The Etiquette of Handling Unruly Kids—That Aren't Yours—at a Family Party

Deanna deBara
·5 mins read

Getty / Lisa5201

When you're hosting (or attending) a family party, you want the whole gang to be there—and that includes the younger generation. After all, kids add an element of fun and excitement to any celebration. Even so, children can behave unpredictably—and sometimes, that harmless boisterousness crosses the line into the realm of the unruly, out of control, or downright dangerous. But unless those little ones are your own, it can be difficult to know how to handle them and whether or not it's appropriate for you to step in. Ahead, the etiquette of managing unruly kids at a family party, according to an expert—especially if they belong to someone else.

Related: The Best Ways to Teach Important Etiquette Principles to Your Kids

Set expectations from the get-go.

The best way to handle unruly kids at a family party is, of course, to nip said behavior in the bud—and that means setting expectations with the little ones at the onset of the party. ″Once all the kids have arrived, gather them up for a quick, lighthearted chat about the ground rules,″ say Evie Granville and Sarah Davis, the etiquette experts who write and podcast about teaching modern manners to moms and dads at ″For example, 'I know everyone is super excited to go swimming, right? But before anyone hops in the pool, let's talk about how to be safe.'″

If you actually want the kids in attendance to behave, don't just tell them what to do—get them on board with the why behind the rules ″Let the kids tell you what they already know about the rules and fill in any gaps, reinforcing why it's so important that everyone follow these rules,″ they explain. ″You want to get buy-in from the kids."

Establish social distancing expectations, as well.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, today's family parties are very different from celebrations of years past. While you should understand that gathering at all poses a risk, you might need to also talk to your favorite little ones (or their parents) about maintaining a safe distance from older, at-risk relatives—or yourself, should you fall into that category—during any event. As for what to do if a child does attempt to kiss or hug you (or Grandma)? If kids approach you, put out a hand so they pause before they come into your domain; then, gently remind them to please cover their faces before they come closer (or prevent them from doing so at all). Remember: Your safety is paramount in this instance and supersedes etiquette. If you're having an issue—or witnessing one—remove yourself and speak with their parents.

Give the parents time to respond.

This doesn't always work, but if you notice that a child has broken from any of these rules, or begins acting out, it's important not to jump up and respond immediately (unless your health is at risk). Remember, this isn't your kid, so it's important to give the little one's parents a chance to take the lead and discipline their son or daughter as they see fit. ″Give the child's parents enough time to notice troublesome behaviors. Don't assume that just because they're not responding right away, they don't know what's going on,″ says Granville and Davis. ″Sometimes a parent has a reason for pausing before stepping in.″ Give the parent (or parents) ample time and space to address the behavior. And once they have? Fight the urge to share your two cents about how they handled the situation—even if you would have handled it differently. ″Telling another parent how to discipline their child is out of the question,″ say Granville and Davis.

Channel your inner teacher.

If the parent doesn't stand up and discipline their child (or if they're not around and don't see the behavior), you might have to step in and talk to them yourself. And in that situation, getting them to listen isn't just about what you say—it's about how you say it. ″When you do have to speak with a child whose behavior is off-course, tone is everything,″ Granville and Davis explain. ″We tell our listeners to use their teacher voice: strong, authoritative, but also kind. Think of how you'd want an adult in your child's school to speak to them.″ Letting the child know in a firm-but-kind tone that they need to change their behavior will help get that unruliness in line—without upsetting or scaring the kid in the process.

Smooth things over with the parents.

Some parents might not take well to you stepping in and speaking authoritatively to their child, which is why it's so important to follow up and smooth things over. ″If you speak to someone else's child within their view, make a point of talking with the parent directly afterward: 'I'm really sorry to step in, but I could just see that ending in someone getting hurt!'″ explain our experts. ″This gives the parent an opportunity to hear the urgency and concern in your voice, and understand your motives: Not to shame the child or overstep your authority, but to keep everyone safe.″

Concerned about your own child? Remove them from the situation.

Sometimes, kids just don't behave no matter what you say or do. If you're concerned with how someone else's child is impacting your own, it's completely appropriate to get your child out of there. ″If the child's behavior just won't stop, your best bet is to remove your own child from the situation,″ say Granville and Davis. Just make sure to get your kid out of there in a way that makes it clear leaving the situation is a requirement—not a choice. ″It's important to word this as a statement, not a question," Granville and Davis say. "Don't say, 'Would you like to play in a different room?' This gives your child the opportunity to stay in an unsafe environment. Offer your child the gentle direction they need to remove themselves from the situation."