Opinion Saturday: too much of a good thing

OK, this week I want your opinion on a dilemma that I know many parents face. Your kid has a friend who does not know the meaning of the word moderatation. He comes over every day. He calls every day. Maybe he is your kid’s best friend. Maybe he’s your best friend’s kid. Maybe he’s just a bored neighbor kid who is taking advantage of proximity. But he’s cutting into your family time. He’s taking over your life. You’re starting to feel like you talk to this kid more than you talk to your own child.

What do you do? Should you tell him to back off? And if so, is there an effective way to do it without hurting feelings or totally ending the relationship?

You have until Tuesday evening to respond. The best idea gets the Golden Keyboard Award. So come on– hit me with your best thought!

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  1. I think the easiest and kindest way may be to address the issue with the child’s parent(s). Telling them that you would really appreciate it if there son/daughter might limit the amount he/she was allowed to come over or call because you need to have some family time together might work. As long as you are not telling this kid’s parent that he/she is a pain or anything rude I think they would respond possitively. They may even take to spending more time with him/her themselves.

    It worked with us with a neighbor of ours. I saw the mom outside and we got to talking. I told her I loved when her son came over but our family needed to get a few things done each day so maybe he could come to call after a certain hour. She understood what I meant and things have been great since.

  2. I do think it is a good idea to talk to the child’s parents—if you know them or are even slightly acquainted with them.

    But what if the child comes from a home where the parents aren’t involved in his or her life? Perhaps the child has a single mother or father who must work too many hours, or there is chaos, crime, abuse, or simply not enough food to eat? Maybe the child feels unloved or unwelcome and the only haven he or she can find is in your home?

    I would take the child’s circumstances into consideration. They may not always be apparent. Obviously, if you know the parents you can speak with them. But if the child’s home life is shrouded in mystery, I would continue welcoming them in to my home. I’d get to know the child and attempt to discover why the child doesn’t want to be home.

    Our family, our home, may be the only source of normalcy and love he or she has seen demonstrated. I wouldn’t take that away from a kid in need, ever. No matter how much it inconvenienced us.

  3. We have gone through this in the past. Because we homeschool and are not always available on certain days and times that the public schooled kids are around, we found we had more than our fair share of interruptions some days. I have had success in the past by just talking to the neighbour kids, explaining our schedule, and then giving them a time frame that it is okay to come and call on our children to play. If the children are younger, you could even have something that you hang on your door or put in your window as a symbol of whether you are available or not, such as a (social) butterfly if the kids can play, or you may want to display something such as a bee (busy as bees) if you are not available. I would just pick one or the other to not make things too confusing, either having a symbol that shows you are available, or one that show you aren’t, not both.

    As for phone calls, I would get an answering machine and screen the calls, or once again, try to set aside a very specific time for your children to receive phonecalls until the novelty (hopefully) wears off. If you or your child are unavailable to field a phonecall at any particular time, I think it should be no different than if someone were to call you when you were busy. I would say that the person is unavailable to talk right now, and could you take a message or perhaps arrange to have them phone back. With enough of those kind of responses, perhaps the flood of calls would slow to a trickle over time. You could hope, anyway.

    I’m not sure if these solutions would work for the situation you describe or not. You know that if a child is turning to you and your family, that they are most likely lacking something on their homefront, which they are finding in your home, such as love or attention of some kind, but that is purely speculation. I have seen this type of behaviour from “lone” children, as well as from children who had siblings, but still felt left out in their family. Looking on the bright side through all of this, you should be flattered and consider it a compliment that your family is exhibiting characteristics that attracts others and make people want to be a part of it. (Big grin!)

  4. Hmm–it always depends on the situation. My husband comes from a single parent home and his mother worked, A LOT. It seems to me that if it is a child who really needs family and sees it in yours then deliberately inviting him to join in “family” things would be a way of being a blessing and witness. If he shows up during school–give him some school work to do, if he shows up during a meal–invite him to dinner. I have many friends that are/were single moms and knowing that a family has accepted their child and has provided what she can’t provide alone would be such a blessing–in fact, if it is a single parent household I would invite th parent as well. Same goes for a child in a family that is obviously having issues, regardless of what they are.

    Now, on the other hand, if the home life is good and this kid is just being obsessive (which I doubt–usually their is a good reason when a child attaches itself to a family in this way) explaining the times when visiting/phone calls is allowed and making sure those times include some of the things they seem most to enjoy in the family is key. Gentle and firm, reaffirming that you enjoy them being there.

    Of course there is also the older/teenage side of that coin. In that case firm rules about times is the key–reminding all involved that it is for the sake of respecting each in the family, not just taking away privileges.

  5. I am a new girl chiming in but we deal with the same problem with not one but two children in our neighborhood. Our problem gets even more complicated b/c one of the children is Russian, speaks fairly good English but parents don’t at all. The other child is 14 (my children are 7 and 3), comes from an unstable beginning but is now living with other family members. My husband and I have established some ground rules b/t ourselves that we don’t share with our children or the visiting children…

    1. 14 year old can only play when outside and when we are present. Very sweet kid but WAY too old to be playing alone with my children. There are some emotional/learning issues that make this child act much younger then his age but the fact is he is a teen and that is something I need to keep an eye on. This is not a rule we share with our own chidlren.

    2. With both boys I have said they must come over after 4:00 pm. Now that school has started it is not such an issue but during summer it took a few weeks to let this sink in. This time frame give the kids a good chunk of time to hang out while I prepare dinner etc. and is a welcome diversion for me.

    3. The younger boy is welcome to come in and play (he is 8) but if both boys happen to be here at once I make it outdoor time. If I get questioned I just explain that I am the adult and I make the rules.

    4. They do not have our phone number but if they did I would set up some rules about that as well. I know you homeschool (I do also) but I would treat it like a typical school day and only allow calls at a certain time.

    5. I am undecided about talking to parents. It may be benifical and it may backfire and hurt feelings. In my opinion if this child is over constantly and the parents have not noticed they are probably not going to handle the confrotation all that well. Something you may have to feel out on your own.

    Hope this helps.

  6. a quick comment…I have no idea how that little yellow icon got on my comment….a little computer dim.

  7. Dawn in OR says:

    I appreciate those here who have made the point that there is a reason that those children cling to your family. Those who have offered solutions to you were also very kind in their answers. I think we must all realize that we can see the world thru our eyes. You have a wonderful fmaily but most kids do not have that kind of family any more….Life is very hard for some kids. And in these “last days” life is so difficult for some children we may not really understand the depth of the pain and loss some kids feel. Because they do not have the family you have Mary. And so they may come to you in search of the love and joy they feel in your home. Our families do need to realize we will be sought out by those kids in need… and there wil l be many times that it is not easy for us.
    Our families in this sense become lights to shine. Havens of peace and Christs love in the world.

  8. heretodayghanatomorrow says:

    Mary,

    I think in many instances, this can be worked out with the child. If a child comes over to play, let the child know that he is welcomed to stay until 5:30 (or whatever time) and then it will be time to go as you all have things to do. Give a few warnings prior to 5:30 so it is not unexpected.

    For the calling too much, let the child know what time he can call back. “Jimmy can play again in the morning, please call us after 9:30” If he calls before, remind him of the 9:30 time and don’t let your child talk to him. Or tell the child that you will call him when you are available the next day.

    I think this is a nice way to do it as I have found that children appreciate knowing what to expect and when they can call. To a child, they will call every 15 minutes as that seems like an eternity to them but if they know they need to wait until a specific time, I have found that they do.

    Now if a child does not listen to your requests of when to call or to not call back, then I would approach the parents. I really don’t think it is necessary though in most cases. I have had to do this several times over the past few years and it has worked well without making a big deal out of it.

    Jen

  9. We’ve had this situation quite a bit at our house. When my step son lived with us and now we are getting calls for our youngest. I think the first thing you need to do is talk with your child. I believe if your child knows the family rules about telephone usage, then they can relay that to their friends. “My parents don’t take calls after 9 or we eat dinner at 6, please don’t call then.” It’s all part of telephone etiquette. If your child is old enough to use the phone, then they should be old enough to understand the rules.

    Then, when dealing with a friend that does not respect or know your rules, you can have your child talk with them, and if that doesn’t work, then I have actually asked to speak to their parents. I’m not going to deal with the child at that point. I am very kind. I am very polite. But I have asked before if they are aware of how much their child is calling my house. Usually they have no idea. We had one little boy calling my son and leaving 15 messages on our phone. There were, at one point, 25 missed calls from them on caller id. The Mom had no idea. (Speaks to her parenting in my mind. How do you NOT know your child is using the phone?) Then I just politely asked that their child not call more than a couple times a day because my child has things to do like chores, homework and family time. All the phone calls disrupt that time and after being together for 6 hours at school, our evenings are for family. The parents, so far, have been very apologetic and really respectful and understanding.

    The key here, I believe, is being willing to stand up for what you set as important in your own home. If you are not willing to confront someone who is invading boundaries, then the problem will not go away. And the confrontation doesn’t need to be harsh, it can be calm and to the point without hurt feelings or alienation. Talk to your child about expectations that are important and then take the further step to talk to the parent of the child abusing your boundaries!

  10. Ooo I love this one! I am going to sit back and listen… I need an answer to this dilemma too!

  11. Our home has always been the neighborhood house. I love all the kids coming over, meeting my kids friends, and just letting them hang out.

    Our home is very kid/teen friendly and we planned it that way. The garage is full of games, air hockey and a dart board.

    We have a play room for the younger kids and a trampoline and play area in the back yard. Everyone is welcome, during play time.

    We have found that by letting our kids and there friends know exactly when “play” time is it has set boundaries for all involved and helps the parents keep their sanity.

    Our families schedule looks like this:

    Monday-Thursday the kids can have guests from 4:00-5:30.
    We have family dinner at 6:00pm.

    Fridays are a kind of free for all. I generally sit out front after school and all the neighborhood kids come to play. At dinner time every one goes home, except those who may have been invited to stay. This is usually on a rotating basis.

    The neighbors know that after dinner is family time and the kids can not have guests.

    On Saturday friends cannot call or show up at the door until 11:00am. Chores are done in the morning.

    Sunday is our family day set aside just for us. Friends know not to call or come by.

    This has worked really well for our family. The key is to set boundaries and follow them. No one gets offended and you still have time for friends and family.

    At times the kids have had friends who try and stretch the boundaries which can be annoying. Stand firm and politely remind them that they are more than welcome to come back tomorrow but right now is our family time. This works really well and we have had few problems.

    Of course, sometimes rules are made to be broken, like when you have a weekend sleep over or something.

    Just remember you are in charge. Not the persistant or annoying friend.

  12. I have run into this very problem several times.

    The best way, I find, is to address the child directly. Most of the time the kids who are coming to my house are here because they are missing parental involvement at their own house. If I would call up the parents and tell them their child is bugging us and needs to stay home more the parents would probably yell or get upset with the child. And that is not what I want to happen.

    So if the child is coming over to much I tell them my children aren’t allowed to play after school until their homework is done. If they are too persistant I tell them the kids cannot play on weeknights. That way the kids know our boundaries. Sometimes I have to tell them a few times but they usually get it and stop coming over.

    During the summer I just send the kids home when I have had enough. No neighbor kids are allowed here during any meal/snack time simply because I have enough kids to feed. I also send them home during the day when I need a break. I just tell them it is time to go and if they ask why I say, “Because I said so.”

    It works for us.

  13. Oh this is familiar. What I try to do is recognize that it isn’t the childs fault, that I don’t know the reasons why and the last thing I want to do is make the child more vulnerable by telling the parents or hurting the child’s feelings so….

    1. I let all the children know when is family time, for example. Home from school, after school snack, 30 minutes homework, then playtime for an hour. That’s the time when they can have the friend over.

    2. I recognize that this child may be lonely, and while not my child, I have in the past tried to make an effort to include them (there was one inparticular, from a very poor background wasn’t able to do any extracurricular activities, never got snacks). So what I did was try to find a “special activity” once a week that he could join us in. That may be a trip to the park for a picnic, or a bike ride, or swimming etc. I tried to use this as an example of how to show kindness, grace, warmth and empathy. Because the child knew he was invited to a special activity, he looked forward to that and was happier about going home when the time was up!

    3. I was positive about it. Instead of saying “your friend can only come over for an hour a day” and to the child “you can only be here between this times” I would say, “I love what great friends you are, so that you can have fun playing and not have to be called away for homework, I came up with a plan where you can spend a whole hour playing each day together” I would also share what activity he would be invited to do with us that week, i.e. “it’s time to go home now, but we are all looking forward to your coming to the park with us on Saturday Mikey”

    4. I tried to find activities that would “link” their friendship that they could do seperately. For example if sweetpea was reading a particular book, I’d ask Mikey if he wanted to read it to so they could talk about it. Or I’d say to Mikey “tonight sweetpea is making a robot for his homework, why don’t you run home and make one too and show it to us tomorrow”

    5. I made use of community resources. I found cheap, or free community programs they could do together which also gave the other child a chance to meet new people and new friends.

    6. My kids knew my expectations about family time and the reason why it was important. We have family night once a week.

    7. I tried to build a relationship with the child’s parents so I could understand better why and what would help most. The little guy I am talking about was from a very very poor background. Honestly, I think he was hungry sometimes, his parents were new to the country and making peanuts even though they were a very educated couple (engineer and nurse) in their homecountry and their english was poor so they couldn’t help M with his homework. This helped me see what to do. I always included a “snack time” when he came over to play. If I found things like huge barrels of fruit/veg on sale, I’d send some home with him. I’d ask M if he wanted me to check his homework or even allow him to do his homework when he was here. This also taught the kids a lot about how blessed we are and how not everyone is equal.

    It’s a fine balance. I wanted them to know that sometimes people are lonely, or less priviledged and we as a community, society and people can make a difference, although few chose to do so. We live in a county which is about ourselves and our unit, I honestly believe this child taught us something but only because we took the time to learn about him and his family. We were much more enriched by them, then them by us. But, I also wanted them to have a balance between time with friends and time in our family. I never made it an “issue” i.e. by saying your friend is only allowed over at X time, I made it positive. “We have a really busy and full life, but it is important to me you are a good friend to M so I’m really happy we found time that you can play with him”. This also gave my children the language to use to their friends, so instead of asking they knew what the answer was, what time, how long they could play etc.

    Even these situations can be wonderful teachable moments for your children, not every child they make friends with will be like M (a child in need) but it at the very least gets them to examine the importance of friendships, while learning about the balance to family time as well.

  14. I could have written this question.
    I would like to say that I know the answer because I have figured it out, but I can’t say that for certain. What I can say is that I am living it.

    My neighbor’s son is an only child, but he is not growing up alone. If you look at the photos on my blog, you will think that I have 4 children, when in fact, the little blond headed boy named Josh is, in fact, the neighbor’s son. For the past few years, we have battled with how to keep enough distance between us and the neighbors to discourage him from walking over or calling to come over every day. If my kids go out to their pool or just to play in the yard, Josh will walk over. On Sundays when we just want to rest between a.m. and p.m. church, he wants to come over. It’s so bad that he will even call on CHRISTMAS MORNING wanting to come over.

    Now, many of my friends and family have told me that I should just learn to say “no”! They tell me that I am being taken advantage of by the mother, my friend, and that Josh needs to learn that this isn’t his home. Well, I have tried many different tactics, but let me just say that I have no desire to share them because none of them have been successful in anything except hurting feelings and making me feel bad. What I did learn, instead, was to really listen to Josh and be more observant of WHY he desires to be here.

    Like I said, he is an only child. He craves the atmosphere of a larger family. He actually told his mom that he wishes that he lived here. He calls me his other mom and thinks of my children as his siblings.
    He has never been to church with his family.
    His mom and dad both work full time, so he has always been in daycares or school.
    When they are home, they are often preoccupied with things going on in their lives…things I won’t discuss here, but lets just say that the atmosphere in their home is often not peaceful.

    So, I began to question myself as to what God would want me to do with Josh. My heart wouldn’t let me push him away. If there is something that he is missing at home that he feels like he gets here, then I think that we should give that to him. If it sometimes means that he is here more than we like, then I just remind myself of what a blessing it is he feels welcome here and that God has blessed me with three children to play with him. When he is older and needs an anchor to stop him from sliding into some of the evil that the world has to offer, I hope that he will remember the warmth of our home….the security that he feels here…the love.

    I did sit down with Josh and explain that he shouldn’t run over without being invited. I told him that it is okay to have his mom call and ask if he can come, but that he shouldn’t run over uninvited. I also told him that sometimes we will be busy or that it might be a day when we are just not having company. I explained that we still love him and that he is still welcome here….to always feel free to call again.

    The greatest thing that I have tried to do with Josh is to KEEP MY PROMISES. I think that he has grown up so far in an environment where he has had a lot of broken promises made to him. When I tell him that I will call him later, he often makes the comment that he knows I will do it because I always keep my promises. This means a lot to me. I think that the security that Josh has in my promise to call him later or have him over later is enough to help him accept when he cannot be here.

    THere are a lot of ways that I could have stopped Josh from spending too much time at our house, but I’m glad that I didn’t do them. God blessed me with three wonderful children…it is the least I can do to open my arms and my home to someone else’s child who needs me…..who needs us. I pray that he will always see our home as a safe haven.

  15. Hi. I’m new here (although I’ve read about you on other blogs). What a great question and what great answers! I think I’ll be implementing some of the suggestions here with my own “extra” child. 🙂

  16. Well, I’d like to say that I have the answer as well, but it seems to me that I couldn’t answer this question any better than what other people already have!

    So, just know that I was here, I love your blog, and that I hope you will stop by my blog someday when you have a minute…*LOL* Or should I say, IF you have a minute!!