Mom Etiquette: Your Kid Broke Someone Else’s Stuff, Now What?

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Mom Etiquette: Should You Pay When Your Kid Breaks Other Parents' Stuff?Imagine this: You’re visiting your neighbor, and during the 10 seconds it takes to add cream to your coffee, your toddler has knocked over your neighbor’s exotic-looking fruit bowl, shattering it into a million tiny pieces on the ground.

Or maybe you pick your 8-year-old up from a friend’s house and the other parent reports that your kid inadvertently sent the Wii remote sailing through the television set.

So … do you owe your neighbor a new fruit bowl, or your son’s friend’s mom a new Wii remote and TV? How about money?

Etiquette expert and author Thomas P. Farley, a.k.a. “Mister Manners,” says these scenarios can be awkward on both sides, but by being thoughtful and gracious, you’ll not only navigate them like a pro, but also model appropriate behavior for your child.

Scenario #1: Your Kid Breaks Something Inexpensive

After picking your son up from a playdate, he sheepishly admits that he dropped a glass in the sink by accident.

What to Do: Hopefully your child already said he was sorry directly to his friend’s parent or caregiver, but whether he did at the moment or was too embarrassed, he—not you—should sit down and write a letter of apology to the family (assuming he’s old enough to write, obviously), says Farley.


Then, you should offer to pay. Even if it’s a small trinket, the proper thing is for you to call the other parent and offer to pay for or replace the item. Most likely the host will insist it’s not a big deal. If this happens, don’t accept the first rejection, recommends Farley, but if after the second or third time the other parent still insists, “Really, I hated that cup anyway,” then take her at face value. In this scenario, it may be more important to make the offer to replace the item than to actually do so, Farley adds.

If, however, the host takes you up on your offer, get her the money right away, and then figure out with your kid how he can pay you back with allowance money or by doing extra chores around the house to make up for it. You don’t have to go overboard here and make him work off every last cent, but even a few dollars of contribution or 15 minutes of sorting the recyclables will hopefully make him more aware next time.

Scenario #2: Your Child Ruins Something Pricey

Whether it’s tossing a ball through a sliding glass door, squishing a bowl of raspberries on the new white rug or, worst of all, breaking an irreplaceable family heirloom, it can be harder to cope when your child has accidentally broken something of real value.

What you should do: No matter what the object was, the first step is to apologize to the family and try to find out what happened. The key here is to do this without blaming the other parents in any way (even if you secretly wonder why your 6-year-old was allowed to enjoy her bowl of raspberries on the new white rug in the first place).

First, have your child send a handwritten note of apology, and when it comes to expensive damages, Farley suggests being much more insistent about reimbursement. If the other family flat-out refuses, try coming up with something your child can do as a way to show how sorry she is, like helping the family rake leaves in the yard, or if it’s your teen who caused the damage, maybe she can put her tech know-how or gardening expertise to good use to help the other family out.

“Doing a chore for the other family is not about shaming your child,” stresses Farley. Explain to your daughter that you know she didn’t mean to cause the damage, but that next time she needs to be more careful, and it’s appropriate to show her friend that she’s sorry. However, if you will be paying the host family back for the broken object, that, plus a sincere apology from your kid, is plenty.

What if you’re cash-strapped and don’t have $500 to pay for a new window? Our expert says that nine times out of ten, hosts graciously decline. Still, it’s a good idea to be prepared in the event they do hand you an itemized bill. If you don’t have the cash up-front, suggest a payment plan works for you, and then, “stick to the arrangement as agreed, paying off the debt even earlier, if possible, so that both sides can promptly put the awkward matter behind them,” says Farley.

Remember: Whether you have a grade schooler or teen, don’t swoop in and rescue him when something like this happens. He should always be involved in brainstorming a way to make things right, whether by repayment or a thoughtful overture.

Scenario #3: A Visitor Breaks Something in Your Home

If someone else’s kid damages your stuff, whether it’s a $10 frame or something more valuable, it’s important for you to be gracious. “These things happen, and if you are the family that puts up a huge stink when something is broken, what’s going to transpire when your child does the breaking?” says Farley.

What you should do: Farley says whether or not you ask for money to cover the loss should be decided on a case-by-case basis. “If you really need the money, and the Vanderbilts come over and break the TV, I would not hesitate [to take them up on the offer to replace it],” he said. However, if both parties are in a similar financial situation, and replacing the item (if that’s necessary) is not going to strap either party, you might just let it go, knowing that what comes around goes around.

Tell us–have you ever had to deal with parents who were angry when your kid broke something of theirs?

 

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  • christine

    Hi, im not a mother but, i went to a foreigners club with my friends and their moms and me and one of my friends broke a window.Which i think was 5 by 5cm, anyway and i got super embarrassed cause i thought i could just go away but then a man saw us and asked were are our parents. he had a little talk with them and he said he will tell the manager but way embarrassed me was that the moms were looking at me and my friends were whispering to each others ears which made me even more uncomfortable and now that i came home my mother is furious and i don’t know what to do, please help!!! :(

  • Kaycee Martin2008

    What do you do if a parent breaks your child’s toy on purpose?
    Scenario: My child left his backpack in his friends moms car. They return the backpack but his brand new toy he got for Christmas that was in the backpack is gone. I ask for a whole month about the toy and they say it’s here ill send it to school. Well the day never comes. We were in their neighborhood and we stop by and the mom tells us it got broke and offers to pay for it. While the mom and I are talking the child tells my child what REALLY happened to the toy. The momma got mad and picked up the toy and threw it across the house!!!! So I text the mom and tell her I found the toy online for $25 and I offer to order it and pay shipping if she would just pay for the toy. So is irate!!! She refuses to pay for the toy! Am I in the wrong? If the child had broke it I wouldn’t of minded bc I understand in accidents but to deliberately break another child’s toy is horrible!!! What should I do?

    • Scroty McBoogerBalls

      Be glad it was only $25, buy it again yourself, and never speak to that horrible woman again. You’re in the right here.

    • truthy the truther

      She’s a bitch

  • LEISA

    Hey-today my eight year old was at a friends house, but their friend and their mom share the home with a woman and her daughter (the owners). All the kids are going up the stairs grabbing a rail, and my son does the same and his rail just rips off the staircase. The owner seemed bothered, and I was getting ready to offer to pay, but then my friend, who also lives there said that that was the same rail that had broken twice already. The woman had fixed it, but it kept breaking. So, I call my son to ask him what happened, and the woman;s 12 year old daughter insisted that he was just normally going up the stairs and it broke. And the woman said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine.” Then, she goes upstairs and texts my friend that I should have offered to pay for it and it was 145 for a new rail plus money to get someone to professionally install it. Everyone is a little strapped for cash in this scenario, but besides that… she is not taking any responsibility regarding the fact that her daughter had already broken the rail in the past, it was faulty. She wants me to pay for it. I think my friend feels weird and she said she is going to have to pay for it to keep the peace, but that is definitely not fair either. I think we should split it three ways, but definitely feel that there are strange scenarios where people try to pin something faulty on your innocent kid- and it is not fair either. If people are going to be like that I feel like we just wont go to their house anymore. People will hand little kids expensive things without thinking and then if your child drops it they are like “that was $500″… shouldn’t they take some responsibility for handing it to a child without your acknowledgement? Sometimes, their child says your child did it and your child says their child did it… and then they look at you and say, “My child does not lie”, and you are like, “mine doesn’t either”… but in their minds you are in the wrong… just paying doesn’t seem fair. Personally, I want people to feel like if their kid is in my house, I tell the kid to play in a kid friendly zone and if something breaks, it breaks.

  • vee

    Hi!
    My little sister had a birthday party around a week ago and had asked for her friends to help her tune her newly bought violin (lightly used, around $450). Well something happens and one of the girls trips and falls onto the violin, breaking the neck off.
    My sister tells me the day after, promising that the girl will pay for it but its been a week and nothing. She can’t really contact her and my parents have no clue about this at all.
    I plan on telling them myself if she doesn’t but the biggest problem here is what to do about the violin?
    I doubt my parents can afford another one and, as of right now, it seems like that other girl is flaking.
    Do you have any advice?
    We’re contacting all of her friends to see if she can grab a hold of the girl but there’s not much…

    • Lisa Parsons

      Are you kidding me? The girl tripped and fell. She certainly didn’t mean to break something. She’s young and probably doesn’t have much money. What do you expect her to do? Just suck it up and consider it a lesson learned: don’t leave breakable, expensive stuff out, and more importantly, please do not expect a kid to reimburse you for a violin that was broken because she tripped and fell. Dear deity. What to do about the violin? Pay to have it fixed yourself and deal.

      • Britt

        Lisa, you’re freaking insane. I don’t give one crap if it was an accident or not. If you break someone’s expensive thing, you PAY for it. I’m sure you wouldn’t be happy if someone said to you, “Oh, I broke your thing worth hundreds of dollars. BUT, it was an accident and I’m sorry. That should be enough, right?” NO. If they’re underage and moneyless, you tell their parents. Don’t let children think they can get away with that crap. She should’ve been more careful, especially at someone else’s house. Taking responsibility for your own actions is important, even it was an accident.

        • Lisa Parsons

          And to be honest, it sounds like the poster’s sister just said that so that the poster/parents wouldn’t have a crap attack (oh the immortal phrase of Tina Belcher). I’m sure she knew that the girl was never going to pay for it. So let it go, please. Stuff happens. Deal with it. Someone who would throw a hissy fit and demand someone replace accidentally broken things is the real child here.

          • HobbyKid

            If it’s accident it doesn’t matter. Recently I left my guitar in the hands of an adult. He fell asleep and some neighbors kids came over and they played with my guitar and accidentally broke its neck. Yes, it was an accident but believe I am charging him regardless of if it not being his fault or an accident.

          • loveispainpleasure

            I hope someone is just as generous with you when you break something by accident. Oh wait, that would never happen, since you’re perfect and never make mistakes.

            Also, you can “charge” someone, but you may or may not see the money from it. And if you’re honestly willing to sue someone over a broken guitar, you may need to prepare yourself to get laughed out of court.

  • kevin

    my friend and I were playing a game of tag I tagged him while cornering and he knocked my glasses off and they had a little break and squeak I told him he would have to $1.50 buy he refused an said he does not have to its such a little price and he does not pay what should I do/

    • Eden

      If $1.50 is worth more to you than his friendship, then he is better off without you as a friend.

      • me

        I have better one, If he thinks you are his friend he would repay such small fee. Only owner of broken thing can decide if it’s nothing bad.

  • ethicalalice

    I received a call from a neighbor saying my child had been playing the wii and the paddle slipped off his wrist and shattered their tv. the neighbor immediately wanted to assure me she wasn’t upset with my child and they had paid 600$ for the tv. She let me know i was responsible for the replacement (which I already assumed) Skip to the next day she cant find the same tv for less than 1000$ and leaves it at that. I feel like when my children invite their friends to play at our home I am somewhat responsible for what happens under my roof and I assume some level of risk that something could be broken. I plan to pay the 600$ to them but I don’t feel responsible for a 1000$. If roles were reversed and it was my tv that was damaged I think I would have split the cost to replace the tv rather than expecting them to cover the entire thing. I don’t feel comfortable sending my child to play there anymore only because I can’t afford to replace anymore of the expensive household things they have. I am looking for input into my perspective….

    • Britt

      I completely agree with you. But with the splitting thing, whoever’s kid broke the item should have to pay a bit more than half. And I don’t blame you for not wanting your kid to go back there.

    • Paige

      How about you just pay what they want you in full, and lecture your kid about it later. It’s better to get it over with than be seen as a cheapskate.

      • ben

        No, tv was worth 600 then you pay 600. How would you like it if you wrecked someones car that was worth 3k then they said coudlnt find the same model for less than 6k. You pay for the items value not new.

    • loveispainpleasure

      LOL. That lady sounds a lot like some of the people posting here!

  • Dona Noa

    Scenario #4: See if homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance covers the damaged or broken item. Maybe the person who owned or displayed the item, thing, etc. should have been more careful where they put it. Depends on the facts of the case, and if the homeowner was careless in some way (such as giving a fine crystal glass to a child), or putting something valuable in a walkway that makes it vulnerable to damage…I don’t generally think you should hold guests responsible for breakage, unless it was intentional or so far beyond the boundaries of common sense that it would never have happened.

  • Paige

    You’re literally the cheapest person I’ve ever heard in my life. It doesn’t matter if it’s accident or not, you STILL have to pay for it. It’s not like she went into rage about the thing. She wants her violin back.

    • loveispainpleasure

      A lot of things in life are “play at your own risk.” This violin situation is very much the same. The parents left a valuable violin out in the open and it got broken. Nobody’s going to pay for it except the people who left it out to get broken. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.

  • ARS84

    So, here is the scenario that happened tonight:
    My son and I were at a friends house visiting this evening. My son was playing with a green toy, out of the box, that he plays with every single time he is over there. Well, tonight the toy fell on the floor. My son was too embarrassed to tell me how the toy fell on the floor and broke, but it turns out the toy was from 1986 and worth $187.00 on EBAY. My friend did not appear to be too upset, and even offered the toy to my son, and said “Here, take it. It’s no big deal. If it gets left here I’ll just be mad it broke.”
    I tried desperately to figure out how the toy got broke, and even offered to pay my friend, but I felt devastated and EMBARRASSED that my son broke my oldest friends toy. I couldn’t possibly let me son take the toy home, even though it was broken and my friend said he didn’t want it.
    As we were leaving, my son had the toy in one arm, and his shoes in the other and he was ready to go. He really want that toy and my friend kept saying, “Take it. Take it,” but I wouldn’t let my son have it and my friend wouldn’t let me pay him for the damage.
    When we ended up leaving, we left the toy on the table, and my friend seemed to be okay that the toy was broke. I was still embarrassed and my son was upset, I think.

    Please, tell me, did I make any of the right decisions? I want my son to grow up knowing how to handle these situations, and I did the only thing I knew how. But, I’m not sure what I did was correct. I offered to pay. Should I have let my son take the broken toy anyways, and then still reimbursed my friend even though he said he didn’t want it? I mean….. IDK. I feel like a terrible friend, and a terrible mother, because I didn’t side with my son and offer to pay, or at least have thanked my friend for the toy and then taken it, which would seem ideal. IDK. THIS IS DRIVING ME CRAZY.

    • Bob

      You should not let something stupid like embarrassment dictate your actions. If you let negative emotions run your life then you aren’t in control. That is the lesson your child should learn here. If you teach him to allow his negative emotions to run his life he will end up a despicable person.

  • AC

    I’m kinda in a weird situation and would love some advice… a few weeks ago my 4-year-old and I were invited to a friend’s house for a play date with their 3-year-old. Their house was newly renovated and there’s a new 64″ plasma 3D tv in the playroom. During the course of play, her son took a toy and chucked it into the tv. While she was scolding the boy, my son copied the act and threw something at the tv as well. That night I received a text that the tv screen had a cloudy spot in it and would need to be fixed. Not knowing how much tv’s cost to repair and feeling bad about the situation I offered compensation – I thought it was the right thing to do. To be honest, I would have never said anything if the shoe was on the other foot b/c there was no way to prove which child actually broke the tv. Well, a few weeks later, the mom contacted me again saying that they need to buy a new tv that will cost about $2400 and insinuated that my kid was solely responsible for the broken television. To be honest, I’m more appalled that my son is being blamed for this incident. I have no problem providing some compensation and taking accountability for my son’s actions but more importantly I want the mom to acknowledge that her son is also at fault and that my son probably wouldn’t have even thrown the toy had he not seen his friend do it. What do you think? I initially (like an idiot) offered to pay half the repair cost but I don’t think that is fair. Since we can’t prove who actually broke the tv, I think a few hundred bucks should suffice – b/c if her son was the one who actually broke it, I am essentially paying for something my kid didn’t do. What do you think? Any advice? Has anyone else had to deal with a similar situation?

    • Bob

      Since you can’t prove who actually broke it, both parties are at fault. It doesn’t matter the reason your child did what he did, the fact remains that he did it. You should pay half.

    • loveispainpleasure

      The snarky part of me wants to say you should pay nothing and find new friends…but yeah, half sounds right.

    • Nick

      You shouldn’t pay the other child threw it and then your child threw something to it not your child’s fault the other one made the other one do it the other child influenced your child to do it

  • AC

    I’m in a very weird position right now… I saw exactly what happened when a friend’s tv was broken. Her kid threw a toy at the screen and my son imitated it. Either way, there was damage and one kid was responsible but it was impossible to tell who. We were both in the room and we both saw what happened. When confronted, I immediately accepted responsibility for my kid’s part and offered to make it right but helping to compensate them for the tv cost. However, when I spoke with the parent, she denied her kid did anything and was hoping I would pay $2400 for the total tv repair. I was there, I saw everything, I heard her scold her kid. I accepted responsibility for my part, why can’t she? I’m not a liar, I’m an honest and accountable person. If my kid arbitrarily threw something and broke the tv, I would pay for the entire thing. However, we don’t know for sure who did it. Either way, this looks bad for me. I either come across as a horrible person who is trying to get out of paying for a damaged item or I go against my own morals and values, give in, pay the money and have to live with the fact that I know what really happened but gave into the pressure despite knowing the truth. Any thoughts? BTW, if the shoe was on the other foot, I would have just sucked it up as it being an accident, especially if I couldn’t prove who actually broke the tv.

  • dwill

    hi i went to the mosque recently and a child stepped on them as i was praying they were in front of me the parent of the child know what has happened and the parent didnt offer to pay or anything, he just asked if it was his son and didtn even apologize or anything, but after going to the store I realized that the bill is close to 200 dollars and I am strapped I dont know how to approach this situation

  • smh

    Here lets just trip and put a 500 dollar dent in your new car. It was an accident though, so then the dent magically dissappears with a half-assed apology.

  • Dude man

    I threw my moms tv remote and I’m using my sisters but I can’t change volume with her remote my mom is going to notice what do.

  • Wiwik1

    Hi, the neighbour kid (9 years old) visited our place and played with my son (6 years old). I wasn’t at home that time, but my husband was at home did some work with his computer so he didn’t noticed that the neighbour kid broke my son’s Kantele’s string that we just bought today for my son’s music school and it cost 140€. Well maybe it was my fault that I didn’t put the new Kantele in the right place so nobody touch it, but I was in hurry for my evening course. My husband called me and he said that the neighbour kid went home suddenly like he did some mistake without saying anything, and he saw the Kantele’s string broken. I got so annoyed with it, what should I do? should I call her Mom and tell her about it?