What’s acceptable when you’re looking after someone else’s toddler, and what isn’t?
Managing your own toddler is hard enough, but someone else’s? The ‘naughty’ step may work in your house, but you could find your name darkened at toddler group forever if a friend hears you made her toddler sit there while in your care.
Here’s how you can deal with someone else’s toddler in different situations…
On a play date in your home
“I dread having a certain little boy over. I can never get him to sit at the table to eat and he runs amok, treading crumbs into the carpet and putting sticky fingers everywhere,” despairs Irene, 30, mum to Joseph, 4.
It’s perfectly fair when entertaining other children to invoke your MOTH status (that’s Mother Of The House) to lay down the rules. “I tend to say, ‘In this house we sit at the table to eat,’ so it’s not personal criticism,” says Amanda, 30, mum to Joshua, 6, and Isobella, 10 months.
Don’t you just hate it when a visiting toddler pokes his food around on his plate, wanly turning down all your offers of alternatives? If you don’t offer café service to your own child, you don’t have to provide it for visitors.
“Find out what the other child likes to eat,” advises Maggie Fisher, of the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors Association. “Then, if he refuses to touch it you can presume he’s not hungry. Just make sure he’s drinking enough and isn’t unwell.”
At your child’s birthday party
Your toddler may be jumping for joy in anticipation of her birthday party. But the prospect of dealing with sensitive Sam, who you know is going to be cowering in the corner, as well as bossy Bella, who’s been known to reduce children’s entertainers to tears, is enough to drive any sane parent to the brink.
“It’s quite common to have a withdrawn child at a birthday party – often she is simply overwhelmed,” reassures Maggie. “If you’ve got another helper, ask if they’ll look after that child or get one of her friends to buddy her.”
And the unruly child? If his reputation precedes him, it’s worth laying down clear rules from the start. “If he’s still crashing around, get him to do something boisterous in another part of the room,” advises Maggie. “If he’s really ruining it for everyone else, I would talk to him in the same way I would talk to my own child.”
Playgroup may sound like your chance to catch up with friends over coffee, while your children play together. In reality it’s more likely to erupt into a battle as your toddlers fight over toys.
“I take Lily and her friend Jemima to playgroup every week. They really look forward to it, but all they seem to do is squabble over who gets to push the pink buggy,” says Gretal, 30, mum to Lily, 20 months, and Jeremy, 6 months.
“It’s an important part of their socialisation, learning to get on and understanding give and take,” reassures Maggie Fisher, of the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors Association. “If they can’t sort it out themselves, try negotiating a compromise.”
On day trips
“We took my godson to the seaside with us. Almost as soon as we got in the car he started crying for his mum. It put a real dampener on the day,” recalls Andrea, 28, mum to William, 2.
“It’s natural for children to miss their mothers, so when I’m looking after my friends’ children I give them lots of reassurance,” says Rachel, 32, mum to John-Luke, 23 months.
“I took my friend’s 3 year old to the zoo with us. I had her on my lap when she peed everywhere. I spent the rest of the day looking as if I’d wet myself!” cringes Adele, 35, mum to Thea, 4.
“Children have accidents for all sorts of reasons: if they’re feeling upset or they’re engrossed in what they’re doing,” says Maggie. “Don’t make a fuss, and change them calmly.”
In public with children you don’t know
“If a child I don’t know is mean to Georgina or pushes her about, I would still ask him to apologise,” says Freya, 35, mum to Georgina, 4.
“We were in the park when a boy pushed Carla to the ground. When I told him that wasn’t acceptable his mum screamed at me that I had no right to tell her son off,” remembers Bridget, 42, mum to Carla, 2, and Holly, 4 months.
“If another child is violent to your child you are right to intervene,” assures Maggie. “If the parent is aggressive it tells you volumes about why the child behaves that way. De-escalate the situation by saying, ‘We’ll have to agree to disagree’ and, if necessary, walk away.”
“My daughter did finger painting all over my friend’s wall”
“I wanted the ground to swallow me up one afternoon when Alyssia had been round at my friend’s house. They were doing finger painting when my friend’s little boy said he needed the toilet. While they were out of the room, Alyssia carried on painting: the table, the chairs, the wall! I offered to repaint the wall, but my friend wouldn’t hear of it. Every time I see the stain I cringe!”
Dayna, 32, mum to Alyssia, 2
“I worried about telling my friend her toddler had been biting”
“I dreaded telling my friend that her toddler had been biting Ella, but when I came clean she confessed she’d been having problems since her second baby was born. I volunteered to have her baby sometimes so she could have time alone with her toddler. It worked and now she’s a delight to have around!”
Carly, 34, from London, mum to Ella, 2