Discipline on Playdates: Four Methods from the Mouths of Moms

Getting your own child to follow the rules can be tough. Throw other people’s kids into the mix, and your problem just got infinitely worse. With so many parenting styles that vary from home to home, enforcing rules on a playdate is a challenge in and of itself. There’s the risk of losing mommy friends… the risk of offending your guest… and the risk of losing face in front of your own child if your guest continues to disobey.

We spoke to four different moms with four very different approaches to enforcing rules on playdates to help you find the method that’s best for you:

My Castle, My Rules

“I really think that kids need to learn a sense of propriety, good manners, and social rules,” says Jacinda, mother of a three year old girl and a baby on the way. “In my home, if we’re having kids over, it’s ‘my castle, my rules’ and everyone has to follow them. I don’t care what the rules are in their home, but in our home, they have to follow ours. If a guest breaks our rules, I won’t hesitate to reprimand them, remind them of how to behave, and in extreme case even give them a time out. I don’t believe I’d be doing the kids any favors otherwise.

“Children need to understand that school has its own rules, so does a movie theater, a nice restaurant, and so on. It’s the same when you go to other people’s houses. For example, we don’t always take off our shoes in our home, but when we go to our friends’ house, that’s the first thing they do. So we follow suit. It’s just common decency.

“It takes all kinds to make a world. Everyone has their own values, rules, and outlook on life. When you’re a guest in someone’s home, you just have to adopt some of that while you’re there, especially if you want to be invited back. You’re never too young to learn respect.”

Tattletale Enforcement

“I’m very close to most of the moms whose kids come over to play,” states Adele, mother to two boys, 6 and 9 years old. “I’ve had a good relationship with all of them for many years… some dating as far back as daycare. I think mutual respect is the real foundation to our friendships. Some moms are catty or judgmental but so far, we’ve managed to put that all aside. I really take to heart that each mother has her own parenting rules, her own expectations of her kids, and her own rules for conduct and discipline. And I respect that.

“In general, I won’t discipline a child in my house. I do remind my own boys of how they need to behave, make sure they respect our rules, and reinforce them for my kids when needed. But I will not directly discipline their friends. I just don’t think it’s my place to do that.

“What I will do, however, is give a summary of their playdate to their mothers the next time we meet for coffee. I don’t focus on what I would consider challenging behavior only… I give a general rundown of what they kids played, what they snacked on, how they behaved, etc… the good, the bad, and the ugly. That way, the mother can step in and correct any behaviors she feels need correcting directly with her own child.”

A Time for Self-Discipline

“While I have no problems disciplining my own kids, I find it very difficult to say no to another child,” confesses Jessa, mother to 8 year old Annalisa and 4 year old James. “Unless a child is doing something that could hurt themselves, my kids, or my property, I’m reluctant to set strict rules for a guest. I’m not sure if I’m somehow a people-pleaser and overly focused on kids having a good time in our home, or if I’m just a really great hostess, but I’d rather spend my energy on making sure everyone is enjoying themselves rather than on discipline.

“I do try to make sure that my kids continue to abide by our rules more or less. There is some wiggle room on a playdate, but still our rules are our rules. So if my kids want chips for a snack, let’s say, then it’s an absolute no. But if our guest asks for chips, I’ll say, ‘Would your mother approve of that for your snack? Would she be happy if she heard that’s what you had in our home?’ So I leave it up to the child to self regulate and self discipline.

“Usually, it doesn’t even go that far though. Just hearing me saying no to something for my own kids is usually enough but there are times when our guest asks me directly if they can go on the iPad or watch TV or snack on something we consider a treat in our family. It’s in those situations that I try to appeal to their conscience and guide them to make the right decision.

“I’ve only encountered a couple of situations where the child was making decisions I knew their parents wouldn’t approve. In those cases, I would let their parents know, ‘Hey, I know you have strict screen rules but Charlie insisted on playing on the screen for 20 minutes’ or ‘I know you value eating healthy but Diana ate a bowl of chips though I kept offering other, better choices.’

“I think there comes a time when the focus should be more on teaching kids to make the right decisions on their own rather than constantly enforcing rules.”

No Rules But One

“I’m pretty permissive when it comes to playdates,” explains Miranda, mother to 10-year old Corrine. “My daughter knows our family’s rules… what’s ok to do and what’s not. So she’s pretty good about keeping her friends in line for the most part. I see a playdate as some free time for myself and their time to play – not the time to be super authoritarian.

“That said, I really have only one rule: Stay safe! As long as the kids aren’t in any real danger, I’m ok. I won’t step in. I think of a playdate as a younger sibling to a birthday party: Fun is number one. The kids have been looking forward to the get together and they’ve been sitting patiently at their desks all day, trying to control their excitement. If they come over and jump on the couch for five minutes, I’m not going to get all up in their face about it. We’ve never had a situation where there’s totally anarchy. If you give kids freedom, they tend to use it responsibly.

“We have some rather strict rules about bad language in our home and I have overheard the girls dropping the f-bomb a few times. I know I can’t control how children speak on the playground or amongst themselves so I tend to turn a blind eye on those occasions. They don’t do it in front of me and my daughter won’t use them on her own. But that’s an innocuous breaking of rules anyways. They’re not using those words to insult or disrespect anyone, but just to feel “grown up.” So I let them explore their little world with independence.

“Then, as soon as the playdate is over and the door is shut, we go right back into our normal family rules. My daughter hasn’t had any problem transitioning between the two and it’s all worked out just fine.”

What’s your method when it comes to discipline on a playdate? Share with us!

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