By Lola Augustine Brown
From the print edition, March 2012
Last summer, Ottawa mom Claire Fowles allowed her 11-year-old daughter to have a friend stay with them for a week. The girls went to the local fair with the family’s nanny, who noticed that they seemed to be splashing an awful lot of cash around. The friend insisted the money was hers, and the girls went home with armfuls of stuffed toys. That night the nanny discovered that the $100 that had been left on the kitchen counter for her use (to take the girls out etc.) was missing. When she asked the girls, they confessed to her that they had taken it.
Understandably, Fowles was upset. She gave the girls a talking-to, took the toys away (she had paid for them after all) and told the friend that she would be speaking with her parents. “When I did tell the other parents, they were quite upset but supported how I’d dealt with it. Talking with them helped to calm me down, as they assured me that we weren’t raising little criminals,” she says.
Though in most cases visiting preteens are more likely to be obnoxious than commit larceny, it can be really difficult to know how to react appropriately when another child misbehaves while at your home. Leslie Barker, a Calgary-based registered nurse and parent educator, and a master trainer with the Positive Discipline Program, says that you have every right to set the rules for how people behave in your home, and how you handle situations can help teach your own child how to get along with and respect other people and their property.
If things start to go awry when your child’s friend is over, be prepared to step in. Jason Larsen of Halifax wishes he’d done so when his son Jonah, 11, had a buddy over and an indoor water-gun fight between the two resulted in Larsen’s computer monitor being trashed. Larsen admits he is a complete pushover and often lets his son’s play dates get out of hand. “But what could I say? I was mad, but I hadn’t stopped the behaviour before that happened.”
Barker says if you can hear roughhousing getting more physical, intervene before it gets out of control. “Change the activity, send them outside or give them something to eat,” she advises. If an incident has already happened, then you need to address it with your child and his guest. “If the friend is aware of your house rules and isn’t respecting them, tell him he’ll need to leave and that you would be happy to have him back any time as long as he’s respecting you and your family’s rules and property,” says Barker.
That is exactly how Andrew Day, who lives in South River, Nfld., handled things with one of his nine-year-old son’s friends who was being disrespectful. “I had to pull him aside and say that although he is welcome here at any time, that kind of behaviour isn’t,” says Day.
Set the Ground Rules
Preteens need to help by making sure their friends understand your family’s rules when they are visiting. It is your child’s home too and should be respected. Talk to your child about how he can do this, and ask him if he needs your help. “Explain that you know that his friends are important to him and that you are very happy to have his friends at your home but that the rules of engagement are the same for friends as they are for everyone in your family,” Barker says.
As for whether you need to discuss the visiting child’s behaviour with his parents, it depends on the severity of the infraction—stealing, for sure; being cheeky, probably not. Barker says that if you are going to tell the other parents, it is best to be direct without blame and judgment. Explain what happened and what your expectations are if the child wants to visit your house again.
Keep Your Cool
Of course, you can’t control how a child will react to your criteria, but when the other child is ready to respect the rules of your home, welcome him back, says Barker. Check in from time to time and let him know you are around if he needs anything. “If you haven’t been respectful (yelling or swearing at the kid, for example), apologize for losing your cool, explain what happened and stay calm,” says Barker.
“If you have been considerate in the way you have handled the situation, you will feel you have done what you can and your preteen will learn volumes about respect.”