Should You Discipline Someone Else’s Child?
It’s hard enough to raise your own child—teaching him the rules of the road, guiding him as he learns how to “play nicely”—but what happens when a child who is not yours is in need of some pointed guidance (a swift kick in the pants, perhaps!)?
You’re having a playdate, and the guest grabs a toy (your child’s favorite Thomas car) out of your child’s hands. The grabber’s mom observes without reaction.
You’re at the park, and a girl you don’t know throws sand at your child. The sand thrower’s mom is engrossed in a phone conversation.
You’re walking toward the school parking lot, and out of nowhere a classmate gives your child a good push. The pusher’s mom says, “Oh, boys will be boys,” and keeps walking.
Knowing when and if to discipline other people’s children is tricky business. When you are the parent in charge and no other adult is supervising, the answer is easy: Step in and deal with it. But when the other child’s parent is on the scene, it gets complicated.
Most parents will agree that it is usually crossing the line to correct or discipline someone else’s child. After all, when were you appointed the behavior police? And even though the word discipline derives from the Latin root word which means teach, it is not your job to reprimand or to teach other people’s children. While I do believe that raising a child “takes a village,” unless it is commonly practiced and understood that all the tribal elders participate in the child rearing (sometimes seen in close, extended families), it is unlikely that your instruction will be welcomed by the other parent.
Each family has different values, different ideas about parenting, and a different tolerance for certain child behaviors. Not only might your and another’s parenting styles be light years apart, but your uninvited intervention will likely sting; it may offend, embarrass, or pass on your negative judgment…even if you are right. Look out for trouble then, as it’s no longer a problem just between the kids.
Knowing whether to intervene with someone else’s child has everything to do with two things: 1) safety (everyone’s) and 2) your child. Safety needs no explanation; danger requires immediate action. But your child…he is your priority. He is the one whose teacher you are. He will learn from observing everything everyone else does, what other children are permitted to do…or not. This is what I call “ambient learning.” While the other parent might shine-on her child’s misbehavior with “It’s just what kids do,” it is your responsibility to teach your child, directly and indirectly. That just might mean stopping or redirecting another child’s undesirable behavior. If your child has been told not to throw sand, he needs to hear you tell the other child the same. It’s about your child.
Consider the following in deciding to deal with the misbehavior of a child who is not yours:
- If you are the adult in charge, be in charge, kindly but firmly. Your child is watching.
- Your house, your rules. Everyone needs to abide by them. If you need to correct the child-guest, you can explain to the guest mother, “I am helping [my daughter] Amanda to understand that our house rules are for everyone. I hope you understand.”
- Delivery is everything. Speaking up kindly is imperative, especially if the guest’s mom is present “So much noise hurts my ears. [To the guest] Please help me by using your inside voice.” And then to the guest mom, “I am working on this very issue with Amanda. It helps when she knows it goes for everyone.”
- Be gently encouraging. When the other parent is non-reactive to her child’s misbehavior, try saying, “It looks like Jason needs a little help, but I don’t want to overstep my bounds.”
- Keep your own anger (and your bossiness) in check. It will leak and cause problems beyond a child’s misbehavior.
And of course, keep that ol’ Golden Rule in mind: Do unto others…It still works!