Go Home, Little Girl
November 5, 2013 6:40 PM   Subscribe

What is the parental etiquette for when someone's kid comes to your door trying play with your kid, you tell them no, we're having dinner, and kid essentially won't take no for an answer and tries to continue to get into your house? What is the best way to redirect said kiddo from this behavior again if I can't say anything to her parents?

A new family moved in the neighborhood with three kids. Middle child is a 5yo girl in kindergarten who has taken a shine to Darling Boy (3.5). They enjoy playing together (read = chasing each other). Since she's older, she's given a little more free range of the neighborhood than Darling Boy. She can go to houses near hers without parental supervision whereas I still don't allow Darling Boy to leave our yard by himself.

The other night, in the middle of the Witching Dinner Hour, I am trying to feed everyone and keep them as unstimulated as possible in preparation for sleepy time. The doorbell rings. I answer it and there is Neighbor Girl on my doorstep, her mom no where in sight, wanting to play with Darling Boy. I gently told her that we were having dinner and he wasn't available. Of course, Darling Boy hears this and I end up holding him back from running outside while holding her back from running inside.

I shuffle her out the door, tell her (nicely) to go home, lock it and head back to the kitchen when I hear someone trying - repeatedly - to open the door. Neighbor Girl is still there, trying to get in to play with Darling Boy. I open the door again, she bounds in and I practically have to chase her out of the house. Again, her mom was nowhere to be found.

My question, then, is what is the parental etiquette for this? I really wanted to call her mom and say, come and get your kid so we can eat in peace and can you also have a talk with her about respecting that it is not ok to try to break into someone's house after they've told you that you are not welcome at that time? Do I just forget about it? I'd really prefer not to have to shoo her out of my house again, but that would mean that she gets it through her head that when I say that we're having dinner and Darling Boy can't play, I mean it.

tl;dr: what, if anything, can I say to a mom about her kid who keeps trying to get into my house to play with my kid when I've told said child it is not a good time to play?
posted by tafetta, darling! to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, absolutely call Neighbor Mom and tell her what happened. It may not make a difference; some parents have no idea what their kids are up to. But alternatively, don't answer your door during dinner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:46 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just call her mom. That's the neighborly thing to do.

Don't say this:

come and get your kid so we can eat in peace and can you also have a talk with her about respecting that it is not ok to try to break into someone's house

Say this:

"Come get your kid please, she wants to play but we're eating dinner."

I have a neighbor boy who tries to come in all the time, he's 5. That's a very testing, lying, being bad for fun kind of age. 'Darling Boy' will likely do some of this in a couple years, consider your patience and kindness down-payment for when you're fishing him off their roof.
posted by French Fry at 6:57 PM on November 5, 2013 [43 favorites]

Of course you should call her Mom! You can't really negotiate with a five year old.

Personally, I probably would have let her inside, then called her mother and asked her to come and get her -- then you could have the (relaxed and non-confrontational) convo about dinner-time boundaries in person. I'd leave the "breaking in" part out of it -- if Neighbor Girl comes over when she's allowed to come over, that should be a non-issue. (I would also be sort of concerned that this little kid is running around without any supervision after dark, but your neighborhood might be different than mine, and I suppose that's a whole other question -- although the No Mom In Sight part of yours makes me think that this might turn out to be an on-going discussion with her, in that it'll be hard for Neighbor Mom to keep Neighbor Girl out of your hair at dinner time if she doesn't wholly know whose hair Neighbor Girl is currently IN.) Good luck!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:05 PM on November 5, 2013

Sometimes children do unexpected things. You gotta be patient.

Personally, I would have invited the little girl in for safety reasons, and either called her mom, or fed her with my kids.

Then with the meal over, if I couldn't get in touch with anyone to come get her, I would walk her home with all my kids in tow.

Outside of earshot of all children, I would advise the other mother that it's not safe for a five year old to roam the neighborhood without supervision!!!

You're focused on the wrong issue. I don't think it was safe to shoo her outside unsupervised. I would take up both the girl's failure to understand your instruction and the fact she was unsupervised in private, away from the children.

"I'm sure you meant no harm, but I don't think it is safe for little Suzie to be outside unsupervised. I had to invite her in during our dinner because I didn't have your phone number. The thing is, she tried to open our door and come into our house after I tried to send her home. I AM CERTAIN IT IS NOT AGE APPROPRIATE FOR SUZIE TO BE OUTSIDE ALONE. She's only five."

If mom balks, tell her point blank that you are happy to host Suzie when a play date is arranged, but it is not OK for Suzie to wander over uninvited and unattended. Full stop.

I hope you understand me. You'd feel awful if something happened to that little girl. Be direct and make sure that mother watches out for her child from now on.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:09 PM on November 5, 2013 [20 favorites]

If it were me, I would have invited the girl to sit down at the dinner table with you. Show both her and little darling that dinner is sacred time. Sounds like little girl is lonely or maybe not paid as much attention to as she could be at home.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:15 PM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

French Fry has it. If it happens again, call her for sure.

As a parent, I would not want someone feeding my kid without discussing it with me first, no matter how kind they might be. I limit some types of foods for various reasons, and I wouldn't want to miss eating with him, either.
posted by Specklet at 7:26 PM on November 5, 2013

I would have walked her home (you said she lives close by, right?) and let her parents know she's welcome back... tomorrow. That's how I handled it when my kids were young anyway. Worked for me, and I only needed to do it once. Totally worth a cold dinner.
posted by patheral at 7:27 PM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

As parent: would want a call/text or escort back to my house. "Hi Kia! Your daughter is over wanting to play but we're just sitting down for dinner. She's still here and I feel bad about her being on the porch all alone..." Would be grateful for the opportunity to come and retrieve/find you on my porch, and have a talk about how to call on people appropriately; would ask you your usual dinner hours, make apologies, etc; all would be good.

Your neighbour mom may vary. In which case, not answering the door during dinner is a practice lots of families follow anyway.

The no-mom-in-sight raises zero red flags for me, but I live in a wee village, on a cul-de-sac absolutely lousy with small children. Unsupervised young 'uns are normal. My daughter was calling on friends on our block alone at...late four? I was terribly proud. (Some other families even had us beat in the youngest-unsupervised-kid-on-street racket.) We are talking two houses down sort of stuff, to a house where we are friends with the family. Daughter is now six and can call on a house that is at the very start of the next block. I would definitely not start lecturing her about child safety unless she is way, way out of whack from the neighbourhood's norms, and if that's the case I might say something, framing it as a 'Just a heads-up -- most of the parents around here are very cautious and would freak out if they saw your daughter unsupervised on the street. I mean, obviously she's totally safe coming to call on us. But I am worried somebody might see her alone and freak out and call social workers, because she's the only 5yo allowed to be out alone around here -- they're just not used to it!"
posted by kmennie at 7:30 PM on November 5, 2013 [12 favorites]

I understand where jbenben is coming from: the whole unsupervised kid-on-the-loose thing, not even counting how willing the kid is to enter other people's homes. But still, she isn't YOUR kid, and just because she wants to come in your house doesn't require you to entertain her on demand.

I think I'd have walked Little Suzie home, turned her over to her mother, and explained how when you told Little Suzie she couldn't come (and it doesn't matter why: you told her no, and that's reason enough), Little Suzie ran inside anyway; how when you finally got her out of there she kept trying to open your door, and how only the fact that you'd *locked* your door kept Little Suzie from coming in again. Alternatively, keep Little Suzie waiting on your front steps with you (NOT inside your house: that would sort of 'reward' her trying to force her way inside) while you call her mother to come get her.

And one more thing: whenever Little Suzie is playing with Darling Boy, keep them firmly in sight, not just 'in the fenced-in backyard' or something..... I'm afraid I could see Little Suzie leading Darling Boy off *somewhere* to play, because Little Suzie has such a lack of understanding of other people's boundaries that, even if you've explained and explained and she SAYS she understands Darling Boy isn't to leave your yard, she might merrily suggest "let's go to the park!" anyway.
posted by easily confused at 7:38 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

tafetta, darling!: "I really wanted to call her mom and say, come and get your kid so we can eat in peace and can you also have a talk with her about respecting that it is not ok to try to break into someone's house after they've told you that you are not welcome at that time? Do I just forget about it? I'd really prefer not to have to shoo her out of my house again, but that would mean that she gets it through her head that when I say that we're having dinner and Darling Boy can't play, I mean it. "

I would have called her mom and told her to come get her, or walked her home (if possible.) That's certainly what my mom and the neighbor moms would have done when I was growing up, too.

As for the girl understanding that you mean it when you say that Darling Boy can't play during dinnertime...hey, like you said, these are your rules and you mean it, I think you can kindly but firmly have that little talk with her. I think it's good for kids to hear that different families all have their own rules. (But then clarify with the mom to avoid any misinterpretations, since it sounds like you're totally fine with her playing with your kid during appropriate times.)

Also remember that just because Neighbor Mom is more laissez-faire than you doesn't mean there weren't rules being broken. It's entirely possible Neighbor Girl was testing boundaries and was not actually allowed to be out playing quite that late.
posted by desuetude at 7:47 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had a kid with boundary issues on our block who would've pulled something like this, and in fact did do stuff like going into our garage to grab our toys to play with sans permission. I basically interact with her the same way I do with my own kids, in a parental mode -- so in this situation, I would have told her bluntly but kindly, "It is dinner time right now, so you can't be in here. $SON has to eat his dinner and can't play. Go home."

The key is to be very, very straightforward about it. You can't expect a five-year-old to follow the subtle social nuances of what dinner time means to you. "$SON isn't available right now" is a little abstract, especially after she's spotted him and might assume that his dinner is finished since he got out of his seat.

(The local kid's mostly outgrown it now, so that's nice. Time fixes all things.)
posted by Andrhia at 7:48 PM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I had a neighbor boy like this when I was growing up, only he was closer to 10 or 11 when he'd come over and just never leave. It turns out he was in an abusive home, and the love and kindness my parents showed to him, even when they were clearly irritated at feeding him and keeping him inside until it was so dark they needed to walk him home to be sure he was safe, is a model for me as a parent. They had no idea he was abused; they only knew he was young and seeking the light and warmth of our home. They never denied him that, and I love and respect them for this.

I don't mean to make you feel guilty, or to imply that this little girl is being abused and you're somehow responsible for her. I just mean to express that seeing my parents model generosity and patience and love was far more meaningful to me than seeing them model setting boundaries (especially with a five-year-old).
posted by Capri at 7:55 PM on November 5, 2013 [37 favorites]

Pinterest has examples of door hangers to hang on your front doorknob that show whether it's okay to check if your child wants to play or it's not okay to ring the bell. Some have pictures and colors to help younger kids like a green "okay" with a picture of playing kids or a red stop sign when it's not okay. I'm not sure if it would work for a 5 year old, but you could always explain it before you start using it.
posted by cecic at 8:44 PM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd walk her home. Partly to make sure she goes home, partly to check to see if her home is alright.

It seems odd to me that a young kid would be wondering around at dinner time, instead of eating her own dinner. Especially since she seemed to have been in a bad mood herself, what with her acting so disobedient. Maybe she was hungry, or she was trying to take refuge with your family for some reason?

Or maybe she's just a willful kid, in which case you might have to walk her back to her house a few times until it sticks. You can also tell her what she *should* be doing as well as what she shouldn't (ie, she should play at home now, she should come play with Darling Boy tomorrow, etc), sometimes kids need some guidance in that direction. If she's just really curious about your family, I would also maybe invite her over for dinner at some point so she understands the routine better.
posted by rue72 at 8:45 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

She's five. She doesn't understand "not available right now," or any other aspect of guest etiquette. You need to be having a conversation with her parents.

In the moment, I probably would have walked her home and then had a conversation with her parents right then and there.

Most likely said conversation would be framed around teaching the girl the rules of when it is and isn't OK to go play at other people's houses, and what to do if the answer to "Can [Friend] come out to play?" is no.

But really I think that unless the parents are horrifically neglectful, not a lot of explaining is going to be necessary.
posted by Sara C. at 8:54 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd give your neighbors the benefit of the doubt here... imagine this phone call:

[You]: Hey Neighbor... Little Lucy is over here and we're trying to have dinner...
[Neighbor]: Oh god.
[You]: Yeah, she doesn't seem to understand that Darling Boy is not able to play tonight.
[Neighbor]: I'll be right over... I'm terribly sorry!

If you get preachy or continue the conversation in any way, you'll be seen as a jerk. Any parent that isn't crazy is horrified by this situation and will fix it without you providing a lot of guidance.
posted by shew at 9:44 PM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

There could be a couple of different things going on, and without knowing a little more, I'm not sure exactly what I'd do in this situation. Most of the answers above kind of assume that the girl's parent(s) are engaged enough that they'd want to know where their child is and will be open to an opportunity to help her learn boundaries.

But it's also possible that her parents aren't/can't care or be engaged (for whatever reason(s)). If this is the case, I think you might need to take a stronger stance with the child. You will need to be the one to teach her the boundaries, and be firm and straightforward with her, as if she were your kid. In other words, you can say to her "It's nice to see you, but it's not polite to come into someone's house when they've told you that they are busy and eating dinner, so you will need to go home now." (Alternatively you can probably frame this as a positive statement--something like "It would be polite for you to ask ahead of time if you can come over during dinner, so you'll need to go home now, and we can make a plan for you to come during dinner for next week.")
posted by gubenuj at 9:53 PM on November 5, 2013

I was recently at a memorial service, let's call the deceased Amy. One woman stood up to tell of her rough childhood decades back. She would leave her own home and come over Amy and her husbands home next door whenever she could, in part to play with their children, but also in part because there was food and attention there. When Amy and her husband noticed that her shoes were falling apart they said "Oh hey kids, it is Shoe Day! The day when everyone buys shoes. Get in the car, we are all going to the shoe store." She also experienced the annual holidays of Coat Day and Lunch Box Day and more at Amy's house. There was not a dry eye at the service as she told her story.

I would start off in trying to figure out the home situation of the child. I would definitely sit her down and feed her and then take her home. Maybe she is just a kid who hasn't learned boundaries, in which case there is plenty of good advice above. Or maybe she needs some love and attention.
posted by LarryC at 10:11 PM on November 5, 2013 [30 favorites]

Have a sit-down with her one day and tell her in a friendly manner what house rulles are and how they are supposed to be followed. So you establish a mutual stash of we-have-talked-about-thisms you can refer to when needed.
posted by Namlit at 11:29 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a parent, I would not want someone feeding my kid without discussing it with me first, no matter how kind they might be.

Well, sure, but parents who let their five-year-olds wander around by themselves and approach other people's houses, if in fact that's what happened, have to assume they're giving up a lot of control. You can't set your kid loose on the neighborhood and maintain the same control you could if you didn't set her loose on the neighborhood.

I must admit, this kind of thing is something I particularly dislike, when parents allow small children to roam around essentially demanding free on-demand babysitting from whoever, wherever. (This isn't like a twelve-year-old who wants your kid to come outside and play; a five-year-old requires care, no matter what her parents apparently think.) Even if it were safe, which I don't think it is, it's really rude to send a kid who can't respect boundaries out in the wild, no matter how old. I know you want to be a good neighbor, but I think this calls for a pretty firm line in the sand -- they need to call before she comes over. There may be kids who can handle an unannounced visit just to see, but she clearly can't.

I know, it's very close to literally "get off my lawn," but seriously: get off my lawn.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:22 AM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

My only concern about feeding them (other than rewarding their intrusive behavior if they're not escaping an abusive home or something) would be if that kid had some sort of ground-nut/gluten/whatever allergy and you're unknowingly putting their health/life at risk.

I work in a preschool/kindergarten and every room has 2-6 kids with allergies of one kind or another--some requiring EpiPens if they so much as touch stuff.
posted by blueberry at 9:00 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that once you let your kid run free at the age of 5, you give up control of what someone might feed them.

It would be illegal to leave a 5 year old home alone, so why is OK for them to be unattended outside? It's not.

I also thought there was something hinky about a 5 year old outside alone at dinner time.

Was it possible she snuck out to your house without her parents knowing??
posted by jbenben at 6:20 PM on November 6, 2013

A lot of good stuff here, but I just wanted to add that you shouldn't be shy about talking firmly to her. I would get down on her level and say, "XX, you need to go home now. You are disturbing us during dinner, and I already asked you to leave. Go. Home. Now." Do not raise your voice. Don't say "please." Act like a boss. If her mom comes over to see why you made her cry or whatever, say, "I asked her to leave several times and and I guess it upset her. She's welcome to play at other times, but we won't be available after 5:30pm (or whatever), so please ask her to leave us in peace during that time." This part, you say with a smile.

I do not think it's at all charming that kids are coming over your house uninvited. I don't think it's cool that a parent doesn't know where his/her 5yo child is at dinnertime. I think something fishy is going on with the family, and you need to establish your own rules with this out-of-control kid. I'm sure she has her charms, but you need her to respect you and your rules even if she doesn't have any at her house.

I've had to do this (in a milder fashion) with a friend of my DC whose parent doesn't notice when the kid is being a jerk. He behaves really well in my presence now. You can establish your own relationship with the kid that will serve you both well.
posted by tk at 5:57 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

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