A friend’s child is causing havoc in your home or upsetting your little one. Do you step back? Or take action?
Many of us have been there — your friend brings her child over, but he or she is running amok in your home and upsetting your child. You want to be polite, but you’re fuming.
Do you keep quiet to avoid upsetting your friend? Or do you speak up and tell the child off?
Disciplining someone else’s child can be a minefield.
But what if the child is behaving really badly or even hitting yours?
Dr Angharad Rudkin, chartered psychologist, says that if a child is being violent or very badly behaved you’re within your rights to say something.
‘How easy this feels depends on your relationship with the other parents and also where the behaviour is taking place,’ she says. ‘If you know the other parent well enough it may be that you can ask them to help you manage the situation. If it’s in your own house it can often feel easier to discipline other children as you’re abiding by your own house rule.’
But parenting expert Dr Claire Halsey says that you need to tread carefully.
‘It’s hard to imagine many situations when it would be OK to discipline a friend’s child without causing offence,’ she says. ‘Parents know their child best and set the standards of expected behaviour for their family, so it’s certainly better for a mum or dad to apply rules and consequences. Parents are, quite rightly, protective and likely to leap to their child’s defence.’
Dr Rudkin agrees that there are indeed ‘grey’ areas where you need to think twice before speaking up.
‘Sometimes you need to count to 10 before going into battle. If you’re a parent with very clear rules about things like table manners, rather than just misbehaviour, then you need to accept other parents may have different rules and find a happy middle ground.
‘It may be confusing if rules don’t make sense to the child — eg, having to use a knife and fork at your house when at home they just use a fork.’
But Dr Rudkin says there are certain behaviours which should fall under the ‘zero tolerance’ list.
‘You need to be clear what your zero tolerance rules are about — such as hitting, spitting, kicking. Talk about these with your friends so there is an understanding about what these rules are.’
But what if your friend cannot see that her child is doing anything wrong and continues to sip her cuppa while her child kicks yours in the shins? Can telling off another person’s child lead to problems between friends?
Yes, says Dr Rudkin, but there are ways of broaching the subject.
‘It is completely normal to say “that’s not how we share toys” to a friend’s child, but if your friend is having trouble accepting your rules, it would be worth asking if there’s a good way of stopping the bad behaviour.’
So if you’ve reached the end of your tether with a friend’s unruly child, what can you do?
‘Never shout or grab the other child,’ Dr Rudkin says. ‘Stay calm and explain they need to stop the behaviour. Then get the other parent involved. Say something like: “I know exactly what it’s like when my child misbehaves, but I was wondering if…” and broach the conversation like that.’
Starting the subject like this, says Dr Rudkin, makes the conversation feel as if it’s between two equals rather than from a ‘good’ mum to a ‘bad’ mum.
Dr Halsey says: ‘Unless you’ve clearly agreed in advance that it is OK, then telling off a friend’s child can certainly cause friction between even the best of friends. It can imply you disapprove of their child or that you’re not impressed with their parenting.’
Dr Halsey adds that the best approach to bad behaviour is to reduce the chance of it happening in the first place.
‘Make sure there are plenty of activities to keep children busy and good supervision so problems are spotted early. Agree with your friend a couple of “ground rules” for the children — such as sharing the toys and being gentle, and what you’ll both do if misbehaviour sets in.
‘For example, separating the children and each taking your own child aside if there’s an argument, briefly taking away the toys or ending the visit if needed.
‘When you agree on the approach and manage your own child there is less chance of a disrupted friendship and children get a consistent reaction.’
Edited by Julie Cook