There is an unspoken rule that you cannot tell off your friends’ children. Rather like criticising someone’s choice of job or partner, the naughtiness of their children is a sensitive subject.
The exception to this rule is if their children are in your care or in your home – perhaps you are babysitting them or you friend has been invited for supper or coffee.
We will look at these two sets of circumstances and discuss how you can deal with the misbehaviour of your friends’ children.
When the Child is in Your Care or Home
It can be very difficult to discipline someone else’s child that is temporarily in your care, although it is worth remembering that your friend must see you as a responsible adult in order for them to ask you to babysit. A good rule of thumb is to treat your friends’ child as you would your own – no more, no less. What can be tricky is if your friend gives you a long list of do’s and don’ts – no sweets, only water to drink, no television and so on – when essentially you are doing them a favour. If they have such strict rules (and they probably don’t do it themselves all the time at home, they just think it sounds good) you are perfectly entitled to make sure they provide the suitable snacks and entertainment for your time together.
If you are not babysitting the child but they are at your house – perhaps your friend popped in for coffee – you are also entitled to ensure that their child behaves. This is particularly important if you have expensive furniture or equipment in your house. Some people may say that you ought to make your home more child-friendly, but if a parent cannot keep their child under control they need to take responsibility. If your friend’s child is just being a bit naughty – trying to get their attention or playing noisily while you are trying to have a conversation, you would be wise to not say anything. If the child interrupts while you are talking, you can say something like “I’m just talking to your mummy” and see if your friend takes the hint. Some parents think that it is perfectly acceptable to let their child do whatever they want at other people’s houses – if this is the case, do not feel as though you have to invite them to your home. If it becomes an issue, you could say that it is better to meet up at a coffee shop or the park as little Tommy is a bit too boisterous for your guitar collection or antique furniture.
When You Are Out and About
If your friend’s child is misbehaving when you are in public, unless they are causing or potentially causing harm to themselves or others, it is probably best to not say anything. If you are not a parent, they will just say that you don’t know what it’s like and if you have children of your own they will say it is none of your business. Either way, you might decide that you would prefer to have ‘grown ups only’ time with your friend – suggest a babysitter and arrange to meet them in a bar – rather than grit your teeth through another meeting. Their approach to parenting is just different to yours and it is unlikely they will agree with you.
It may be that your friend is fully aware of their child’s terrible behaviour and is simply at a loss as to how to handle them. If they ask for your opinion, do not say “Oh my God, I thought you hadn’t realised!” Just listen to them and see if you can offer some helpful, non judgmental suggestions.