Extract from Kind, Firm, Calm: Simple Strategies to Transform Your Parenting, by Jenny Hale.

We love entertaining friends in our home, but we don’t enjoy how our middle child, Dylan, behaves when our guests come around. He’s a bright and energetic six-year-old, but morphs into more of a two-year-old when we have visitors. He loves to be the centre of attention, so gets louder and sillier to draw attention to himself. He also brings out the toilet humour. We end up having to discipline him in front of our friends and he monopolises the entire experience.

A bit about personalities and why children play up

Knowing the personalities of our children is a great place to start as we investigate why they behave in certain ways. Some children love to be the focus of attention – they’re the ones putting on concerts or puppet shows, or telling jokes.

The wonderful aspect of having our children play with others is that they can be busy and occupied for long stretches of time. There is a temptation to leave them until things unravel, but keeping an eye on the play, the type of games being chosen and how everyone is doing, can save a great time from collapse.

Here’s what I suggest

When I chat to parents about their kids’ personalities, I like to draw from a book called The Treasure Tree, by John Trent – a wonderful story that explores four different personality types. One of them is Otter – the fun-loving, enthusiastic personality who loved the limelight. It sounds like Dylan might have a good dose of Otter in him, and just knowing this may help you make sense of his behaviour when he’s in a group. He is wired to be noticed and to be the fun one – the one with the imagination, creativity and playfulness. Understood and channelled, there is so much to enjoy about this boy.

Dylan might also be a little unnerved by the changes that come when friends are in your home, or anxious that you’ll be less available to him. Some children are very sensitive to changes in their parents’ availability, or changes in the predictable routine. Dylan’s behaviour could indicate that he’s unsettled, and his antics may be a strategy to access you.

Before friends come around, let Dylan know what the visit will involve. Invite him to come up with ideas for what activities he could be in charge of setting up. Let him know that you will still be thinking of him while you’re with your guests.

His behaviour could indicate that he’s unsettled, and his antics may be a strategy to access you.

This is also the time to let Dylan know what you expect from him – calling out the gold in him, rather than growling. Sometimes children don’t know how to behave because they haven’t really been told. The conversation might sound a bit like this: ”We are having our friends over for a barbeque this afternoon. Remember that you can be in charge of one of the games we play. Also remember that everybody enjoys the time more when there is no toilet talk or loud shouting. If you need to talk to us about anything, you can come up to either of us and get some help.”


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It’s more straightforward to tell a child what to do, rather than what not to do. Instead of saying, “Stop being so silly and rude” try, “I need to hear your sensible words now, thanks.”

If there is a need to have a chat with Dylan during the visit, I suggest you do it as discreetly as possible, away from centre stage. I like to call this quiet discipline and it helps to keep a child’s dignity intact while you redirect them. He could be easily shamed when spoken to harshly in front of his friends. If it requires more intervention, take Dylan quietly away from the group and sit with him until he quietens don. He may just need a moment to reset himself so he can return to the group.

After your visitors have gone, quietly encourage Dylan by letting him know where he did well. For example, ”We loved how you got the cricket gear out and had the game ready before your friends arrived.” Or, ”Dylan, you did well letting the others choose what they wanted to play with as well.”

It takes time for a child to know how to behave in different settings, and Dylan will learn, little by little, with your encouragement.

Extract from Kind, Firm, Calm: Simple Strategies to Transform Your Parenting, by Jenny Hale. Available wherever good books are sold, and also now available as an e-book.

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Parent Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for over 24 years. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.

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