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10 things kids get in trouble for that adults get away with all the time

Why do we expect children to have more self-control than grown-ups?

three kids at a table, one with hands over eyes, one with hands over ears, one with hands over mouth
Photo by Keren Fedida on Unsplash

Kids know when we're being hypocritical.

Raising kids is tough and no parent does it perfectly. Each child is different, each has their own personalities, strengths and challenges, and each of them requires something different from their parents in order to flourish.

But there's one thing that parents have long said, with their actions if not with their words, that justifiably drives kids bonkers: "Do as I say, not as I do."

To be fair, both moral and actual law dictate that there are things that adults can do that kids can't. Children can't drive or consume alcohol, for example, so it's not hypocritical for adults to do those things while telling kids they cannot. There are other things—movies, TV shows, books, etc.—that parents have to decide whether their kids are ready for or not based on their age and developmental stage, and that's also to be expected.

But there are some gaps between what adults do and what they expect kids to do that aren't so easy to reconcile.


In fact, there's a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to the way adults behave and the way they think kids should behave that warrants some examination. Here are 10 things some people punish kids for that adults do with total impunity:

1. Being hangry

Grown-ups are so familiar with being cranky when they need food that they coined the term "hangry." And yet, if a child melts down because they're hungry, they are expected to pull themselves together and "stop that fussing."

Sure, kids have to learn to regulate their emotional expression, but being punished for needing food and not being able to control their reactions to hunger yet isn't going to teach them that regulation. They have a hard enough time learning that skill when they aren't hungry, so give kids a little grace when the hanger hits. (And always carry snacks.)

2. Not wanting to share something special

The concept of sharing is something most parents try to instill into their kids in order to move them away from self-centeredness. That's not a bad thing, for sure.

But it's worth noting that most adults have certain special belongings that they don't want other people to use, which is totally fine, so expecting kids to always share everything doesn't really make sense. Instead, teach kids that if they have something special that they don't want to share, to keep that item put away when other kids are around. They can also learn to kindly say, "Actually, that toy is extra special to me, but I'm happy to let you play with this one" while offering something else.

3. Breaking dishes, dropping drinks, or other oopsies

How many of us don't break a dish on occasion, simply due to fumbling fingers?

Accidents happen, and it's not always because we're being careless. If a kid is tossing a dish up in the air and trying to catch it behind their back or some other foolish game, that's worth a talking to about carelessness. But if a child breaks something or drops something, our first reaction shouldn't be to get angry and blame or shame them.

Grown-ups don't get in trouble when they drop something. Kids, who have a lot less experience with their hands, definitely shouldn't. Model forgiveness and compassion by helping them clean up the mess, and move on.

4. Not responding immediately

"Did you hear what I said? Are you listening?" we ask our children mere minutes after they had to repeat "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy," to us before we were able to respond to them.

We can't expect our kids to immediately pull their attention away from what they are doing every time we want to say something to them, just as we can't always immediately shift our focus to them if we're putting together a recipe or typing out a thought or in the middle of a calculation.

It's reasonable to teach kids to respectfully say, "One second, please," if we want their attention when they're in the middle of something. That teaches them that their learning/play is worth concentrating on, but also that responding to their parents is important. Give them a little time to disengage, just as adults grant one another all the time if we need to talk.

5. Forgetting things

Adults sometimes forget their lunchbox at home. Adults sometimes leave their jacket someplace by accident. Forgetting things is a normal human phenomenon, not limited to children, and we all give one another grace when we forget something.

With kids, we tend to be less forbearing. If forgetting is a daily occurrence, then sure, it might need to be addressed. But making a kid go hungry because they forgot their lunch even though we could easily bring it to them because "this will teach them to remember it" is kind of silly. Would we do that to our spouse if they forgot their lunch? No. Why do it with a kid (again, unless it's a recurring habit)?

6. Refusing to eat something

We all have likes and dislikes, and one man's feast is another man's napkin food. We would never force an adult who doesn't like sweet potatoes to stay at the table until they finish their sweet potatoes. Why do that to kids?

Encouraging kids to try something they've never tasted is one thing, but making them eat something they've tried and didn't like is just ick. Kids can learn to be grateful for the food they have without being made to eat everything on their plate. Provide lots of options, encourage tasting, but don't force kids to eat anything. That's a quick way to take the enjoyment out of trying new foods and create a negative association with eating certain foods—the exact opposite of what you're wanting.

Most kids will grow out of picky eating, but there will always be certain things people don't care for. It's okay to let that be.

7. Fidgeting

Some people have a really hard time sitting still for long periods of time, adults and children alike. But kids are the ones who get in trouble for not sitting still. Look at how popular standing desks, under-the-desk treadmills and walking meetings have become for working adults—and that's even when they have comfortable, ergonomic office chairs to sit in.

Yet kids are expected to sit in uncomfortable desks most of the day without being able to get up and move around as they need to? No wonder some kids get fidgety.

8. Being in a bad mood

We all have our moments, don't we? Times when we're just feeling salty or irritable and we don't even know why? Maybe it's hormones, maybe it's hanger, maybe it's a full moon—whatever it is, we let people know we're feeling prickly and do what we need to do to either stay away from people or put ourselves right.

What certainly wouldn't help is having someone chide us for having a "bad attitude" and insist that we "shape up." Helping kids manage their mood or alter their environment when they're struggling to manage it is a much more effective life skill than punishing them for being in a bad mood.

9. Complaining

Ever seen a grown-up sit down to do their taxes without a single complaint? No, you haven't, because even if we're getting a refund the process of figuring it out is painful.

Plenty of adults complain when we have to do something we don't want to do, and it's not because we were raised that way, most of the time. It's because some things just suck and it makes us feel better in the moment to express how much they suck.

What kids complain about may seem trivial or silly to us, but it's not to them. Totally find to teach kids that complaining doesn't do any good, but not worth punishing them for it.

10. Sneaking sweets

Umm, hi. Guilty, pretty much daily.

It's technically not sneaking when you own the sweets and you're a grown-up, but it feels like it. And who can blame kids for wanting to raid the cookie jar or the chocolate chip stash? Not saying they should. Just saying I get it, kid.

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