How You Can Discipline Someone Else’s Child Without Hurting Your Relationship

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

We all want our children to experience the magical joy of friendships where they come together and make lifetime memories by creating a world of imaginative play.

The magic doesn’t occur just because children happen to be playing together. Finding great friends is a little like dating in the adult world. It takes a few (or more) attempts until a good match is found.

Do the children have similar temperaments? Do they both enjoy active or leisure play more? Do they find the same types of games fun?

The boy who wants to build and engineer toys and the one who wants to put on costumes and play pirates aren’t likely going to enjoy a full afternoon together. They’ll each want to do what’s fun for them, and young children don’t naturally understand that someone else doesn’t find their favorite things fun.

For a time the child who likes to engineer is happy to play pirates, and vice versa. But after thirty minutes, boredom begins to set in, leading to fidgeting, disagreements about what to do next, disappointment that they’re not having fun, and finally arguments because the other boy wants to “do everything his way.”

From personal experience with my own sons’ playdates, I know things can go downhill faster than an Olympic luge team.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Your own precious child and the sweet little one that was dropped off at your house not more than an hour ago are now complaining, or in tears, or leaping the long distance from the sofa to the chair in your family room (with their shoes on) to pass time, while the other child is in another room scattering toys here and there, looking for something entertaining and messing up the toy closet you spent 45 minutes organizing before the playdate.

Wait! What’s that you hear? Is that your kitchen cabinets being opened and closed? You rush to the kitchen. Oh my goodness, now one of them has found a tall glass and is pouring apple juice. A good bit more of the juice is landing on your freshly (OK, kinda freshly) mopped floors than in the glass. You panic; if the glass breaks, it could cut him.

You know how to discipline your own child(ren), but what about their company?

Is little Bethany going to go home and tell her mommy you yelled at her while leaving out the part that she was eating Oreos while skipping on your good living room sofa and tearing the pretty pictures out of your new, unread edition of Southern Lady Magazine?

Is little Cole going to go home and tell his mommy you yelled at him while leaving out the part that he was pulling the dog’s tail and trying to take away his Milk Bone biscuit?

Maybe the kids won’t ever be close friends, but you don’t want to be known as “the crazy, mean mom.” Plus, you enjoy being with Bethany’s and Cole’s moms. Will disciplining their children hurt your relationship? And where is the line correctly drawn when it comes to disciplining someone else’s child? Can you apply the same consequences to your young guests as you do your own children?

The answer is: yes and no. Let’s take a look at some likely scenarios and the real-world answers.

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Prepare for the best possible playdate by preparing for it in advance and following age-appropriate guidelines. There’s a chapter in my book that shares how to set your children up for success when it comes to playing with others (younger children) and being a good friend (older children). If you’re eager for your children to make friends easily now so they can enjoy healthy relationships throughout life, purchase a copy of Manners That Matter for Moms, Winner of a Mom’s Choice Award Gold Seal of Excellence for Parenting books.

~ Don’t expect three-year-olds to play like five-year-olds. Until about their fourth birthday, children don’t tend to play together as much as they simply play independently side-by-side or near one another. Plus, all that they see, they believe they own. You can’t fault two-year-olds for taking toys away from another child. They just aren’t at the age where they understand personal boundaries and private possessions.

~ An adult needs to be in the room to oversee playdates for children younger than four.

~ It’s often best if one of every child’s parents stays for young children’s playdates. Thirty to forty-five minutes is about the maximum length. Parent and child should leave then, even if the child is still having fun. Leaving might cause crying, but the child will begin to realize that playdates are happy events. That’s the attitude you want to nourish. Explain that the child played so nicely that there are going to be lots more playdates!

~ Good playdates don’t happen on their own unless the children know each other well enough and are compatible enough that they are or could be BFF’s.

~ For children from four to nine years old who don’t know each other that well, the host parent is in charge of planning activities (along with input from that parent’s child). Make sure there’s time left for free play.

~ Most playdate problems occur when children don’t agree on what to do. However, when they arrive already knowing what’s planned, the problem is avoided. When you call the parent to invite the child, explain your plans: “It’s Spring Break and we’d love to have Chloe come over Tuesday for a playdate from 11 AM till 2 PM. I thought the girls could make bead bracelets, then we’d have grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit, carrots, and brownies for lunch. After lunch, they could watch Frozen and then play whatever they wanted in Jada’s room for the last 30 minutes. Do you want to ask Chloe and see if she’d like to come? You can let me know tomorrow.”

~ If Chloe comes over, she knows what’s planned. Children actually have more fun, studies have proven, when they know what’s coming — when they know their boundaries. If Chloe starts to act up or wants to change plans, you can say something along the lines of, “Chloe, you knew this is what we planned for today. I know you want to paint, and that’s something we can certainly plan for another day. Did you want to stay till 2, or would you like me to ask your Mom to pick you up early?” Say it nicely, and you aren’t being mean at all. You’re giving Chloe two choices. I bet she’ll choose to stay!

~ If Chloe does choose to go home, call her Mom and say, “Michelle, Chloe has decided she doesn’t want to do what we have planned for today and would be happier coming home. I didn’t know if you were able to pick her up, or, if it would be helpful, I’ll bring her home so you don’t have to take the baby out.” Don’t feel bad about calling. When hosts have things planned for guests, and guests have agreed in advance, guests are wrong to ask for changes to be made. As an adult, if friends invite you over to grill steaks and eat on the back patio, you don’t get there and say, “You know, I’m in the mood for Mexican, and let’s sit inside. Your patio chairs are too deep for my liking.” Chloe might as well learn now.

An important part of childhood is learning how to be a great grownup.

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To Discipline or Not to Discipline

~ Before taking your child to a first playdate at someone’s home, let the parents know about any challenges or differences your child has, to avoid the parents’ misunderstanding your child’s intent.

~ I have a son with profound learning challenges. He doesn’t yet read or do math anywhere close to his grade level. I let parent’s know so they don’t expect him to read a book, or a menu, or understand money if they go somewhere and he’s going to be paying for something. He also has Turret’s Syndrome (it’s not the cussing kind — that’s VERY rare) and short-term memory issues, making it hard for him to remember names or multiple instructions given to him at once. I would much rather them know than think he was not paying attention, making odd twitching faces, or foolishly spending money when the fact is thyat he needs reminders about new information, assistance with reading or counting, and his rolling eyes are not a sign of disrespect. They roll without his knowledge. The same goes if your child has ADD, ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s or if there’s any other thing you think you might want to mention. If details about my son scare the parents off from wanting him at their home, I certainly want to know beforehand and will forgo the playdate.

~ At your home, your rules apply. Now you certainly can’t expect new visitors to know your rules, so if they do something, let them know calmly what it is they’re doing that’s not permitted in your home. “Jackson, I’m sorry, honey, but at our house, we only eat in the kitchen.” Or “Jackson, I’m sorry, honey, but at our house, we don’t kick the furniture.” If the behavior doesn’t stop after the second reminder, ask him whether you should call his parents.

~ What if Jackson’s mom is there while he is kicking the furniture? You can still nicely say that kicking the furniture isn’t something you do at your house. His mom probably will take over. If not, and if Jackson continues, you can say to his mom, “Jackson is kicking the table, and I’m afraid it’s going to leave a permanent mark. Would you mind asking him to stop?” Keep in mind, diversion is a good tactic. Before or after the first time you ask him to stop kicking the table, think of something else for him to do. “Jackson, I have a VeggieTales Sticker Book you might have fun with! I’ll go get it.” When you come back with it, bring it to a spot away from the table and have Jackson play with it there.

~ If your child is at the playground and is playing with children you don’t know who are not playing nicely, say to them, “Hi, I’m Mrs. Horn, Tara’s mom. I don’t allow Tara to play with people who throw sand. If you want to keep playing with her, you’ll have to stop throwing sand. Is that OK?” If the child throws sand again, move Tara to another spot in the park a few feet away. The sand throwing probably will stop soon enough, and they can play again.

~ If the parent(s) of the other child at the playground are near and you can say something nicely to them like, “Oops, I see there’s sand being thrown. Do you want to sit this one out and let me go over there, or do you want to?” Once they notice that it’s their child throwing the sand, hopefully they’ll do something fast. If not, don’t be shy to step up.

~ Any time you notice a child hurting someone or something, don’t hesitate. Jump into action, but calmly. “Excuse me, we don’t pull the dog’s tail. Did you hear him yelp? That meant it hurt.”

~ Do you tell the parents when their child misbehaves at your home? That depends. If you’re a close friend, it’s fine to explain the day’s events. Just touch on the highlights (I guess those actually would be the the lowlights) — Chad’s mom doesn’t need to hear every sad detail. If you don’t have an established relationship with Chad’s mom, you can tell her, but keep in mind that it’s probably going to alter your relationship. It shouldn’t, but it will. Why will it? Because either she will be embarrassed that her Chad did those things, or she’ll think that you’re an overreacting mom who doesn’t let a kid be a kid. Either way, she’ll become distant, and she’ll make sure her child is distant with her.

Keep in mind that: advance planning helps everyone enjoy their playdates more, you can absolutely enforce your rules in your home (graciously) if things aren’t going well, you can stop the playdate and try again another day, and you don’t need to be shy to say something and step in if another child is making the time unpleasant for your own child, or hurting anyone or anything.

Next Steps!

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Until next week, live your best life by giving the world the gift that only you can give….you at your best!

XOXO and blessings,

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disciplining someone else's child

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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