No matter how much we protest, a time comes when our children go off by themselves to friends’ houses for short as well as long durations of time. It starts with a much begged-for sleepover, followed by a weekend friend’s house, then a long weekend to a friend’s straight from the college hostel. Of course, coming home and then leaving would not be worth the time and money. These scenarios are going to come up sooner or later in all our lives and the sooner we start training our children, the better it will be for all concerned, but more especially for the parent hosting your child or young adult!
Gone are the days of joint families where children automatically shouldered their load of the work, no matter how many women were already slogging for the house and no matter that there was plenty of house help too. These days, for a child growing up in a nuclear family in India, it’s all about me, me, and me. This may be fine as long as Mummy, Daddy and Kanta Bai are around at the child’s beck and call, but what happens the minute the teenager or freshly minted adult steps out of the comfort zone and spends a few days elsewhere?
Disaster! Unless you have trained your child since the time he or she was a toddler and you have also led by example when you have been house guests at someone’s house along with your children. Such things cannot be taught overnight, it is a long process for etiquette to become deeply ingrained in a child to such an extent that when the time comes, it all flows out naturally and gracefully. Let’s look at a few dos and don’ts that will make your child stand out from the large crowd of friends who have visited a particular house.
If your teenager or young adult is going for an extended duration to a friend’s house, then a gift would be nice. This could range from scented candles to a small knick knack, a box of chocolates or some homemade snacks. The latter will be particularly appreciated if the kitchen is already burdened with feeding ever hungry teenagers multiple meals!
Offering to or help clear tables after meals. Remind your child before he leaves home that the hostess is not running a restaurant. Helping to lay the table and later picking up your own plate, glass and cutlery and carrying it to the kitchen sink. Even if house help is at hand, good manners are always appreciated. Many teenagers like to carry snacks and beverages to the host child’s room. It’s always nice if your child confirms from the host parent if this is allowed. If permitted, then again the child must carry used plates, cups back to the kitchen and throw empty packets into the dustbin. Not on the bedroom floor! This will only take a minute but win hearts! I always make it a point to tell my daughter’s friends’ mothers how helpful their daughters have been and how it was evident that they had been trained well at home. The mothers actually glow whenever they hear this kind of genuine praise!
Praising a dish they really liked. The food is on the table because someone slaved in the kitchen to make it. It could be the cook, the mother or the father. A word of praise for a food item never goes amiss and if you are like me, you will go a step further and remember what a particular child had really liked and then pack some more for him or her in your child’s school lunch box next time. My son even tells the host mother to share the recipe of an item that’s new for him and that he has really enjoyed eating!
Children often like to experiment in the kitchen when they stay over with each other. If your child is planning to cook or bake at his/her friend’s house, do remind him/her to clear up the mess too! While following kitchen safety rules is of utmost importance, cleaning up is a large part of culinary fun… I still remember my daughter’s friend who even mopped up the kitchen sill without being asked or told to, after baking ‘brownies in a cup’ in our house! She simply looked around for the sponge without making a fuss and efficiently cleaned up. I made it a point to mention this to her mother the next time I met her, saying I hoped my own daughter had learnt a lesson or two.
This one is the toughest of them all! No one expects a spic and span room when a handful of teenagers are crammed into it for the weekend but you can tell your child to try! Clothes that have been used can be put away in a laundry bag to take home to wash, instead of being flung all over the room. It takes a minute to fold your own blanket and plump up and straighten the pillow you have used. If there are lesser things on the floor and bed, there’s more place for you and your friends, is what I always say!
Not all children notice their surroundings but artistic children like my daughter have an eye for décor and they certainly do. Encourage them to praise the layout of the house or garden if they have liked it, or admire certain curios that may be displayed around their house. A heartfelt word of praise is always welcome, as everyone is house proud! Again, you can best lead by example, as such things cannot really be taught…
Last but not least… Teach your child to pack everything properly when it is time to go home! It’s troublesome for both, you and the host family, if you have to call up and ask them to look for such and such item that seems to have been left behind. And trust me there’s nothing more irritating than having to drive back ALL the way because your daughter forgot a critical item like her contact lens fluid at her friend’s place! Been there, done that…
As a final gesture, it’s nice to message the hostess and thank her for having your child over and that you hope you can reciprocate soon. And if your child actually does follow everything I’ve outlined above, don’t be surprised if you get a message singing paeans of praise for your child, even before he or she has reached home!
Meet Anupama – An archaeologist by qualification, an educational entrepreneur by profession, a linguist by inclination, a writer by vocation! I am a mother of a teen and a young adult. Currently based in Kenya due to my husband’s job, I manage my Academy in my home town Pune from across the ocean and continue teaching on Skype. To know about my life in Nairobi, memories from India and anything and everything that touches a chord with me, do read my blog: www.kenyankronikals.blogspot.com