Question: I always feel awkward about disciplining a friend's children when they are in our home. Should I relax our own family’s rules or overlook minor bad behaviour because they are guests?

Answer Focus on the Family Canada’s counsellors:

Let’s face it, most kids can push the envelope when it comes to rules. What parent hasn’t been exasperated by outrageous behaviours when "other peoples’ offspring" visit in their home, only to cringe with embarrassment upon discovering their own darlings were less than lovely when at a friend’s or relation’s home? Your sense of awkwardness around what to do when it happens on your turf is not uncommon, but it doesn’t need to leave you – or the kids – confused.

Be clear and flexible

There’s a difference between "relaxing your family rules" and "overlooking minor issues." Be clear in your own mind about what you set as rules, and what you simply expect as customary and appropriate to your home. Rules – like laws in our larger society – are typically in place for safety and living respectfully with people and things. Family rules may include not running in the house, not running anywhere with scissors, not hitting or yelling, waiting for your turn, and asking for help when something is too high to reach.

On the other hand, We only eat snacks over the sink so crumbles don’t land all over the floor is more of a family custom. When there are visitors mixed in with your kids, you would keep the safety rules in place, but perhaps feel okay to relax the cookie-and-a-sink rule in favour of keeping everyone (and their crumbs) corralled in the play area.

Be on the same page

Talk to the other parents ahead of time about the essential, non-negotiable rules in your home, so they’ll know how to prepare their children. It’s quite likely you’ll find their family’s take on health and safety is similar to your own. When children know that the adults are all on the same page – clear and consistent – they’re less likely to push that envelope.

Kids and their friends sometimes think that a parent will be too embarrassed to enforce a rule when outsiders are present and so try to exploit the situation. Again, it’s important that you review rules with all the children at the outset of the visit, and be clear about the associated outcomes when they are not obeyed (for instance, the playdate ends if people choose to fight or bully others). Intentional and consistent supervision is often the key to preventing these sorts of difficult behaviours, since you will have an opportunity to intervene before things get out of hand.

Be consistent

If other children are being rude and your children merrily follow suit (letting wind, displaying chewed food, and other socially unacceptable actions) it’s still important for your children be reminded what you will accept from them, while at the same time letting the visitors know these boundaries. Again, because these may be more about violations of custom than of rule, consider them to be teachable moments for intervention and correction, though not formal discipline.

Finally, be comfortable with the realization that different parents will have differing views on rules and customs. You may not be able to fix their kids in the short hours they spend with you, but you can reinforce for your own children that their behaviour has clear boundaries.

© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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