Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedure (CAPP): Setting Limits with Someone Else’s Kid at Your House
Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:
- Be cooperative
- Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative
Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:
- Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around
The possibility of allowing choice C is what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.
Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to C and reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.
Here We Go…
Oh, the awkwardness of having a kid in your house whom you don’t know all that well and whose parent you barely know at all! It’s generally fine until you want to set a limit with that child. Lots of thoughts go through your mind: “What would this kid’s parent think about this?” “What if the kid refuses?” “What if the kid gets into a fight with my kid?” “What if the kid does something totally inappropriate?”
For some, even before you have to put your foot down, there is a heightened tension of having a stranger in your house. After all, even if your progeny isn’t always well behaved, at least she is a known quantity and if you don’t deal with her exactly the right way, who is she going to complain to anyway? With someone else’s kid, the immediate stakes are much higher, and tension rises. This tension is greatly exacerbated when you don’t have a solid procedure for dealing with someone else’s child in your home no matter what that kid tries to pull.*
*Disclaimer: If you are reading this because your child is friends with a kid who is completely and utterly out of control, you will not have to read any further after this paragraph: simply do not allow that person to enter your home without his parent being with him. Do not allow your kid to go over to that child’s home. Setting these limits about whom your kid socializes with is your right and responsibility as a parent.
What Not to Do
Just like with vampires, you should never just invite a kid into your home and see what happens.*A failure to plan results in tension and potentially terrible situations. Setting limits with both kid and kid’s parent are an essential part of having a minimally tense time with a child visitor in your home.
*Disclaimer: Having to go through this awkwardness is necessary unless you have a long-standing relationship with the kid and her family and/or you are sure the child is perfectly behaved. However, it is likely that this will not always be the case.
What to Do: Setting the Limit with the Parent
You are going to have to go through something a bit awkward on the outset in order to avoid the possibility of something extremely awkward happening later. This step is usually only going to happen for younger kids for whom the parents have to set up a playdate. If a neighborhood kid just shows up on your doorstep, as they often do, from a logistical/safety as well as behavioral perspective, it’s always a good idea to make a call to the kid’s parent.
Here’s the awkward part, and this is the least awkward way to set the limit. Allow yourself to be seen as a crazy person when setting the limit. This avoids making the other parent feel that you are being judgmental or too harsh. Simply say:
I’m a weird parent. I don’t feel comfortable warning or lecturing children, especially other people’s kids, when they’re in my house. I know there won’t be any kinds of problems, but just in case, I just wanted to let you know that I set limits with kids only once and that I only allow them to stay in the house as long as they are following the rules that I set. My only rule is to not cause a problem.
Then you can proceed to get the parent’s number and make sure that they will be available the entire time their child will be in your house in case said kid decides to cause a problem.
Setting the parent limit in this way has several benefits.
- It isn’t judgmental of anyone else’s parenting, literally and by tone.
- It allows you to appear to be very strict and calm to the other parent. This will benefit you if you have to enforce your limits with their child later.
- You have been very clear about your expectations. Again, this will be helpful if these expectations are not met.
- The parent is very likely to express to their kid how strict you are before the they visit your home, thus decreasing the likelihood of limit-testing behavior (at least with you).
What to Do: Setting the Limit with the Kid
When the child enters your house, say exactly the same thing that you said to her parent, and say it in the same way you said it to the parent. The kid will be appreciative of being talked to like an adult. This assumes intelligence and makes it more likely that the child will act like an intelligent person.
I am a weird parent. I don’t feel comfortable warning or lecturing kids, especially other people’s kids when they’re in my house. I know there won’t be any kind of problems, but just in case, I just wanted to let you know that I set limits with kids once and that I only allow kids to stay in the house as long as they are following the rules that I set.
My only rule is to not cause a problem.
You can ask if she has any questions. After that, just tell the two buddies to have a good time.
What to Do: Interventions
Here are three interventions that can be used to nudge the kid in question towards positive behaviors. These are only to be used when the child has not quite caused a problem, but looks like she is about to or has just barely started doing something that will cause a problem if it continues. If they skip straight to something that really causes a problem (violent behavior, serious disrespect to you, purposeful breaking of items in your house, or anything that you feel is a serious problem) skip these interventions and go to your consequence. These are listed in order from least invasive and time consuming to most invasive and time consuming, although you will notice that none of these are invasive or time consuming.
- Say, “Think” and walk away. This assumes both compliance and intelligence. It says, “You are smart, and I know that you are going to do what is right here.”
- Ask, “What should you do now?” and walk away. Again, this assumes compliance and intelligence.
- Ask, “Who do I allow to stay in my house?” a reference to the limit set earlier. This question does not need to be answered and is never asked more than once. It merely is a way of calmly referencing the line in the sand that you drew earlier.
What to Do: The Consequence
If the kid does anything that causes a problem during his stay, simply say two words: “Oh, dear.” And call his parent, asking him or her to please come and pick up their child. Keep in mind that we live in a world that tells adults that it is somehow cruel or bad to hold kids accountable with consequences for their actions, so it is quite likely that the parent will be stunned, confused, or angry. This is not your problem. When you are transferring the kid back to his parent, avoid conversations about this altogether with quick statements like, “I’m sorry to inconvenience you with this.” And, “I’m sorry about this. I told you I was a weird parent.” Do not talk to the kid except to say goodbye. Wear a smile and be nonchalant. If the parent tries to use anger and lectures to try to get the child to apologize, let them know that it’s not necessary and that (if it is okay with you) the kid is welcome to come back in the future and try again.
- If a parent questions your way of doing things when you set the limit with them, empathetically say that you are pretty different, that those are your rules, and that you are sorry that your kids won’t be able to play together. Any parent who questions another parent for calmly setting limits before their kid has caused a problem will probably become irate once their kid has caused a problem. Also, there is an incredibly high possibility that this parent’s kid will be horribly behaved.
- If you don’t mind being a little less strict, especially with kids under five, you can ask, “Who do I allow to stay in my house?” once for each infraction until you believe the kid is making a game of it or whenever you no longer feel like playing this game.
- When you hold an older kid who can drive accountable by asking him to leave your house, feel free to allow or not allow your kid to leave with him or her. Either is fine, whatever is best in your judgment.
- Not allowing your driving-aged child to associate with a certain friend in school or at social functions (parties, dances, etc.) is impossible and unnecessary, but that kid not being allowed in your house is reasonable and enforceable. If your kid brings a banned kid over to your house when you are not home, the easy consequence is to not allow your kid, who has proven himself to not be trustworthy, to not leave the house (unless he is going to school) until he can prove that he can be trustworthy.