Dear Helena,

If you invite people with kids to dinner, is it OK to tell them to leave their kids at home? If so, what is the politest way to do that? And if they do bring their kids, do you have to make a special meal? —Non-Breeder

Dear Non-Breeder,

Your guests should assume that the only people invited are the ones mentioned in the invitation. Unfortunately, parents often forget this, imagining you will be charmed to entertain their offspring. Jason Roberts, a writer in Sausalito, California, and a father of two, says: “It used to be that some events were clearly adults-only, like if they started after seven. Nowadays people think they can take their kids everywhere.”

Robert Wilder, author of Daddy Needs a Drink, advises clearly spelling out who is and isn’t invited. “We’ve had situations where we weren’t explicit and some people brought their kids and some people didn’t, and the ones who didn’t were really upset. Then it feels like you’re favoring one set of children over another.”

But telling people their cherubs aren’t invited is tricky: Parents are sensitive. Karen Deerwester, owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, says you should act as if you’re concerned for the kids, saying, for example, “We won’t have activities that are child-centered and we wouldn’t want them to be bored.” Wilder says he likes to provide a list of baby-sitters. And Roberts recommends using humor. He cites an email invitation he received: “Alas, no kids … our friend Ryan has a potty mouth.”

If you’ve decided that children are welcome, you don’t have to make a special meal for them. At someone else’s house, children may be more adventurous eaters than at home, and discover they actually like tofu, or vegetables. And if you always dish up mac ’n’ cheese, you’re not preparing the kids for adult life, when hosts do sometimes serve us food that’s not to our tastes. But Wilder cautions that it’s essential to ask about kids’ allergies. “The allergy stuff is crazy nowadays. We know a kid with 12 different allergies. I call him Allergy Boy.” You might find your friends’ kids annoying, but that doesn’t mean you want them to end up in the hospital.

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