Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Q & A: Hospitality to, er, Unruly Children

This is a topic that can get under people's skin and fire up a lot of emotions, opinions and downright convictions! That is: disobedient children and how to deal with them.

Blogger Ellen asked the Offering Hospitality Staff the following question and I, Carrie, will confess to you that I've been sitting on this one for awhile. It's a delicate subject matter and one that requires an excessive amount of grace. Even the staff members here differed on particulars and so I think what we'll go ahead and do is post Ellen's question and open the comment section up for you to offer your advice.


Hi! Just stumbled across your site today, and I realized I'd love to ask a question. We've been practicing hospitality in different ways for the 9 years of our marriage, and we've really enjoyed it for the most part.

But... I've run into a big snag for me in practicing hospitality. We have two little boys now, ages 3 and 1. Most of our friends have children. We don't have a ton of space. We find that dinners with some friends aren't enjoyable because they're chasing or managing their children most of the time, so we've tried just doing dessert and keeping it more simple.

In addition, we have some friends who let their children run and scream and and jump all over, pushing toys into walls, leaving toys everywhere, etc. This is how they are in their own home, so it doesn't surprise me that they act the same way elsewhere. I feel horrible about it, but I really don't like having them here. I cringe and start getting stressed even thinking about having them over.

Do you have any recommendations for verses to look at or things to pray about this situation? I want to have a welcoming heart about this, and it's very tough for me. I want to be the type of laid back person who really doesn't care... but I do. And I want to stop letting some children's behavior bother me.

Any suggestions?

First off, let me be quick to point out that Ellen went straight towards the best source looking for answers - the Bible. What DOES the Bible have to say about children?

  • They are a gift (Gen. 3:5; Ps. 113:9)
  • They are a heritage (Ps. 127:3-5)
  • Jesus welcomed them to Him (Mark 10:13-16)
  • We are to welcome them into our lives and fellowship with them. (Matt. 18:2-6, 10)

I think it is pretty clear that we are to welcome children into our lives and show hospitality to them. However, some children are more difficult to invite into the home than others. This is a great quandary and where each family chooses to draw their boundary line, I believe, needs to be between them and God.

Now, Ellen is also asking for some practical suggestions and here are a few that our staff would make and we would also ask for the advice and opinions of others.

  1. You might consider having families with more rambunctious children over for outdoor events, where the noise levels will not be as much as an issue and there will be plenty of room to run and play.
  2. Hosting an event at a neutral location, such as a park might be a good idea.
  3. Planning for an evening out with just the parents of the children might be the best choice for this particular season of life. (You do have to consider your own family boundaries and safety concerns when having others over.)
  4. You might consider putting away items and toys that you would rather your friend's children not play with and setting out specific toys that you do not mind them playing with. This might help to alleviate some of the tension of maintaining proper boundaries within your own home.
We also, as a staff, think that this question poses some good food for thought for anyone who is currently parenting young children. It's important to be respectful and mindful of other people's homes and property. Training your children how to respect and respond to the hospitality of others starts at home. For those of us with young kids, it would be good to take heed of the concerns that other people feel towards having young children over to play and instruct our children how to behave in social settings so that they a.) cause the least amount of offense possible b.) learn to behave in public and c.) learn how to be obedient and respectful of others.

This is tough stuff - on both sides of the line! So I'll stop talking now and open the floor.

What would you say to Ellen?


  1. This is a great question, and one I can certainly relate to. One family we host, in particular, always brings a pretty chaotic element! I've learned that it's best to host them we can be outside at least part of the time. I've also learned in this situation to make our bedroom areas off-limits.

    As far as prayer, I think we can all pray that God would help us to offer *gracious* hospitality!

  2. I think I'd add Proverbs 14:4 into the conversation, "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, But much revenue comes by the strength of the ox."

    Okay, so that's kinda a "huh?" verse, but the way it was explained to me, it comes to my mind often. If we're going to have people in our lives, our lives WILL be messy, just like if you're going to make money off oxen, they're going to poop in your barn. Of course this can be metaphorical, but it's also literal: our houses WILL be messed up and "used" by allowing others in...embrace it!

    In my church small group, we have a LOT of children. Usually, after a casual meal, we'll send the children upstairs or outside, wherever the toys are. Sure they're loud, but they're away from us, so we can still have a good conversation. Of course, this only works when you have a good mix of ages, so that the younger are gladly taken care of by the older.

  3. Ronnica - actually that verse makes perfect sense and I knew exactly what you were talking about! (That's one of my favorite verses and a good reminder that good things come through a bit of hardship! There's no easy way out.) A very good point to make.

    It is definitely easier, in my opinion, to have a wide variety of ages present. And it's really hard when all the kids are toddlers.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing that verse. I think that's definitely something that could use some consideration!

  4. I totally understood where you were going with that verse too, Ronnica. Thanks for sharing that! It is quite evident sometimes that there have been "oxen" in my house. LOL

  5. Yes, thank you for that verse...I think Pr. 14:4 is one that needed to be brought to my attention!

    We have childless neighbors that we have wanted to get to know better, but dinner is NOT fun at our house. Like Ellen, we've had them over for dessert. Just yesterday afternoon, they shared some timely news that made us invite them over for dinner last night...and it was fine, despite the noise and applesauce flung by my son, it went fine.

    With all that said, I just wanted to share that sometimes it's our own children that prevent us from reaching out...but it shouldn't.

    We also like to spend some time outdoors, when the weather allows, with friends. We struggle a bit with this since we do NOT have any lawn furniture. We warn friends ahead of time to bring lawn chairs and blankets though.

  6. We seem to have two categories of "unruly" children who visit. They belong either to neighbors or extended family, so we really can't offer to meet at the park.

    One "unruly" group is completely unsupervised by the visiting parents. It's a little easier to offer gentle correction to these kids as the parents seem to think they're off duty. Usually I simply tell the child that certain activities (like jumping on furniture) might be fine in other houses but we don't allow it here.

    The other group steps in and mediates in, I think, an offensive way. I actually had one visiting mother tell her child "Just ignore him and he'll stop asking you to share." I could sure use advice in this situation.

  7. One lady told me she had Gregg Harris's 21 Rules of This House ( posted in an obvious place, and when a visiting child who was not reigned in by parents broke one of them, in a light, upbeat manner, she said, "That's one of our rules -- we don't do that here." She said parents told her their kids obeyed much better at her house than at home. Of course, you'd have to figure out what to do if the child did continue to willfully disobey after that. It is a very touchy and sensitive area to do correct other people's children beyond that. This same lady said she would sometimes do some kind of activity with the children -- a game or craft -- even if it meant missing out on visiting with the adults.

    I do agree with the application of Proverbs 14:4 -- any time you have people over, your "manger" is going to get a little messed up. But I don't think the question concerned just noise and mess so much as unruliness.

    We have to weigh hospitality against protecting our own children from either being hurt or learning bad habits. The latter can be dealt with -- our children have to learn some time that different families have different standards and some kids may get to do what they can't. But it is difficult to deal with when those differences crop up in your own home.

    I am not sure what the complete answer is, but I would echo the need for each of us to teach our children not only how to obey but also how to be a good host and good guest. And not to interrupt unless it is really needful -- I've been with some parents with whom you can't even share a couple of sentences at a time because the children were constantly interrupting.

  8. Also, do remember that children sometimes will "act out" in public or in another person's home, just as they might be very shy in public. I have been surprised at my daughter's behavior in others' homes but have used it as a teachable moment.

    The outdoors was a great suggestion and I think having some concrete activities is helpful too.

  9. Personally I don't hesitate to, kindly, tell our friends children to please stop, or we don't do that here, etc... like Barbara H said above. You don't need to be mean about it, but it's your house, so it's okay to state your rules.