09/07/2013 04:54 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2013

When Your Kid's Friend Acts Rudely in Your House

It was a relief when my daughter became old enough to have drop-off play-dates. It's not that I didn't like the parents of my kid's friends; but rather, that I often would have preferred to use the time to finish my work, get lost in a book, exercise or run errands. (I'm sure most of the other parents felt the same.) So, I was thrilled to graduate to drop-offs. One issue I didn't anticipate, however, was what do to do if my child's friend was being rude in my house without his/her parent nearby to intervene. This has happened only on rare occasions, but still, it's happened. And when it did, I wondered: At what point do I address the bad behavior with the kid's parent(s)?

Here's what I've learned so far: The best way to handle rudeness (at least, after the first offense) is to take the child aside and say calmly, "In our house, we..." So, if it's a kid who says "I'm hungry" while yanking open your refrigerator door and rifling through your food without permission, you can say, "I'm happy to help you find something to eat. In our house, we ask, 'Could I have something to eat, please?'" If your child's friend barges into your bedroom without knocking (say, to find a cat hiding under the bed, which has happened in our house several times), you can say, "Hey, I'm happy to help you find the cat, but in our house, we knock on the door and wait for the person to say 'come in.'" I hope other parents do the same to my child if she is breaking a rule in their house. It takes a village.

This tactic has been 100 percent effective thus far. But what would I do, I've pondered, if the child repeated the bad behavior and went on to muddy the floor, chase our cat all around the house or grab my work laptop and start clicking without permission? Then what?

As someone who likes to be prepared, I called in the pros, starting with Lizzie Post -- great-great-granddaughter to the famous etiquette expert Emily Post -- who provides modern etiquette advice at the Emily Post Institute and is the co-author of Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th edition. Lizzie suggested if the offense happens a second time, say, "I let you know that this is something we don't do in our house, and if it happens again, I'm going to have to call your parents and arrange to bring you home." (If the parents aren't home, you'll have to think of another consequence, such as not being able to "play upstairs" or "hang out in the living room" or "go anywhere near the hamster." And then follow through.

Now, here's the sticky wicket for many of us: Do you tell the kid's parents that their beloved has behaved poorly post-play-date? For the most part... the answer is no. As someone who puts my cards on the table as a general life principle, I don't love this, but I get why experts say don't bother. According to Alex J. Packer, developmental psychologist and author of the How Rude book series for teens, what will most likely happen if you spill the beans is that you will put the parent on the defensive, put your child in an awkward position and/or harm your relationship with your child's friend.

It is appropriate to say something, he added, in the following situations:

  • When the behavior poses a danger to the child and/or any living creature in your household
  • When the behavior suggests an underlying issue of major concern (depression, substance abuse, bullying, etc.)
  • When the behavior results in damage you feel the child's parent should pay for
  • When your efforts have not succeeded in changing the child's behavior
  • When the obvious solution of banning the child from your house is not a viable option (i.e., if you and the child's parent have a childcare swapping arrangement)

If this is the case, Packer suggests saying something like: "We just love it when Jen comes over to play, but we're a bit concerned about her increasing use of swear words. While we know how sweet she is inside, others don't, so we would appreciate your help in reinforcing the inappropriateness of such language, especially when she plays at our house where there are younger children present."

Post offers the following alternative: "If it's an issue around attitude (not safety or property damage), try telling the parent's child: 'I want to tell you what happened today around a specific incident, and I wanted to know your thoughts about what I should do if it happens again.'"

Based on the parent's answer, you'll know whether there's any hope for a turn-around in the child's behavior. If the parents don't understand the problem or get angry with you, it's probably best to stop having the child come over, which is no doubt just fine with you, thank you very much.