My son had a school friend back to play for the first time recently. Within the first half hour this boy had hit my son in the face and made him cry. Then for the next half hour, he tormented my son by taking his train and refusing to share, which resulted in them playing separately and defeated the object of having someone over in the first place. At dinner, he then spat his food at my eldest daughter and was unable to sit at the table for more than a couple of minutes at a time, constantly getting up to go and play with the toys. I have never been so glad for a play date to end.
It’s not as if I’m not used to other people’s children. My two elder daughters have had their fair share of play dates before and there have been plenty of arguments to referee, fussy eaters to deal with and so on. When the children are around preschool age, it is often your own child who ends up being the source of the trouble. They become somewhat territorial when another child enters their house and wants to play with their toys, whilst the other child takes it upon themselves to act like an angel. What usually happens is that the roles are reversed when your child goes to play at this other child’s house. And that is completely normal.
Once the children are school age, things tend to settle down and although the odd spat may occur, they can usually be relied upon to ‘get on with it’, without you having to intervene. I found play dates harder with my first child, though. I assume it was because she was an only child at the time and not used to sharing. When I had my second child I thought it would be nice for my older daughter to have somebody round to play with, as I had the baby to deal with. But sometimes it just made life more difficult. I only put up with it because it meant that the favour would be returned.
I have never been quite sure what to do in certain situations. For example, at dinner I don’t allow my children to leave the table until the others have finished eating. And the rules are that you eat what you are given or else there will be no pudding. But other children are not my responsibility, right? So if they get down from the table, without having finished their dinner, refuse to eat what I have given them and then demand a pudding, what do I do?
The majority of times I have let the visiting child get away with murder, but I don’t feel like that is appropriate any more. For one thing, my children realise that there seems to be one set of rules for them and another set for everyone else and that’s ‘not fair’. And they are quite right. The other thing is that I am tougher than I used to be. I think I used to be a little bit afraid of upsetting another person’s child; after all they are not mine to discipline. But I now feel that if anyone comes to our house then they should abide by our rules. It is as simple as that and it is what I would expect of my own children if they went elsewhere. Having said that, when my son had this disastrous play date I didn’t do anything to discipline the child because his mother came with him and I didn’t feel as though it was my place to do so. The problem was that she didn’t discipline him either, so what can you do?
We don’t have many play dates any more, as we are always too busy. But if we do, there is rarely a problem. My older daughter and her friends usually disappear off to her bedroom and you don’t hear a peep from them until dinner time. My middle daughter and my son have always played really nicely whenever they have had visitors. I think being younger siblings they have been used to sharing and having other children around from a very early age. Plus (and I don’t know why), they have tended to gravitate towards children who are also younger siblings and so of a similar nature. I won’t lie and say I that in the past I haven’t encouraged my children to play with some children over others. But I don’t have to worry too much anymore because the girls in particular have found lovely friends who, when they visit, end up feeling like part of the family.
My son, on the other hand is still finding his feet. He is in a different class at school to his best friend and so making new friends has been difficult for him. I’m trying very hard not to interfere too much, but it’s not easy. All I can do is keep reinforcing what is acceptable behaviour to expect from a friend and what isn’t. Repeatedly lashing out when you are unable to vocalise your thoughts and opinions is certainly not acceptable. Neither is being made to feel guilty for not playing with someone or being pushed and shoved around.
These are all things that my son has been experiencing since he started school. There is a very fine line between teaching him how to stand up for himself and getting him in to trouble for hitting back, which is completely frowned upon these days. Instead the children are shown role plays about how they should treat each other, in the hope that the message will get through. And the rest of the behaviour is put down to immaturity and age.
I am still undecided how I feel about this but for now I will just accept it and leave them to get on with it. Over time, I know my son will make good friends of his own accord and I will breathe a sigh of relief when he does.
I would love to hear your thoughts if you have been through a similar experience.