Good Question: How Do You Handle Playdates with Strict(er) Parents?

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Playdates with Strict Parents

Is jumping on the couch frowned on in this establishment?

We all have those burning parenting questions that we’d love to have our trusted group of peers weigh in on. Some of us are lucky enough to have that peer group nearby, but many of us turn to Facebook, Twitter, or even Google to ask those tough questions. I’ve always thought it would be nice for The Risky Kids to function as a community, helping those of us who consider ourselves free-range parents navigate some of the trickier parenting issues we face. In what I hope grows into a regular series, I’d like to introduce Good Question. The idea is that you guys will submit the questions that nag you. I’ll give my best answer, share any resources that might be helpful, and then encourage the rest of you to help each other out with your answers in the comments.

If you have any Good Questions, please share them in the comments, on our Facebook page, or email them to Angie at theriskykids at gmail dot com. I’m looking forward to lots of Good Questions and more importantly, all of your Good Answers!

Our first Good Question was posed to me (embarrassingly) over a year ago by reader Chris H. Thanks for your patience, Chris! Hope the answers are worth the wait!

Question:  How do you handle playdates with parents who are stricter than you?

Answer:  As you can imagine, this happens to us A LOT!  Pretty much every parent I know is stricter than we are (except when it comes to car seats … that’s my helicopter hot button).

I do know that it can be both exasperating and embarrassing to be the parent on the other side of the “rules.”  Playdates at the park were the worst.  While I’d be content to sit on the bench and hope to get some good adult conversation in, the other parent would be following their child around, shooing them off the climbing apparatuses, yelling at them not to climb up the slide and helping them cross the monkey bars.  It was always so awkward … do I sit there and let my kid play like we always play or do I defer to a different set of rules for one playdate?

In order to get around these situations, I often offer to host playdates at my house with the kids whose parents I’ve noticed are  stricter than myself.  I feel more comfortable both explaining the rules in our home and then letting the other parent make the call.  When visiting someone else’s home, I make it clear to my kids that different rules may apply.  We might not like them, we might think they’re silly, but it’s not our home and we are guests.  It’s a good life lesson – different environments require different rules.

I feel as if I can put up with the hassle of reprimanding my kids for getting too squirrely for someone else’s standards every now and then.  But if we’re going to be good friends and hang out often, I need the company of parents who are of a similar mindset.  If that means we move closer to a middle ground of how we feel the kids should play, then I’m good with that.  But if it means I always have to reign my kids in so that they’re comfortable?  Then it’s time to move on.

What’s your experience with playdates where parents’ rules differ?  If you’re on the other (stricter) end of the spectrum, how do you wish other parents would respond?




  1. Now that THE COUCH is in kids playroom, I say jump away! It was different when it was the only couch we owned that people actually sat on. 🙂

    (For those of you who haven’t been to my house THE COUCH is the size of the Titanic. It came with the husband.)

    • Yes, my tolerance for jumping and running around like crazy in the house has changed a bit now that we have a basement. I didn’t mind if the kids got a little crazy when it was just a playdate, but if we were entertaining? Too crazy – there wasn’t anywhere for the adults to socialize without getting jumped on by kids. Also, a PSA: letting kids jump on the couch like that is a good way to break a few couch springs. Huh. Maybe I’m stricter than I thought …

  2. OK Angie… so I will say that I have been the permissive parent at the playground that annoys other parents b/c I never minded my kids climbing UP the slides… having a child with low muscle tone and constantly looking for activities to use muscles made slide climbing a GREAT IDEA!!! BUT… when it comes to my house… that’s a different story. I am on the stricter side and yes, I have ended friendships over it. I feel like I have worked really hard shepherding my kids’ hearts for which gratefulness and a sense of stewardship go hand in hand with that. So, while it may seem “silly” to have house rules, they help us to be stewards (to take care of what we have b/c we are thankful for it). I tried to just gulp and let one family play over here and not say anything and in the course of the crazy fun, a framed cross stitch done by a dear friend of mine that was hanging in my daughter’s room got broken. I was shocked when the Dad brought it down, handed it to me and said, “I guess this got broken….” ???!!! There was no apology and no offer to have it re-custom framed. Another family was over and to preserve the friendship, I said nothing and the kids went crazy having fun in the basement and the end result was one of my basement lamps got knocked over. Again… no offer to replace and DIFFERENT FAMILY. My issue is that I just don’t think it’s teaching kids anything if they can just go crazy with no thought to their actions. I will NEVER forget the Christmas when my niece opened up a brand new GeoTrax starter set and then proceeded to jump up and down on top of the box. Her Dad said, “Oh well… if it’s broken, we’ll just take it back and get a new one.” It seems like we are just feeding our kids the mindset that everything is throwaway and replaceable. I really don’t want to keep buying new things b/c my friends’ kids can’t just come over and PLAY with the gazillion toys that we have. My home is MY HOME and as a family we have collected treasures over the years (souvenir from Germany, antique lamp in my daughter’s room from Grandma, personalized items, expensive gifts, etc. etc…) Again… STEWARDSHIP says to take care of your stuff b/c it was entrusted to you and you are thankful for it. Why do I have to risk what we DO take care of whenever people come over? I guess I feel like I am teaching life skills of taking care of what you have. I never want to “put stuff over people”… but to me it’s a respect issue. When you are a guest in my house, you should respect our stuff and it is well within reason for me to expect that you can come over and play and nothing should get broken (or stolen… we’ve had that one too!!!) What fun is it for me or my kids to have friends over and then for their stuff that they enjoy playing with to end up broken? This does seem to be a really divisive issue these days. I would always want to err on the side that my kids would be welcome ANYWHERE and they can always go looser if the host encourages them to do so. But I would hope that they would be respectful of other people’s houses and stuff and take care of it the same way that we take care of ours. It also seems much easier to “lighten up” on expectations than it is to get tougher. AND b/c this “no rules fun” seems to be just with our generation of parenting… it usually isn’t appreciated by the older generation like grandparents… so then it’s harder for kids to go to these places and NOT jump on furniture or pick up and play with knick knacks, etc. etc… We also never had to deal with running in the house growing up b/c most of the houses that we grew up in there was NO ROOM TO RUN!!! We have a huge yard, a big driveway, and we are at the end of a dead end street. I kick the kids outside if they need High Energy Play….

    • Vicki, I see a lot of similarities in our parenting styles. I never really thought of it in terms of where we are permissive, but like you, I’m much more permissive at the playground than I am inside my home. And my tolerance for rough play changes with the seasons! In the photo of the boys playing on the couch, it was the dead of winter and neither of our homes had a basement. I understand a child’s need for jumping, running, and building things to knock down. My rule was always that they had to clean it up. When the weather is better, I send them outside instead. Now that we have a basement, this couch is off limits for jumping … but they can use the ratty one downstairs!

      I’ve always made it very clear to my kids that everyone has different rules in their homes, and whatever they may be, when we are guests we are gracious and respectful and follow their rules. But like you I’ve noticed that not everyone else feels the same way. It seems that there are some kids that just play differently – more wildly maybe? And I find that when we host these kinds of friends my house gets trashed and something almost always gets broken. It makes me sad, because I want our home to be the place where all the kids congregate, but I feel as if I have to remind some kids over and over again that this is not how we treat our things, that some things just aren’t for you to play with, and to stop and think before they do something – is it a good idea? Would your mother want you doing that? What could possibly go wrong?

      I have a new theory that these are kids whose parents strictly monitor them in situations where they should be given freedom to make their own choices (outside, on the playground, in their own homes), and therefore kids haven’t developed the internal self-control that tells them what is appropriate and what isn’t. Someone always decides for them … and when they’re in a different environment with less supervision and peers to show off to … well, they lose control. I really think in many situations these children really don’t know how to handle themselves! And I wonder how many parents are putting so much energy into teaching kids how to behave in situations that they are fearful of (yet have little control over), such as abduction, predators, sexual abuse, bullying, but completely neglect the basics that we must model and teach as life skills: responsibility, self-control, respect for property, how to be a friend, how to be a guest, etc.

      Again, you bring up many good points and I’m so glad you took the time to read and chime in!