PARENTS

Advice Column: Problem Play Dates

31/01/2012 19:22 | Updated 22 May 2015
Children playing togetherRex Features

Got a parenting problem? Parentdish's agony aunt Liat Hughes Joshi and author of Raising Children: The Primary Years, plus her panel of experts from child psychologists to nutritionists, can help.

Q: My son has a friend who we have over to play sometimes, who is incredibly hard work. He bounces on the sofa and beds, doesn't listen to me, turns on my computer and the TV when I've said they can't do that and has hit my younger son several times...I could go on. When his mum comes to pick him up she always asks how it went and I always say 'fine'. I don't think it's as bad when my son goes there, or at school from what he says, but don't know.

What can I do and should I be telling the other mother?

A: We might have a fancy modern term for what used to be called 'having another child over to play' but the problem of dealing with other people's kids' behaviour is as old as the hills. And the minefield of all this includes that especially awkward moment at the end, when their parent or carer asks how it went – more on that later.

It's interesting that you say he isn't so badly-behaved at school or when your son goes to his house because it sounds like he's taking the opportunity to push the boundaries at yours (and no doubt others' – I'm sure you're not the only ones on the receiving end!). He's probably worked out that in other people's homes he can get away with some of this behaviour.

Your house, your rules (within reason)

I'd suggest that next time you have him over, you highlight the 'house rules' as soon as he arrives. Done in a child-friendly way, this isn't as bad as it sounds and he should be used to similar at school. You'll have to include your children in this too to be fair but you can always explain why before the visitor arrives.

If you feel awkward about having this sort of conversation with the boy concerned, try sandwiching the message between gentler comments. So perhaps say something like "Lovely to have you round X [probably a white lie there?!] now to make sure everyone plays nicely, I'm going to remind you all of our house rules which are no hitting/ no turning the TV on if I say no/ no helping yourself to food [or whatever]. Is that all clear? Right, do you want to go with [your son] and check out his new game?"

Stick only with the big rules, like no hitting, no swearing. Forget smaller issues such as minor aspects of table manners - it's worth picking your battles here.

Actions have consequences

Next, you need some consequences for breaking the rules – a hugely tricky area with someone else's child. Whilst with your own children you might choose to dock pocket money or send them to their room, these aren't really appropriate or possible with someone else's kid. So what to do?

Sending him home is your main sanction. This would obviously be very awkward with his parents but you must be willing to follow through if needed. Hopefully it won't come to this and the threat will be enough.

As positive sanctions normally work best, I'd also look to giving him and your own children a small treat at the end of the play date if they've all behaved nicely (you have to include yours or it wouldn't be fair and would send them the wrong messages). It could be you say, "If you guys all behave well for the next two hours, at the end I'll let you watch TV for x amount of time."

Should you tell the parent picking up what happened?

Obviously if you have to call the parents to pick him up, you'll have to spill the beans on the reasons but assuming that's not the case, the answer is that it depends on two things. Firstly, how grave the misdemeanour was - if very serious, such as hitting, then it's probably wise to say something, whereas for more minor issues, it's wise not to bother.

The other factor is the nature of your relationship with his parents. It's sometimes easier to communicate what's gone on with someone you are friendly with (not always!) rather than someone you barely know. Of course either might take it all the wrong way.

As well as letting his parents have the opportunity to help improve his behaviour (they won't be able to if no one is telling them), another reason to explain events is if you had to discipline him or there was an altercation between the children, they might get the wrong story from their son. Explaining what happened might pre-empt any misunderstandings.

Of course, if you do decide to be (relatively) open, you'll need to tread carefully and choose your wording wisely. It's usually best to play things down slightly along the lines of "well there was a little incident but really it wasn't a problem and they got on well on the whole".

It sounds a bit flaky but nine times out of 10 they will then request more information without you having to offer it first. If you're comfortable doing so, it's worth asking them what they would like you to do if it happens again next time...IF there is a next time.

No improvement?

When I say 'IF there is a next time', I'm very much implying that, if the worst comes to the worst, you could simply stop inviting this child over. If he can't follow your rules and is causing all of you stress, is it worth it?

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