July 02, 2015

Q: Other parents, whose children are badly behaved and rarely disciplined, keep asking me when will I invite their children to spend the night at my house. One parent has even come to my door expecting this, making me look like the bad guy in front of her children. How do I say no without upsetting the children? I am not at all comfortable with my child playing at the other families homes either.

A: Ahh, yes -- neighborhood politics. It sure isn't comfortable to be pressured into something right at your own front door. There are two steps to try in this situation. First, try the "Polite Refusal" tactic: Say, "Oh, that's so sweet, but we're busy tonight -- good night! See you later!" ...and close the door. Your really can't worry about being made to look bad in front of the other children -- that's their PARENTS' fault -- not yours. Take a deep breath and let it go.

But what to do if "Polite Refusal" isn't enough? Say, "The grownups have to talk about this some other time when we can sit down and talk for a few minutes, without the kids around." Then, arrange to have a phone or in-person chat with the other parents. "Can we talk for a few minutes sometime about family rules? I'd rather not talk about it with the kids around." In that situation, many parents will sense your concerns -- and drop it. Others might want to hear your concerns. Plan to have both you and your partner present, and prepare ahead of time.  When the time comes, say, "You know, it would be hard for us to host a sleepover because our house has rules that your kids have a hard time following. Once we have a few short playdates that go well, maybe we can move on to sleepovers. For now, I'd also rather our kids stay to play at our house, because we've had some incidents here that didn't go well." Stick with 2 or 3 main issues, and leave your emotions out of it -- even if the other parents get upset. If the other parents DO get upset and defensive, that's OK -- at least they won't ask again for a sleepover! But maybe you'll get lucky, and they'll take what you're saying to heart.

I know it's uncomfortable to confront the situation. But look at it this way: The other parents have no way of improving the situation if they don't know there's a problem. And you're being a great role model to show your kids that you're willing to stand up to do the right thing -- even if it's difficult. Don't forget to process the situation with your kids later, giving them the kid-friendly version of the fact that others are only welcome if they can follow your house rules. Let them ask questions, and the whole family will learn an important lesson.

Answered by Dr. Heather Wittenberg