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This question in, via e-mail:

I know it’s not an uncommon experience, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me. My son, who’s 6, was part of a sleep-over party at a friend’s house last week. When he got home, there was a red spot on his arm. It looked like a bug bite, so I checked him out. What I found was something that looked like a bedbug crawling around under the collar of his shirt. The mother who was hosting the party is scrupulous when it comes to cleanliness, so I know she doesn’t want bugs crawling around in her house; but I don’t want to embarrass her. What can I do?

The bug-bite — bedbug or not — may have come from anywhere, or from the sleeping bag of any kid cuddled up at the party. (Is there no possible chance your own kid was the carrier? Have you checked out your own mattress pads?)

Every mother involved in the spend-the-night needs to be informed; but it’s not your job to alarm the entire guest list.  Your responsibility — which is tough enough, in and of itself — is to call the host-mother and say, “Tom-Tom had a great time at your house the other night. When he got home on Saturday morning, however, he had what looked like a bug-bite on his arm. Later in the day, I found a little critter crawling around on his collar.

“Have you heard any similar reports from any of the other boys?”

Inevitably, the mother-in-question will say, “No! My goodness! What a horrible thing!” In the absolutely best of instances, she will say, “Oh! My goodness! What a horrible thing! Let me check on this!” (Unless she is uncleanly by habit, she will be stunned by this revelation; and it will take a few seconds for the reality to sink in.)

It is not your responsibility to contact all attendant mothers, asking “Did you hear that my tiny Tom-Tom got a bedbug bite at Mikey’s?” It is the responsibility of the hostess-mother to run through the roster, if she chooses to do so.

Your only responsibility is to decide whether you want to risk Tom-Tom’s sleeping bag-to-bag with Mikey, ever again.

This is a situation best handled directly by phone. E-mail is a bad option, since it offers a “Reply All” to all the mothers involved.

And every mother’s business is her own.




Here’s a real-life conundrum from a friend in Virginia. (Let’s call him “Prentice.”  Let’s call his wife “Leticia.”)

Since Prentice and Leticia have a two-year-old (let’s call her “Brandoline”), they’ve become part of a play-group community. (How did it happen? Via e-mail? By means of a bulletin board at the Y? As a result of a bulletin listing at church? As the result of some curious encounter at the dog park? Who knows?)

Brandoline loves all of this, and Brandoline’s life would be entirely dandy, Prentice advises me, if it weren’t for Birthday Parties — not to mention Second-Baby Baby Showers.

“This all started out, sort of idyllic,” Prentice said. “It was about little children playing together, sliding up and down, bumping up and down on see-saws. A lot of juice got spilled, but a lot of mothers got to know one another. A lot of Pampers got changed outside the sandbox.”

“Leticia tells me it was good, really good,” Prentice said, “Until money got involved.”

Now, predictably enough, every child in the play group is having a birthday; and a great many of the mothers are pregnant, once again. (Parties are being planned; shower invitations have already been printed.)

Inevitably, there’s one mother in the group who never pitches in. “It drives Leticia crazy,” Prentice said. “It’s not just about the money.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to club-like situations such as this one, when everybody is expected to pitch in, it is all about the money.

Leticia might take the bold leap, by simply dropping a “best-wishes” card in the gift basket. Or she might suggest that the play-group mothers toss their cash contributions into one happy basket.  (Since the gift is intended to be from the play-group, as a group, no checks will be accepted. Anonymity assured. This is not, by the way, a bad idea.)

Better yet, somebody in the group might be deputized to take the unwitting mother aside, reminding her, in a kindly way, that everybody in the group usually pitches in. (” It’s just what people usually do,” the deputee might say. If the unwitting mother takes umbrage, and says she wants nothing more to do with the group — and that she is taking her tiny Tad and his twin brother, Teddy, to another play-group, the ultimate goal has been accomplished. Hasn’t it?)

“All in all, the whole thing begins to sound like a cash-exchange,” Prentice said, “money  simply shuffling back and forth. Leticia plops in $20 at the next birthday shower; and then, if Leticia is lucky, everybody else will plop in another $20, when Brandoline turns 3.”

“Is that right?” he asked.

I said, “Of course, that isn’t right. The giving of gifts should never be seen as a matter of tit-for-tat. If you give a gift, you don’t necessarily expect a gift in return.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Prentice. “But I’m not sure Leticia sees it that way; and she’s concerned about what Brandoline will think.”

I said, “Brandoline is just turning 3. If she doesn’t get a gift from everybody in her play group, it probably won’t be the hardest lesson she’ll ever have to learn.”

“Maybe not,” Prentice said. “But we’re still  concerned.”

— John /


For my friend Edith the constructing of cookies is a precious thing.

It’s a ritual. It happens in her own kitchen, precisely the way she wants it to happen, every time it happens:

“Wee Eedie presses down the cookie cutter; and then Jay-Jay eats up the left-over chocolate crumbs,” she told me. “Twenty minutes later, we have magic!! What could be more difficult than that?”

(Hit the drumroll, please.)

Now Wee Edie’s best friend, Eustice, whose parents don’t eat anything related to any living animal, is scheduled for a sleep-over. Eustice will be bringing his own pajamas. In a pre-sleepover phone conference, Eustice’s mother has assured Edith, “He’ll eat almost anything… But it’s probably best if he brings his own food. It’s not difficult to cook up. Just use a separate boiler, and let it simmer, in water — no chicken broth.”

Edith said, “I thought we’d  just bake some cookies.”

“Let’s talk some more about that,” Eustice’s mother said. And then the phone went dead…

In such instances, Edith’s wisest option is always: “What if we go to a restaurant that Eustice likes. Would you suggest one?” (That throws the burden back upon Eustice’s mother, who’s the unconventional one in this mix.) “Is there some place where he’s content with the pizza?”

Back home, the baking of cookies may be impossible; and Eustice will probably be accustomed to this insolence.

There will always be the reading of bedtime stories to pass the time.

Everybody goes to sleep, eventually.

No chocolate chips will be left over, eventually.



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