Guest-iquette: Teaching Kids How to Be Superstar Guests

It’s hard enough to set and enforce rules in your own home. But to then have your rules compete with another family’s rules? YIKES. We’ve all been there – you’re hosting a play date and quickly run to the bathroom. When you get back to the kids, one kid is dancing on the couch, another is jumping on your kid’s bed, and another is eating potato chips in the middle of your living room, paying no mind to the greasy crumbs that fall with every bite. You can’t help but think, do they seriously do this at home?!?

Some parents may not consider this wreaking havoc, and of course each parent is entitled to set and enforce their own rules. After all, they know their family best. But how do you teach your own kids to act appropriately in a different environment where the rules may differ … and try to prevent your kid from coming home with a new bad habit? Here are the strategies I’ve used to teach my kids how to be superstar guests.

Always Be Prepared

I like to compare following the rules at a friend’s house to dressing up for a first interview; it’s better to be over-dressed than underdressed. In the same way, teach your kids to default to a higher standard of manners and behavior when they’re a guest. You can also encourage them to ask questions, especially if they aren’t sure of what the rules are. A good question to start with is: Are we allowed to eat in the living room (or bedroom, or car)?

Since some kids are more likely to break rules in their own home when a friend is over, you don’t want Mrs. Jones thinking that your child was the one who taught little Jones to break his own house rules! Encourage your children to ask about the boundaries and expectations in that home. Not only will your kids avoid breaking a rule (which is double trouble, because they’ll have to deal with the other parents AND you), but they’ll also make a super impression.

Mind Your Manners

Before drop off, remind your children that if they want to get invited back, they need to be wanted back. This means they should be on their BEST behavior. Do some role-playing with them to demonstrate bratty behavior or ungraciousness, and see how they react. You may both laugh, but it’s also a good teaching tool! Once when my tweenager was using a bad tone with me, we watched a movie together, “Wild Child,” and I let her know that is how she sounded when talking to me. She was appalled and so apologetic, telling me she had no idea that’s how she came off. I reminded her of how this might look to a friend’s parents too.

At pick up, ask the host if anything came up. Keep the question open-ended to elicit a less censored response regarding your child’s behavior. On the way home, also always ask your own child for his or her opinion of how the play date went. In addition to all the fun questions about the plays they put on or the fun snacks they enjoyed, ask your child how they behaved and if they think they’d be invited back.

Oh, and give your child a couple excuses – um, reasons – to call you if they feel uncomfortable with a no-rules household, or if they get that uneasy feeling from not knowing what to do.

Agree to Disagree

Similar to politics, people with opposing views often want the same outcome; they just have a different way of getting there. So try to be open-minded and respect other parenting styles. Regardless of how tight-laced or how lax they are, there is often a learning opportunity for you as a parent … even if it’s a warning of something you don’t want to do! Don’t be afraid to ask questions (or even pry a bit when it comes to safety or concerns).

If Sally catching enough zzz’s at the sleepover is important to you, ask the parents how late they let the kids stay up, or if they put a time limit on post lights-out chatting. No sleep is no joke! The repercussions of insufficient sleep for our family means someone catches a cold and then proceeds to give it to everyone in the house. In other words – total family misery! For us, lights out means LIGHTS OUT! But if someone else’s child can handle late nights without getting sick, or if the parents are just more lenient, their decision may be totally different. Whatever the issue, if it’s important to you, it’s best to ask about it beforehand. Better safe than sorry … and sick, tired and cranky!

Watch Out

Another important topic to discuss with parents before a play date is supervision. Never assume other parents will watch the kids with the same attention that you do. In fact, it may be best to do some “social sleuthing,” aka have some play dates together at a park, event or home before allowing your child to go to a friend’s house alone. This way, everyone can hang out together and you can get to know the other family’s style. Some parents are completely hands- and eyes-off, letting kids go well outside visual checkpoints. Others can take it too far and helicopter over every move, micromanaging discussions, conflicts and activities.

Recently, my 10-year-old was invited to attend a museum with a new friend. I really like the mom and daughter, and since it was their first play date outside our home, I asked several questions to prepare both my daughter and myself. I learned that compared to my daughter, hers has much more freedom to explore without a nearby checkpoint. I was so happy I asked or I wouldn’t have known! If you feel uncomfortable with the play date setup, it’s more than OK to candidly confess that you don’t feel comfortable with your child having that level of freedom. If the parent isn’t willing to meet you halfway and doesn’t offer a solution that puts you at ease, you can kindly decline or offer to host. When you host, the kids still get to play, and you won’t be having heart palpitations worrying about whether your child is lost somewhere in the zoo!

Bow Out Gracefully

Reminding your child to respect the friend and family’s time is super important. Just as you expect a guest to scoot when time is up, teach your kids that when it’s time to go, it’s time to GO. It can make the end of the play date much more pleasant for everyone. The friend’s parent will appreciate not having to negotiate your child’s request for extra time. And they won’t have to appear unfriendly, when really they just have other commitments and need to get going.

Lastly, remember to listen to other parents’ points of view too. I’ve learned so much from keeping an open mind to other parenting styles, and it has greatly improved my own. Always follow your instincts for what you believe is best for your own child, but be willing to learn and grow as a parent as your child matures.

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