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Visiting Others’ Homes With Your Children

When you are in some­one else’s home with your chil­dren, there are con­sid­er­a­tions beyond those of sim­ply being a pleas­ant guest. Far too many peo­ple seem to have missed some basics of being a decent par­ent, espe­cial­ly while vis­it­ing, so here’s a list as a refresh­er.

  • If your child has or has recent­ly had any kind of con­ta­gious ill­ness or any par­a­site infes­ta­tion, inform your host of this fact in advance so that he may decide whether or not he wants said con­ta­gion or par­a­site in his home. Yes, lice count.
  • You are respon­si­ble for your child at all times, peri­od. Do not expect oth­ers to care for or mon­i­tor your chil­dren unless they have made a sin­cere offer to do so for this spe­cif­ic occa­sion.
  • Old­er chil­dren res­i­dent in the home in which you are vis­it­ing do not exist to act as babysit­ters for your child. If you wish to engage their ser­vices, make a spe­cif­ic request to do so, with reim­burse­ment agreed upon in advance. Such arrange­ments are made for a spe­cif­ic time peri­od and should not be assumed to be in effect dur­ing future vis­its.
  • Make no assump­tions as to the safe­ty pre­cau­tions tak­en in oth­ers’ homes. Even if your host states that his home is “babyproofed,” peo­ple have wild­ly vary­ing stan­dards regard­ing what con­sti­tutes “babyproof” and chil­dren are remark­ably inven­tive in their abil­i­ty to find new ways to harm them­selves.
  • Watch your infant or tod­dler con­stant­ly and close­ly. Do not let a child of that age out of your view unless some­one else in whom you place a great deal of trust has offered to mon­i­tor the child. If some­one else is watch­ing your child, check on them reg­u­lar­ly. Trav­el­ing with some­thing like a pack-n-play is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.
  • Check on old­er chil­dren at age-appro­pri­ate inter­vals. Do not assume that all is well with­out assur­ing your­self of that fact through first-hand obser­va­tion. “I didn’t hear any­thing wrong” isn’t enough.
  • When your host points out some­thing that your child is doing, there is a rea­son for it. Tak­ing no action or wait­ing for anoth­er to act is unac­cept­able. If your child just put some­thing in her mouth, you need to get up imme­di­ate­ly and find out what it was unless the child is at table and you know that the only items with­in her reach are intend­ed to be con­sumed by her. If your child has soiled his dia­per, you should be the first to notice it and take care of the sit­u­a­tion — not your host.
  • Homes are not play­grounds, and should not be treat­ed as if they were.
  • Your host is not respon­si­ble for keep­ing items that might be dam­aged by your child, or that your child may use to hurt him­self or oth­ers, out of your child’s reach.
  • If you do not dis­ci­pline your child imme­di­ate­ly and con­sis­tent­ly when nec­es­sary, it is very unlike­ly that your fam­i­ly will be wel­come guests in many homes. Do not place your host in the awk­ward posi­tion of need­ing to ask you to dis­ci­pline your child, or worse, doing so them­selves.
  • Rude or sullen com­ments and atti­tudes are not “just being a kid” or “just act­ing like a teen.” They are rude and unpleas­ant.
  • If your child is being very dis­rup­tive, poor­ly behaved, or sim­ply unpleas­ant, you should excuse your­self and your child from the occa­sion. That may mean end­ing a din­ner or oth­er planned event ear­ly, but such is to be expect­ed as a par­ent or hosts of fam­i­lies with chil­dren.
  • Teach your child that it is nev­er appro­pri­ate to touch oth­er peo­ple in any way with­out their spe­cif­ic con­sent. Obvi­ous­ly, that means that nobody should be touch­ing your child with­out her con­sent, either.
  • Soiled dia­pers should be removed to an out­side trash con­tain­er imme­di­ate­ly, regard­less of whether or not you detect a smell.
  • Do not allow your child to wan­der about with food or drink, espe­cial­ly with those that may cause stains, unless you are invit­ed to do so by your host. Assume that chil­dren are expect­ed to remain in the kitchen or din­ing room with their comestibles.
  • If you are the par­ent of a child who is too young to enter­tain him­self qui­et­ly on his own, bring some kind of qui­et diver­sion for him with you. Col­or­ing books and crayons or col­ored pen­cils, a favorite toy or book, etc. are good. Do not assume that your host has such items, or is oblig­at­ed to pro­vide them, in her home.
  • Par­ents of small chil­dren should always trav­el with bot­tles, sip­py cups, food or drink for their chil­dren, dia­pers, wipes, and a change of cloth­ing. Please do not bring food and drink that are high­ly like­ly to cause stains — bright­ly col­ored drinks, toma­to-based foods, etc. — into oth­ers’ homes unless you will be mon­i­tor­ing their con­sump­tion very close­ly and con­fin­ing your chil­dren to the kitchen while con­sum­ing them.
  • Clean your chil­drens’ hands and faces imme­di­ate­ly after meals or snacks, or have them do so. Grub­by hands cause stains. Like­wise, make sure that they always wash their hands thor­ough­ly after any trip to the bath­room.
  • Teach your child that the only accept­able sur­faces for col­or­ing, writ­ing or paint­ing on are those that have been pro­vid­ed sole­ly for that pur­pose. My child nev­er marked on any wall or col­ored in any book oth­er than a col­or­ing book despite hav­ing con­stant access to art sup­plies from tod­dler­hood, so I know per­fect­ly well that this is, indeed, pos­si­ble.
  • If you are in the habit of using screen-based activ­i­ties (tele­vi­sion, com­put­er or video games, etc.) as a paci­fi­er for your chil­dren of any age, that is unfor­tu­nate. Do not expect to do so in oth­ers’ homes.
  • If you have been invit­ed to engage in a par­tic­u­lar activ­i­ty, such as gam­ing, watch­ing a movie, or mak­ing music, make sure that your chil­dren do not dis­rupt that activ­i­ty or at least min­i­mize those dis­rup­tions as much as pos­si­ble. My for­mer part­ner and I, for instance, were very tol­er­ant of the needs of infants and tod­dlers that were like­ly to arise while gam­ing, but some peo­ple are not. If your old­er child has been invit­ed to attend an event with you, but has not been invit­ed to join a game, the host will have pre­sum­ably pro­vid­ed some oth­er area in which he may spend his time. Don’t expect the host to pro­vide diver­sions, and do not allow your child to sit with you unless that is accept­able to the host or GM.
  • When invit­ed to a social event, if chil­dren are not specif­i­cal­ly invit­ed, do not take them with­out ask­ing your host for per­mis­sion to do so. Some enter­tain­ments are adult-only, and chil­dren can be dis­rup­tive or change the feel­ing of such events by their very pres­ence.
  • Respect your child’s sleep­ing and eat­ing sched­ule when mak­ing social plans. Do not arrive with a cranky tod­dler who is off his sched­ule because you were not think­ing about the time. Do not assume that there will be a place for you to put the child down for a nap.
  • Even those who dear­ly love chil­dren and adore your chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar are like­ly to find the pres­ence of infants and tod­dlers very tir­ing if they are not accus­tomed to liv­ing with them on a dai­ly basis. Do not out­stay your wel­come.

Last updat­ed August 9, 2003