To scold or not to scold? Top tips to manage bold children that aren't yours
To scold or not to scold? That is the question, along with a million others, when it comes to looking after little ones that aren't your own. Deirdre Rooney asks the experts just what exactly adults can and can't do when they're put in charge of someone else's child
Dealing with other people's children is a minefield. After years of grappling with decisions in relation to your own children - breast or bottle, attachment parenting or tough love, spoon-fed or baby-led weaning - throwing kids that aren't of your own making into the mix opens up a whole new set of conundrums. Can you feed them sugary treats? Can you let them watch TV? And is it ever acceptable to discipline a child that is not your own when they are in your care?
It's not just a case of getting to grips with the psychological tricks and turns of children you're not used to. It's about dealing with their parents who, like you, keep a keen eye on how others treat their little ones, especially when they're not around.
From play dates to birthday parties, minding children in the absence of their own parents or guardian is inevitable. So, we asked some parenting experts for advice on how to handle such situations and set them some challenging scenarios we encounter with children in loco parentis.
Every household has their own set of rules for harmonious living, like everyone tidies up after themselves. But what if the child your son or daughter has around for a play date is not used to such behaviours? Should you insist on your way of doing things, or should you bend the rules to keep the peace?
"Absolutely no question that while in your house, other people's children abide by the rules of your home," says Allen O'Donoghue, parenting, business and life coach specialist. "Firstly, they understand from the beginning what is acceptable and appropriate while visiting your home. Secondly, your children see that you treat everyone in the same way."
Aoife Lee, parent coach for Parent Support, agrees. "If a parent is asking someone else to take care of their child, there is an agreement made between them that house rules apply like they would in their own home. As the parent or carer, we need to create expectations so children know what acceptable and unacceptable behaviour is."
Some parents have a naughty step, some have a time-out step, and others forego the whole step business altogether. Is it ever acceptable to discipline a child that is not your own, even if they are in your house?
"I think there is a culture of leaving the disciplining of the child only to the parents these days, and many parents would be appalled if I attempted to discipline their child," says Stella O'Malley, psychotherapist and author of Cotton Wool Kids.
"This is a difficult one," admits O'Donoghue, "as you don't know what the child's experience of 'time-outs' is. Some children may be put on time-outs for a few minutes while others may experience much stronger punishments and be excluded for hours. In my experience, if you correct the child and let them know that the particular behaviour is not allowed in your house, they will usually fall into line. You can get them onside by exploring more positive ways of distraction such as helping you make the dinner. If worst comes to worst, ask the parent to come pick them up."
"If a parent has found a way that works when dealing with certain behaviours, it's important that the parent shares this with the carer, so the child sees all adults singing off the same hymn sheet," adds Lee.
Can you post pictures of children on social media?
"No," says parent coach Val Mullally, of Koemba Parenting, and author of Behave - What To Do When Your Child Won't. "Never post photos of anyone else's child unless you have received their explicit permission to do so. Many parents prefer not to post photos of their children at all because you do not know how photos might be misused. If you post any photos of children, I'd always check the setting is 'friends only', not 'public'."
"I would recommend that parents don't do it," says O'Malley. "So-called funny pictures on social media of our kids can be excruciatingly embarrassing for self-conscious kids. My own eight-year-old has forbade me to post anything about her without her express permission. I respect my daughter's wishes."
O'Donoghue agrees. "Once we put a photo up on social media, we lose all control over it, no matter how good our privacy settings. Unless a parent specifically asks you to do this, you're safer just to not do it at all."
Parents invest a lot of time and research into setting their little ones on the path to healthy-eating habits. But what if it's Friday, and in your house, Friday is cake day? Is it ever okay to give other people's children sugary treats?
"This is something you could speak to the parent about before they leave their child in your company," says O'Donoghue. "With any treat, we need to give these in moderation."
O'Malley doesn't think giving children treats is appropriate. "I would try not to give the children sugary treats when they were on an ordinary play date, as opposed to a party where it's sugar all the way, unfortunately. However, if there were tears or upset, I would relent and produce a biscuit."
Mullally agrees. "If I'm giving a treat, I'd rather it was something we all made together - children love being involved in baking activities."
We've all resorted to the TV when we needed to send that email or make that phone call. But can you plonk a child in your care in front of the box or laptop?
"Why would you want children to be babysat by the TV when they could be playing?" asks Mullally. "I wouldn't say 'never', but I would say 'hardly ever' to TV or video games - and these must always be age-appropriate."
"If no TV is something a parent feels very strongly about, it's necessary to discuss this at the very beginning," says Lee.
"I don't think it's appropriate to let the kids use screens on a play date," says O'Malley. "Of course, if they need to calm down, I would be prepared to turn on the TV - everything in moderation."
Someone has dropped their child off at your house for a couple of hours, but you decide to take them to the park. Can you just change the venue of the play date?
"Best to give prior notice, if possible," says Mullally. "But sometimes opportunities arise unexpectedly. Always weigh up whether there is any reason that the parent might be unhappy about this arrangement. Send a message to let the parent know, and make sure you are contactable."
"Most people have mobile phones - send the text or make the call and cover yourself," agrees O'Donoghue.
"If a child is visiting, then it is presumed that the families fundamentally trust each other," says O' Malley. "I think if people become too anal about things, then a lot of spontaneous fun goes out of the situation."
Unexpected third child
You want to pop into your friend's house, or someone unexpectedly visits you. Is it okay to introduce a third party without the parent's knowledge?
"I think normal family life should be allowed continue when children visit. Giving the child's visit too much emphasis puts too much pressure on the situation. So, if you have to pop to the shops, then you bring the children with you; if someone drops by, then you are perfectly entitled to sit and have a cuppa with them. If you treat the impending visit of a child like the arrival of a visiting president, then everything will get skewed," says O'Malley.
"Yes, of course, as long as it is someone you know and trust," says O'Donoghue. "We don't want to be sending our kids off to play dates or parties with a fully filled-in parental consent disclaimer form."
Sometimes, the end of a play date can bring only relief if you've found yourself minding a child who hasn't behaved. If a child was misbehaving in your care, how much should you tell the parent?
"If a parent asked, I would not say that everything was fine if it wasn't," says Mullally, "because how can the parent trust you on another occasion if they do find out about an upset? However, if the incident was resolved, I would be light on the detail - just say, 'We had a small upset but it's sorted.' If something serious happened that the parent ought to know, I would tell the child that I will need to tell the parent."
"This is a tricky one," says O'Malley. "In an ideal world, we would be able to tell a parent that their child behaved like a monster. But in reality, it is more common - and definitely more Irish! - to say that they were an absolute joy. However, as trust builds up between parents, and everyone gets to know each other better, it would be much healthier to be able to say that there were some issues, and how should they be best resolved in the future."
Aoife Lee - parentsupport.ie;
Val Mullally - koemba.com;
Allen O'Donoghue - cacoaching.ie;
Stella O'Malley - stellaomalley.com