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Dear Heidi: Why exactly is it always best to ignore and/or not respond to rudeness?

A reader's child wants to know, and it's a valid question. My short response? Because it's the kind thing to do.

A reader posed an interesting question. She said her daughter is observing her behavior, and after seeing her mother suppress her anger with a rude handyman and then complain about someone she allowed to mistreat her in public, asked rightly, what gives? “Mama,” the little girl asked, “You’re being hurt, so what’s the point in being nice?” 

I support this mother's desire to encourage critical thinking, and my response is, if someone is openly rude to you, especially in the presence of your child, make this a learning opportunity. We should model the behavior we expect in our children as they grow and mature. It's not always easy, however. You have to be the parent yet artfully straddle the line between encouraging your daughter's curiosity and promoting respectful politeness.  

Times have changed, and parenting techniques have evolved to meet the demands of our modern world. For example, my mother had a strict mantra, "Children should be seen and not heard." The idea that I would have questioned my mother is inconceivable. Today, a child's healthy curiosity is good, especially when it's coupled with respect. So, when your child challenges how you handle a situation, be ready to respond appropriately.

For example, let's pretend you have elderly neighbors who are known for her crankiness. They are meticulous about their property, and the wife erroneously believes your dog has soiled her precious lawn. You find yourself with your young daughter, outside within earshot of your neighbor, and she calls out to you, "I have warned you before, keep your flea-bitten mongrel off my yard!"  

Your first response is anger. You love that beautiful dog who is not the culprit.  The guilty party is a dog from the next street, whose owner lets him run wild throughout the neighborhood. The same dog has soiled your yard too. Take a deep breath, stop for a moment, and realize this is a great teaching moment. You could respond, "Hello Mrs. Smith, isn't it a lovely day? I'm so sorry you have a mess on your lawn; I assure you it wasn't our dog. I am happy to help you clean it up, though, may I help you?"

Regardless of the neighbor's reply, you reciprocated rudeness with an act of kindness, always the best approach, dependent on the level of disrespect. In our example, you offered to help the neighbor. Perhaps she is physically impaired, and it is hard for her to bend down to clean up the mess. You are teaching your daughter what it means to be empathetic. 

Later, privately your daughter might ask why you offered to help the cranky neighbor.  You can extend the etiquette lesson by pointing out that we never really know where someone is coming from or their story.  Maybe the neighbor is feeling poorly, has had some tragic news, or is very lonely. 

Sometimes emotions manifest themselves in odd ways. Be mindful and look beyond the hurtful comment, and make the best of the situation. Becoming angry and lobbing back an insult takes tremendous energy, is unproductive, and unbecoming to you as a parent and a human being.  

Set a good example for your child, and teach her that being kind is always the best place to start when someone has been rude to you. Look beyond the rudeness; you have no idea what is going on in that person's life. They might be in great need of some empathy. Remember always to be kind.


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