4. Apologize and try to make it right.
Of course, it’s not just about your child: If something is broken in someone else’s home, there are other people involved too.
“Whether it was an honest mistake or a child being a little too rambunctious, the best thing is for you and your child to approach the owner of the broken item and fess up,” says Sarah Davis, etiquette expert and co-author, with Granville, of Modern Manners for Moms & Dads.
You’ll want to apologize and offer to make it right, Davis says. “Most of the time, the parent will need to do the talking, since children are often too embarrassed to speak in these situations,” Davis notes.
If something was broken without the owner realizing, add a quick explanation of what happened as well, she says.
“As the adult guest, you should do your best to help,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting and author of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman and Manners for the Modern Man. But ask before you act, she counsels—that is, don’t immediately blot out a stain or start sweeping glass shards; instead, ask how you can help.
If appropriate, offer to have a damaged item cleaned, replaced, or repaired, Smith says.
“Sometimes that's not possible—either because the item is irreplaceable or you can't swing it financially,” Davis says. Or perhaps the host will demur your offers to fix or replace items, maybe saying, “Don’t worry about it” or “It’s not a big deal.”
In those situations, Smith says, “a gesture or token is still appropriate, in addition to a handwritten apology.”
In some cases, making it right may involve using your homeowners or renters insurance. “In addition to insuring your home and personal belongings from damage or theft, homeowners insurance also includes personal liability coverage in the event you’re legally responsible for injuring someone or damaging their property,” says Pat Howard, property and casualty insurance expert.
But keep in mind, personal liability coverage only covers accidents—not intentional acts, Howard says. Petty vandalism, for instance, won’t be covered.
5. Try to avert the potential for mishaps beforehand.
The best possible scenario is for nothing to break. So when you go over to grandma’s or drop off your child on a playdate, scan the space for breakable items and gently suggest placing them out of harm’s way.
“If you’re hosting a playdate, all special toys, stuffed animals, or blankets should be tucked away from guests,” Smith recommends. “Snacks should only be served in easy-to-clean spaces,” she says. That way, spills won’t damage anything precious.
If the situations are flipped and someone else’s child damages something in your home, respond with your own good manners and kindness.
“Things do happen and people’s feelings are more important than objects,” Smith says. “If their child says they are sorry, your graceful acceptance will be a lesson worth remembering.”