23 Oct 2023

Taking Children to Stay

It’s half-term and families are on the move. This is a week when parents and children may be packing their bags and setting off for overnight stays with friends and family, many of whom may be childless or empty nesters. This poses challenges for hosts and guests alike, so it is a good idea to think about the situation beforehand and arm yourself against possible difficulties and conflicts. Tolerance, flexibility and an ability to compromise will go a long way in smoothing out potential problems.

Advice for Hosts

It is sensible to discuss routines, diets and sleeping arrangements with the guests beforehand and do your best to accommodate them. Now is not the time to impose your own theories about childcare on to harassed parents. If you find they have very different notions about bath times, bedtimes, television viewing, mealtimes and so on, it is best to, as far as possible, go along with them. Stirring up conflict with parents or acting disapprovingly is going to make for a very difficult stay.

Do your best beforehand to prepare for the invasion. Ensure that young children are accommodated in their parents’ guest room, or very close by. Child-proof your house; this means removing delicate ornaments that are vulnerable to boisterous play or curious fingers, even if all you do is put them on a high inaccessible shelf.

If possible, disinter some of your children’s old, discarded toys or borrow some from a sympathetic friend. Cruise the charity shops for suitable children’s books and make sure you’re well equipped with paper, colouring in books and crayons. Dig out board games and packs of playing cards. Parents will be touched by all the efforts you have made.

Food can be a deeply contentious issue, so listen carefully to the parents’ account of their child’s particular likes and dislikes. Within reason, do your best to accommodate them; stock up with a special cereal, fishfingers or baked beans if necessary. If the parents are very anti junk foods, take note: it would be extremely provocative to ply their children with crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks.

Dealing with Difficulties

If you find the children are out of control or disruptive, remember that reproaching other people’s children for their behaviour is very dangerous territory. So, if they’re charging up and down your landing at the crack of dawn, or insisting on staying up and disrupting your dinner at 11pm, you’ll need to alert the parents. This can be done in a tactful, non-confrontational way:

For example, you could say you’ve left out some breakfast cereals in case the children get up early and add that they’re welcome to turn on the tv (show them how). The clear message here is that you don’t want to be dragged out of bed in the early hours.

If you’re worried about evening disruption, you could tell your guests that you are planning to serve dinner at 8pm, which will give them time to bath the children and get them to bed beforehand. They really should get the message.

Advice for Guests

If you’re bringing your children to stay with child-free hosts, for example grandparents, you will need to communicate with them beforehand. Don’t make your ‘briefing’ sound like a list of peremptory commands, but at least explain food fads or allergies and give some idea of your child’s daily routines.

When you arrive with your children, you should not see your hosts as child-minders, or arrive with any expectation that you will be able to dump childcare onto them. You are primarily responsible for your children, even if it means getting up hours before the rest of the household to accommodate their morning routine, or leaving the dinner table at night because a child needs to be settled. You must accept this role with good grace and never play the martyr.

When you first arrive, especially if you have very young children, give the house a quick once-over for traps and hazards. Your hosts may think they’ve child-proofed adequately, but it’s always wise to double check.

Do your best to be flexible and to fit in with the household routines. It is a good idea to come armed with snacks (you may find that mealtimes are very different from your own and you children get hungry and tetchy). Try to ensure that your children don’t turn mealtimes into a circus that ruins your hosts’ enjoyment; if they’re liable to play up when it comes to food, it might be a good idea to suggest that you feed them separately so that the adults can be left in peace. If your children are very young and still at the food-throwing stage, you must take responsibility for clearing up after them.

If your children are older, check with the host about whether they will be joining the adults for dinner. It might well be acceptable for them to eat separately and then commune with their laptops or the television in another room while the adults eat and talk.

Come well equipped with toys and books, laptops and tablets to keep your children entertained during the boring hiatuses when adults are chatting. But be mindful of your children’s possessions and don’t leave them cluttering up the living spaces or spread all over the floor.

Unless they are invited to do so by the host, children should not turn on the television. They should also be told not to help themselves to food and drink from the host’s fridge and always to ask politely if they would like a drink or snack.

Dealing with Difficulties

Children will tend to play up if they’re bored or are subjected to too much exposure to incomprehensible adult conversation, while being told to sit still and stop fidgeting. Of course, it is always a good idea to integrate children into adult meals and conversations, and that is how they learn good manners, but you must accept that there are limits to their endurance. So, keep a careful eye on them and let them get down from the table and play elsewhere when they begin to show ominous signs of restiveness.

Noisy antics at anti-social hours will fray the nerves of even the most tolerant hosts, so you will really need to impress on children the challenge of being quiet at these times. Bringing laptops and tablets that will distract them during these dangerous periods is always a good idea.


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