Care and Feeding

How Can I Get Kids to Stop Going On and On About Boring Stuff Without Being Mean?

I don’t care about your TV show, dude.

A woman looking bored at a boy animatedly telling a story.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

The last time I saw my 10-year-old nephew, “Ned,” upon first sight of me (without so much as a hello) he launched into what I refer to as “kid talk.” He was trying to tell me about a scene they watched in a movie on their car ride up to see us. I’ll spare you the details, but it was a story with no end in sight that was full of kid talk phrases such as “and then,” “it was like,” and “isn’t that funny?” I cannot stand when someone tells me in detail about something they saw in a movie or on TV. It’s a pet peeve of mine.

After three to five minutes of listening to his “story” and not being able to follow the majority of it, I said something along the lines of “Wow Ned, this story really went off the rails, didn’t it?” Ned paused, said, “Yeah,” and continued as if I had said nothing. Obviously he had not understood what I said.

While what I said sounded OK in my head, upon the words leaving my mouth, I realized they sounded kind of mean and unnecessarily nasty. While Ned obviously didn’t notice, the other adults in the room (my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and my husband) did. I tried to backpedal after that, and listened to the rest of his story saying it sounded like a fun movie and I appreciated that he found it funny.

My husband feels I should have immediately apologized, and since I didn’t, I should call Ned’s parents and apologize despite the fact that neither of them said anything to me about it at all during their visit, which was very pleasant, and we were alone together many times. While I agreed that my comment was harsh, I think it’s making a mountain out of a molehill to bring it up again, especially since it 100 percent went over Ned’s head.

What’s your take on this? And in the future how can I kindly navigate and get out of listening to endless kid talk? My own son is only 5 months, but this will be an arrow in my quiver I will need in the future, and with the rest of my nieces and nephews who are all elementary age.

—So Much Plot Explication, So Little Interest

Dear SMPESLI,

Yeah, you were pretty rude. I don’t think you need to apologize to Ned or his family, but it sounds to me like this is something you need to work on. It is, after all, a pet peeve of yours, not a problem that Ned or another little kid needs to fix.

In terms of prepping for the future (for your own child and your nieces and nephews), I can suggest “Oh, I haven’t seen Despicable Me yet, please don’t tell me anything else so I can be surprised!” Mostly, though, a lot of interacting with kids can be listening to monologues about what interests them (especially with neuroatypical kids), and it’s going to be easier for you to work on yourself than to try to change their behavior.

With other people’s kids, you’re going to have to (mostly) let it ride. With your own child, you can talk about the signs people give off when they’re getting bored and about taking turns in conversation (a great skill for all of us!).

Kids can be boring. There’s a reason they do not host a lot of sparkling literary salons in Paris. Happily, they can be pretty easy to redirect. Next time, remember you have a lot of options that aren’t chastising a kid for wanting to share a beloved movie with you in excruciating detail.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m the mom to a 3-year-old son and an almost 1-year-old daughter. While I have a great husband and we contribute equally to parenting responsibilities, I am definitely the bad cop—I’m the one consistently enforcing bedtimes, managing potty training, ensuring food gets eaten, etc. The 3-year-old is what I think must be a classic threenager—so, pretty much everything is a struggle.

My question isn’t about managing him—although any thoughts you have would certainly be welcome. Instead, I need advice related to my baby: She is easygoing, independent, and generally very happy. As such, I think she always gets the short end of the stick because my 3-year-old requires so much time, energy, and cajoling. I feel like I’ve missed the whole first year of her life because his needs have been so preoccupying.

Do you have any suggestions about how I can distribute my attention more equitably, or at least do a better job paying attention to my poor and forgotten second child? Is this just a fact of life for second children?

—Two’s a Competitive Crowd

Dear TaCC,

Let me first reassure you that your children are not yet able to form long-term memories, so anything ridiculous (not abusive!) you do before your kid is 4 or 5 is kind of a freebie. I mean this more in terms of “if you call them a dingbat, they won’t remember” and not “why bother making sure they feel firmly attached to their caregivers.”

I’d like to see you talk to your husband about picking up more of the duties with your older child so you can focus a bit more on your baby. He may need to engage in some method acting to pull off being bad cop more successfully. These are not roles we are born into, and if they are treated like immutable truths, you can find yourself in a lifetime position you did not sign up for.

Carve out some time every day that’s just for you and baby. A bedtime ritual with a song and a story—basically anything that doesn’t get interrupted by your 3-year-old. Let your husband be responsible for that.

It’s easy for the breezy, simple kid to get a bit overlooked, but that’s not the worst thing in the world; I’m more worried about your sense that you’re missing out on your daughter’s babyhood. I should mention that this is a very normal feeling as kids hit that first birthday, no matter how much time you’ve spent with them. Babyhood is short and precious (and very difficult), and as you feel it passing, most of us suffer these pangs.

You’re a great mom.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 9 months old and will be having surgery to correct hypospadias this summer. Everything seems pretty normal for this type of procedure so my wife and I are only as worried as any parents would be when their infant son is going under the knife (VERY!) but what we’re kind of struggling with is how to talk to friends, family, and co-workers about his procedure.

I realize it’s a fairly common birth defect, but it still seems incredibly personal and intimate what with it being penis-related. And yet for practical reasons I’ll either have to or want to keep people in the loop. We’ll be taking time off work for his recovery and of course people will ask questions, and it’s all well and good to say, “He’s having a medical procedure… It’s personal and private,” but there will be follow-up questions. I like my co-workers, but I’m not sure I “talk about my son’s penis” like them.

And with friends and family, we don’t have much in the way of local friends and family so it would be nice to share our son’s updates and recovery and such to a limited degree on social media. But these are people who will (theoretically) know him as he grows up and I don’t want them to think he has or had a weird penis. And I don’t want him to feel like he has a weird penis and grow up into a guy with weird penis issues who spends his whole life harassing women online because he thinks his penis is weird. I realize that’s on us as parents and not his penis to raise a boy into a man (or anything else he chooses to be) who isn’t the worst, but still … I have some concerns.

—I Said Penis a LOT in This Email

Dear Penis-Sayer,

Let’s take a deep breath. For the moment, your concerns about your son growing up to be a turd to his sexual partners due to feeling insecure about his “weird penis” can be set aside. Hypospadias is really quite common (and numbers are on the rise), and I don’t think it’s at all likely to spark more questions than, say, an uncircumcised penis if a partner has not previously encountered one.

I am thrilled that you recognize that your son has a right to medical privacy. For very close friends and family, I think it’s fine to provide them with his specific diagnosis, along with a request to keep the matter private. For everyone else (and especially social media), I recommend “Chad will be having a relatively common and benign procedure. It will require a brief hospital stay and a short recovery period at home. We so appreciate your love and support.”

There is nothing wrong with answering more prying questions with “We’d prefer to keep that information to ourselves,” and if someone is buffoonish enough to push past that and dig for more details, there’s the ol’ “I’m sorry, I thought I was clear that my wife and I want his medical procedure to be private.”

As he grows up, you can treat it as you would any noticeable form of physical difference. “Jodi wears glasses, Kent uses a wheelchair to get around, and you needed a small operation on your penis. Everyone has something!”

You will be squarely in my thoughts, as will your son.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My sixth-grader has played town soccer with the same coach and the same group of boys for five years. In that five years, he has gone from being middle-of-the-road to the weakest player on the team. There is no organic reason for his decline; simply put, the other kids on the team have attended off-season training and seem to exert effort. They also appear to care if they win or lose. My son has not attended anything but the mandatory practices and complains about going a good 50 percent of the time. He has continued to play because his friends are on the team.

The coach (who is the father of one of my son’s friends) is a gem. Committed, gentle, patient. Next year he is transitioning the team to a travel format, which will increase the competition as well as the time commitment. (For instance, the team will require a midweek practice and will play all three seasons.) He has told my son that he is welcome to continue to play but that he has to start bringing a better attitude and more hustle. He has told me that he thinks he should find an activity that he’s better at and enjoys. I have reiterated what Coach said and added that it couldn’t possibly be helping his friendships with the other kids on the team to not run, kick, or care.

Tryouts for next fall are next week. Coach has full discretion over his roster so he can take him and has indicated that he will if my son wants. I think my guy is going to try out and then nothing is going to change. They will be playing better teams and overall they are older kids; by seventh grade, the kids playing for the most part want to be there and are decent.

I had hoped that with the coach’s input my son would back out all on his own, but it doesn’t seem like he will. Do I decree he’s not playing, or do I need to sit through another year of this?

—He Ain’t Pelé

Dear HAP,

Oh, Lord, I would yank him out. He might just not want to be the one to say it. I would present it as a fait accompli, and if he makes a tremendous fuss, you can see if he can successfully make the case for playing one more year.

Make sure you arrange playdates and other fun activities for your son to do with his teammates, but it sounds to me like it ain’t soccer.

—Nicole