without filters. They are kids without self-control. Sometimes they are kids who need some extra space. We used to say that kids should be seen and not heard. I agree. The genius who invented the Quiet Game should’ve won a Nobel Peace Prize.

I don’t pretend to be the cool mom. When my kids’ friends come over to my house I announce, “This is your audition. Your behavior over the next two hours will determine if you get invited back to this house. You’ve been warned. I expect you to be nice.”


I don’t mind if kids are obnoxious or loud or eat all the Nutella in the house. I don’t mind running or digging in the dirt or using my good yoga mat for a tea party.

I want my kids to respect other people. No matter the day of the week, we always seem to walk into Big Kroger as the senior citizen bus arrives. I constantly have to remind my kids not to bulldoze over granny just because she’s slow.

I have to remind them to hold the door open for others. This is the South. I don’t care about gender equality. When it comes to opening doors, I disproportionately want my son to hold open the doors for ladies. At the same time, I expect my girls to be willing to open the door for boys, too.

My kids are sick of me correcting them. I remind them that if they do what I ask the first time, I won’t have to repeat myself. My list of rules for kids grows every day:

Say hello to people when you pass them on the street.

If there aren’t enough chairs, give up your seat and allow an adult to sit.

Treat your waiter with respect. Look your server in the eyes and ask her how her day is going.

Don’t think any job is beneath you. Maybe you’ll need a shovel. Maybe you’ll need a toilet bowl brush.

Know when to walk away. Know when to run. I’ll attribute that piece of advice to Kenny Rogers.

Learn when to be quiet. Learn when to speak up.

You don’t have to be right or first.

I’d rather someone calls you a hard worker or curious. Smart does not always mean diligent.

If life was fair, it wouldn’t be fun.

Make friends with kids who help you be a better person.

Kids will be kids. I can deal with mud on the floors and rocks in the laundry. But parents have to parent. That means my kids will have to sweep and fold clothes. Sometimes they do these things with tears streaming down their faces.

I have to stop and hug and kiss them. But I don’t dry their eyes. I remind my kids that there are rules for parents, too. Rule number one? Sometimes kids cry, because they know we are right.

Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.


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  • Maria Pinkelton

    You are great! This is great! Now I don’t feel like a bitchy mom for thinking these same thoughts. Not that I was ever going to change my way of thinking. I just thought I might be alone.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      We are never alone. The trick is finding our kindred spirits. I love when a kid (or a man or a lady or a zombie) holds the door open for me. I love it! I am happy to do the same, but that’s just because someone taught me to do it.

  • travelingfool

    My favs are speak when you pass someone and being nice to waiters!
    Both of these apply to adults as well! I see so many kids in my ‘hood that don’t speak or mumble an inaudible hello. Now the gentrifing adults that don’t speak are a whole other thing

    • Nicki Salcedo

      If my kids don’t speak when you pass them please do something obnoxious like smile and way and shout, “Hello, young whippersnappers!” Just to remind them. As for the adults who don’t speak, I’ve considered cursing at them in Klingon. This is a common courtesy.

      • Kelli Phillip

        Love your list of rules Nicky! I could not agree more. I’m laughing though because, unlike you wonderful, kind and polite southern folk (I go through regional culture shock every time I visit!), us New York City moms must often tweak these rules of civility and channel our inner Klingon counterparts:
        -Do NOT talk to people on the street–in fact, don’t even look them in the eye. This is especially true for those on the street who are already passionately engaged in a loud contentious debate with themselves!
        -Do NOT hold the door open for ANYONE unless you plan on standing there all day as an aggressive horde will gravitate to and file through that open door nonstop, without sparing you a second glance. Opening the door for someone and then quickly dodging back into the horde stream is a Jedi master level skill of the city for which most young padawans are not yet ready.

        So, the rude kids on the street who don’t say hello or hold the door for you are probably mine–just down for a visit. Please don’t hold it against them. They are still mastering the strange customs and rituals of foreign regions. 🙂

        • Nicki Salcedo

          Kelli, I love this so much. Yes, by region we are very different. But it explains why people in certain areas feel very alone even if the population is huge. People in smaller places like Decatur might be able to say hello or hold the door. I tried my Georgia thing in Madrid last year. It worked on some people. Some looked and smiled, others kept moving. No worries either way. But since your New York kids speak both Klingon and by using the Force, I’m sure they will be able to adapt to any social situation.

  • Maggie Worth

    All about being nice to wait staff. I’m one of those who makes a point to ask for a manager when the service is good. And I actually had a “parent someone else’s kid” moment last week. We were out eating and my friend’s 10-year-old asked if she could have a Kik account. Before mom could answer, my maternal urges shook off the dust and uttered an emphatic “Absolutely not! You stay off that mess!” You shoulda been there. It was exciting.

    • Nicki Salcedo

      I rarely have bad service anywhere. I think an honest happy greeting to the person helping you goes a long way. If you treat someone like a jerk they will respond in (un)kind. It takes a village. Maggie, you can parent my monsters anytime.

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