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Betsy Brown Braun

Q: My son’s best friend spends a lot of time at our house, so much so that he starts to feel like a child of my own. He’s very sweet but has some bad habits in regards to things like table manners: Is it inappropriate for me to intervene?

The question of intervening in (shall we say correcting?) the behavior of playdate guests is not far-fetched.

Many parents wonder how to handle certain situations and behaviors, including not following house rules, language, and unacceptable behaviors and manners in your home, when the child in question is not your own. But in this case, let’s just go with manners, specifically table manners.

There are two issues here. One is if you should or when you should intervene. The second is how you actually do the intervening. There are a few things to weigh when deciding the answers.

How well do you know this child and his family? How comfortable is the guest with you (regardless of how comfortable you are with him)?

You might want to think about how you would feel if the guest’s parent were to intervene with your son. Most parents agree that it is touchy territory when it comes to a parent correcting or “teaching” a child who is not their own how to behave.

The kids’ ages make a difference. It is easier to step in to correct or comment on a young child’s manners in the name of your house rules. But after the age of 7, doing so verges on overstepping. You didn’t mention your son’s or his best friend’s ages, and that makes a big difference.

Another important question is if the improper manners are affecting your child. Does your child notice his friend’s unmannerly behavior? Does it even matter to him?  Does your child mimic his guest using unacceptable manners? When the friend leaves, is it difficult to get your son back on track with the table manners you expect?

Finally, you need to ask yourself how your correction might affect your child? Might it embarrass him, make him so uncomfortable? Might it affect his relationship with his friend, perhaps influencing the friend’s desire to visit at your home?

All of that said, if the guest is downright rude or uncouth at eating times, of course you can step in and say, “Hey pal, at our house, we do our best to keep the food inside our mouths when we chew” using a light approach. Or “At our house, when you want something, we say, ‘Please pass the fruit.’”

He’ll get it right away and likely repeat what you’ve said. But he’ll do it to be obedient or get the food he wants or because he is embarrassed.

Will there be a permanent change? Maybe but not likely. Most kids use their good manners more outside the home than in. But if good table manners are not being taught, expected and reinforced at his own home, it may not sink in meaningfully.

Perhaps you need to ask yourself is this more about you than the guest? Are you being controlling? What really is to be gained by making the correction? For sure what matters most is your own child and his manners.