Monday, October 13, 2008

Bedrooms are for Sleeping

Or, Thoughts on Visiting for Parents and Children
By The Pleasant Times Etiquette Expert

When I was a child, and invited over to other children's houses with my family, it was inevitable that I was sent away with the child of the house to their room, where there were oodles of toys. Very often the child, in hospitable zeal, got out ALL the toys at once and invited me to play with whatever I wanted to. This was surely nice, and it was quite an honor to be treated thus. I assumed that since this was their room, the child knew what he was doing and so I shyly picked up a toy.  However, when the visiting time was over, and the parents came to fetch us children, they would look at the room in horror, and say "Look at this mess! You can't come out until this is all cleaned up."

Now I believe that children should clean up their messes. It wasn't that that bothered me so much, it was the shame of thinking that I was looked upon as an instigator in this mess. Oh, they may not have said it, but I could tell the look on the parent's face as they surveyed the room, then surveyed their child, then surveyed me, that they thought it was partly my fault. That perhaps I had encouraged their child to make this mess by asking for too many things, or going and getting them out myself. Being a shy child, I never did such things. But being a shy child, I never could muster up the courage to tattle-tale on the real culprit. 
It was always an embarrassing experience and one repeated often when I was very young.

When I was older and had a voice, I would ask, "are you sure your parents said we could.... play with that family heirloom? ...that big game? ....that antique toy? ...get something in the kitchen to eat  ....get this or that out?" Many children confidently affirmed that, yes, their parents let them do whatever they wanted. And how many times was that proved wrong? Same embarrassing situation again... but the parents are more upset, and give more piercing looks. Has that ever happend to you?

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Or how about the other way around: how many of you can recall having a family over, and you took the child to entertain in your room while the adults visit? How many times did your hospitable obligation led you to let the child play with some of your most precious things? How many times did the guest jump all over your bed and messed it up? And how many times was your room been wrecked by said child? 

How many of you parents have had guests over, whose children disappeared down the hallway to your child's room, where all kinds of bumps, noises, crashes and cries come to disturb your visit? All the jumping up and down to check on the kids interrupts the flow of conversation. 

Or perhaps you, the parent, were the guest; when it was time to go and find your child, did you find you had to navigate your way through a strange labyrinth of doors and hallways to see where she was? 

Even worse, how many of you have been to visit others, only to find the teens all go and lock themselves in someone's bedroom and play loud music? Not only is that rude, but it isn't good training for real-world socialization. 

I realize that adults would love a time to have a quiet, deep and meaningful conversation with friends, without children in the same room, talking noisily, or interrupting. However, I think that one could find a creative way to get around this without sending junior down the dark hallway to the bedroom to play. 
Here are my thoughts for solving this: Bedrooms are private. Keep your bedrooms for sleeping in.
Bedrooms are for peace and rest; we do tend to use them as playrooms or storerooms, but it is our personal area and our personal things.  Unless we have prepared the room especially to receive guests, I consider the bedroom private. I don't believe in sending children off to a bedroom, out of sight and earshot, to play and wreak havoc.
It is nice for a child to share a toy to entertain a guest, but take it out of the bedroom before the guests arrive, and shut the door behind you! Parents can help their children think of all the things they can do to entertain a little guest, and prepare ahead of time for the visit. There is no need for the guests to get a tour of every inch of your house, unless you, the parent, decide to take them on one. 

There are many ways to be hospitable, to show your guests preference and honor, and give to them your very best. Perhaps, though, it doesn't have to include play time in your child's bedroom. 
Find a place close by to where you are, where your children can play a quiet game, or talk politely, and where you can still see them. If they want to play outside, make sure you can see where they are and where they're going. You may have told junior not to play in the flower bed, but in the excitement of the moment, junior might have forgotten and he and his friend trampled your flowers. If you can at least see the children, you might prevent a lot of trouble and damage. 

If your child is invited to go to someone's bedroom, make sure you say something, such as "I'd rather keep junior where I can see him. Can they play on the porch out here?" Make sure that your children know to play quietly in the house. When they are older children, teach them to politely say, "Thank you, but can we play (somewhere close by)?" 
As for teenagers, they ought to be quiet and listen to the adults converse. It is good for them to experience the real world. If they are desperate to have a private conversation of their own, they can also go out to the porch or someplace where they can be seen. Why do they need so much secrecy? A respectful teenager will also ask permission to leave the room with a guest, stating why and where they are going, and making sure that the visiting family is okay with it. 

Remember that people are often embarrassed to say anything, lest they seem to be "making a fuss," and so might agree to things that they are really not comfortable with. If you are such a person, try to find ways to say things ( such as "I don't let my children go unsupervised") in polite ways, and in the sweetest way possible. 
I realize that it is sometimes not possible to prevent damage or chaos, or even to keep an eye on children at all times. I do believe, however,  that at least trying to supervise children at play may prevent a lot of woes. 

Some may disagree with what I have said here, not wanting to monitor their child's every movement (though I did not say you have to follow every footfall of your child) or somehow hinder their freedom. If you feel that way, time and experience may soften your opinion of my views. 

Children get excited when a playmate is coming over! Giving and receiving hospitality can be (and should be) a wonderful experience, both for the parent and the child. 
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