How to deal with houseguests whose children break things

DeuceDog asks: Hi Shirelle – There is a neighbor boy (7 years old) who we love to have pay us a visit, but every time he comes by – he breaks something. Whether it’s a toy that we have for him and other children, or one of our gardening tools that he likes to slam onto the ground. His father is a nice guy, but a little slack on discipline – I don’t want to overstep my bounds and I don’t want to frighten this nice little boy – but his path of destruction is getting a little difficult. What would you say to him and his father to help appease the situation? Thanks.

Well, DeuceDog, if I haven’t made it clear enough, I was just like this boy!  I was a very destructive puppy, and just loved getting into mischief all the time.  Some people have never been able to tell that I’ve outgrown those days (well, maybe that’s because sometimes I act like I haven’t!).

The best thing that Handsome learned to do, when I was that way, was to have lots and lots of chew-toys around.  Then whenever I’d misbehave, he’d say “No,” very strongly, to stop me doing what I was doing, and then put a toy in my mouth that instant, and then cover me with petting and kisses and congratulations for being so smart as to pick that toy up!  It really worked!

Now this little neighbor boy doesn’t chew on things.  He likes to throw things onto the ground instead.  So I think your job is to figure out some things that he could throw that would be fun – and not bother you.  Of course balls are great, but it sounds like he particularly likes to break things.  What about making water balloons for him?  He could break dozens, and the only side-effect it would have would be to water your lawn!  Again, the trick is to find out what it is that he likes doing, and what pleasure it gives him, and to find an alternative way of giving him that pleasure.

But now we get to the other problem, which is his father.  While you might have fifty water balloons waiting, this kid might also want to throw your great-grandmother’s beautiful porcelain vase out the window, and you simply can’t allow that.  So what to do?  Well, one solution is to “play the bad guy,” and tell the dad that you’re just very picky about these things, and need to keep the kid outdoors for now.  Another is to go ahead and dare to “overstep;”  — if Dad isn’t disciplining his kid, maybe you can do some simple modeling, to show him how it’s done.

(Of course, this is only to be done with your voice; don’t even think of striking a child that’s not yours!  And once you’ve stopped him from doing something really bad, be as friendly as you can, just like Handsome with the chew toys, so the kid realizes you still like him, but just needed him to not break something valuable).

But if none of these things work, then you just might have to do the toughest, most painful choice.  Which is to tell them that, until the behavior changes, you just can’t have them over to your house.  That you would be happy to go over to their place, and bring dinner or treats, but you just can’t let all your stuff be ruined.  Hopefully that will be enough to get Dad to understand.

And if he really doesn’t know what to do, why not recommend that he find a good child therapist.  Someone to help improve his son’s behavior.  That’s usually a pretty quick job, and will often improve a lot of other things in the family that this behavior is revealing.

Remember, what that kid wants most is for you to like him and have fun with him.  The more you can have ways to achieve that, the better it is for everyone.

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