Your Rules or Theirs? Dealing with Conflicting Parenting Styles

Having play dates with other kids (and their parents!) should be a fun opportunity for your kids to socialize and for you to bond with a parent you want to get to know better. But have you ever found that entertaining guests sometimes turns into awkward social misery? Maybe it’s because Sally’s mom just stands there in total silence as Sally chucks a baseball near the breakables in your living room. Or because Josh doesn’t take off his muddy sneakers before trudging through the living room, of course putting his feet up on your flawless beige couch.

Entertaining anyone, be it kids or grown-ups, can certainly be challenging. Even the most laid back parent has a few buttons that can be pushed, whether it’s the tricky toilet that requires a special flushing technique or else it overflows (and it always seems to overflow when Tommy comes over), or your family heirloom dining table that you’d like to keep free from water rings and crayon marks, just as Aunt Betsy left it.

There’s a lot that can go wrong during play dates, but a lot that can go right, too! Here are a few strategies to help you thrive (rather than barely survive!) during play dates.

Get Your Own Kids on Board

Keeping the order in your own house during a play date can be just as challenging and getting your kids to be on their best behavior when they go to someone else’s house for a play date. How do you be a gracious host when things are really (really, REALLY) getting under your skin? Nobody wants to be the helicopter mom whose house is no fun. But you also don’t want to shut the door after a friend leaves and realize your house is a pigsty, your child is in a rebellious mood, and you feel like a broken record telling everyone to use their inside voices or to clean up. Make sure your kids are clear about your rules and how, yes, they still apply when their friends come over.

My House, My Rules

The friend’s age, family situation, and whether it’s a first play date or a long-running hangout all influence how you set the rules for your kid’s pals. Tone and delivery are important. I’ll never forget when my friend picked up her two kids from a play date at my house. Her 5-year-old son said, “Ms. Melissa says she only tells you things once, and you have to listen the first time.” Sometimes parenting differences really jump out at you! Fortunately, he still had fun and wanted to come back, even though I was a bit stricter than his mom. In my experience, kids thrive with boundaries!

Mini Dictators

Make sure your child doesn’t act like an obnoxious loud speaker trying to enforce your rules. You don’t want them yelling at the top of their lungs, “Mom says no jumping on the couch – get down!” when they should be having fun with their playmates. It makes your kid seem a little bossy, despite his or her best intentions of helping you. Before the play date, discuss with your children what they can do when their friend Jimmy opens up the fridge and helps himself to the hummus, double dipping away with dirty little fingers. It’s best to share strategies ahead of time about how your child can remain calm while politely relaying your house rules. As a matter of fact, kindly saying “That’s just the rule!” can go a long way.

The Play Date is OVER!

Everyone has experienced the never-ending play date when guests continue begging for just 5 more minutes again and again. A good solution is to set the stage at the beginning of the play date by telling the kids that when you say it’s time to clean up, it’s time to clean up. We don’t bargain for 5 more minutes in my house. Since some kids need the extra time to adjust to the transition, make sure it’s clear by setting a timer. To end a play date with tact, tell your guests something like: “It’s been such a great play date! We really enjoyed your visit and hope to see you soon. We have some things to get to now.”

And if they still won’t leave, tell them you’ll make them a snack … with lots of green vegetables. Those kids will be out the door faster than you can say goodbye!

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