Enforcing House Rules With Playdates

How can I enforce the rules of my house with my son's friends?

Truthfully, enforcing "house rules" should not be so different with your child's friends than enforcing them with your child. The key in both cases is to communicate your expectations respectfully, honestly and clearly, and to set up ahead of time some well-defined consequences for rules that get broken. Let's look at the different components as they might apply to a child who takes out too many toys at a time.

* Respect. Many times parents feel doubtful about enforcing "house rules" with a child's friend because the way in which they speak to their child is not the same way they would speak to another person's child. "How many times have I told you to put the games away before you get out your art supplies? Aren't you ever going to learn?" is not something one would feel comfortable saying to a playdate. Likewise, many parents use a different tone of voice with their own children - tense, loud, angry - to communicate that they are "serious" and mean what they say. This is a mistake. A respectful tone of voice that matches your words is the key to cooperation. If you're in doubt as to whether you're acting respectfully, ask yourself these questions: "Would I treat my spouse this way?" "Would I treat my best friend this way?" "Would I want to be treated this way?" If you answer "no" to any of these, you're not speaking respectfully. If you begin acting respectfully toward your child, you'll find that you feel more comfortable asking your child's playdate to conform to the rules of the house as well.

* Communicate honestly and clearly. Many times we believe we're being clear with children when in reality we're not. Saying "I really don't like it when there are too many toys out at a time" tells the child nothing about what you would like her to do about it. An honest, clear communication includes your own feelings and an "I would like you to..." statement. In this case, it might sound something like this: "I feel uncomfortable with too many toys being out. I would like you to put the `Twister' game and puzzles away before you play with the Legos." In the latter statement, you're asking the children to respect your feelings and communicating your specific expectations.

* Use well-defined consequences. Consequences are not punishment; therefore there is no reason that they cannot be used with a playdate similar to the way you would use them with your own child. Especially in situations where you know a child is likely to get a lot of toys out, or break certain rules, it's often helpful to sit down with both children for one minute prior to playing and tell the children what the consequences will be if they take out too many toys, or get too rough, or break any other "house rule." You might say something like "In this house we only get a few toys out at a time. If I see that too many toys are being taken out, I'm going to ask you to put them back. Then, you can either put them back, or we'll take a ten minute break from playing. Does everyone understand?" Remember too, that you can always include an element of "fun". For example, you might say "We need a code word to help you remember this rule. What could it be? How about `dishrag?' or maybe `spotted tigers'" Children love play, magic, and "codes," and when we engage their imaginations we often engage their cooperation as well.

Finally, if you find that you treat your own children less respectfully than you treat their friends, consider taking a workshop which will give you discipline, communication and self-esteem building tools. Knowing how to build our relationship with our children, even as we discipline them, is crucial to successful parenting.