What to Do When Your Kid Damages Someone’s Property

Learn what to do if your child breaks something…or if one breaks something of yours.

Photo by Mel Yates/Getty Images

A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.

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.