Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedure (CAPP): How to Retrain your Kid to Stop Bothering Adults by being the Annoying Kid in Adult Conversations

Reminder:

Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:

Be cooperative

or

Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative

Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:

Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around

The possibility of allowing choice C is what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.

Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to C and reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.

Here We Go…

Plenty of situations give kids the opportunity to interject themselves into the middle of adult conversations. Play dates with both adults and kids, a day at the playground, or a night set aside for an adult dinner party when a kid is at home with no babysitter. All of these situations can create uncomfortable feelings when parents don’t know how to set limits with their kid(s) as it pertains to their level of interaction with adults.

What level of interaction is OK? What level isn’t? Here’s a good rule: It’s fine until it isn’t.

Don’t ever feel badly about not wanting your kid to a be a part of an appropriate adult social situation. Different parents have different philosophies and feelings about how much they want their kid(s) to be involved in these conversations and situations- and none of them are wrong. Whatever amount of time a parent is comfortable with a kid being with adults is fine. Of course, a kid may become annoying to an adult in the group, and it is up to the parent to have the social intelligence to be aware of this and respond accordingly (see below).

While parents should decide on their own, and sometimes with input from other adults in a group, about whether and how much kids should involve themselves in these situations, the opinion of the child is nearly irrelevant as to how much involvement with adults they should have.

Kids lack the maturity and prior knowledge to participate in the conversations of adults who are old enough to be their parents. Obviously, this ability goes up dramatically as kids age, and parents can adjust as kids age according to their own personal value structure.

Kids trying to keep up with adults when they really can’t can lead to some embarrassing situations for both parent and child, and for the adults at a playdate or dinner party.

It’s great for kids to hear adults talk, but they will need to leave the conversation the moment that the parent wants them to. Why? Because the parents are in charge.

What Not to Do

Don’t warn, threaten or yell about the kid leaving the adult conversation.

Don’t lecture your kid about the importance of giving adults space.

Don’t try to force your kid to hang out with other kids, if any are present, even when you set the limit that they may no longer socialize with the adults.

What to Do: Setting the Limit

Let your kid know that you have noticed that she likes to hang out with adults, even when kids are around. Make sure that she knows that this is perfectly fine, and she is allowed to do this until you decide that it is time for her to stop being with the adults. Let her know that you will never force her to socialize with kids, and that you will only decide when it is time for her to take leave of the adults. Let her know that you will not embarrass her or use haste or anger. Let her know that her cooperation must be immediate. Let her know that if she is not cooperative, you will do something about it.

Also, ask her if she would like, in an effort to minimize and potential embarrassment, to create a small signal between you and her to let her know that it is time to move on. You can come up with anything. It can be verbal (“time to feed the fish”) a sound (a rhythmic snapping of the fingers), or a silent signal (an exaggerated arm stretch). Many kids will appreciate this attempt to spare them from embarrassment, which can be magnified while in front of adults.

If your kid says that this is not necessary, skip the use of Intervention #1 and go directly to Intervention #2. Let them know what you will say to let them know that it’s time to move on (see below). If you decide upon a signal, always use it first. If your kid doesn’t leave, either because they don’t notice the signal or because they ignored it, go to Intervention #2.

Let your kid know that if they do not vacate the adult area within three seconds, you will have to do something about it.

What to Do: Intervention #1

Use the signal that you created with your kid. ONLY USE THIS ONCE.

What to Do: Intervention #2

Say the following: “OK (your kid’s name here) It’s time.” ONLY SAY THIS ONCE. If your kid is not cooperative, move on to Consequence #1, #2, or #3, depending on the situation.

What to Do: Consequence #1

Leave.

Go home. Say nothing. Breathe. This is applicable only when you are not at home. Sadly excuse yourself and remove your kid from the situation. If your kid is small enough to carry, give the choice to go to the car with her feet in the air or with her feet on the ground. If she doesn’t walk immediately with you, pick her up and take her with you. If your kid is not small enough to carry, ask the host (if there is one) to ask your kid to leave and have the adults move away from your kid. This involves a brief pre-conversation. If it comes to this, it is likely that the other adults will have been annoyed enough to be more than happy to oblige.

What to Do: Consequence #2

Shut it down.

If this is a play date at your house, send everyone home. While it may cause slight inconvenience for families in the short term, it will make your life significantly easier in the long run, as you are showing your kid that you mean what you say.

What to Do: Consequence #3

Orchestrate a kid removal.

If you are hosting an event that you really don’t want to send everyone home from (like a dinner party or big event), have a trusted person come over to remove your kid and take them to a home with minimal fun. Enjoy the rest of your night.

What to Do: Consequence #4

This consequence should happen in addition to whichever other consequence was appropriate.

Later, during a calm moment, let your child know that you will no longer be taking them around adults until you can be sure that they will listen to you the first time they are asked to do something. Let them know that how quickly they return to full citizenship in your family will depend on how well they listen to you, and you will be noticing how successful they are at this. Let them know that if and when they return to a status of full citizenship, they will be tested while in front of adults again to see if they can listen.

What to Do: The Intervention on the Other Side of the Consequence

After your kid does what is asked of them, notice it by simply saying, “I noticed that you listened to me.” This intervention will be automatically supercharged because it will be associated with Consequence #4.

Once you feel that your kid is good enough at listening to be around adults again,  ask if they are an expert at listening to parents and cooperating immediately. If they say yes, congratulate them, hug them or shake hands, and be happy for them. You will be able to test them the next time you are in a situation with adults. If they are cooperative, great. If not, great–repeat the CAPP!