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Should You Ever Discipline Someone Else’s Child?

You’ve probably found yourself on one end or the other of this situation at least once. A child is misbehaving and someone who isn’t their parent is laying down the law.

It happens occasionally, and I hear a lot of people (particularly those without kids of their own) say they think it doesn’t happen nearly enough.

But is it appropriate?

Yes and no. If the child’s parent is around, then no. Never.

The reason I say this is because, as much as you may feel a situation warrants discipline, you never know the whole story.

Let’s say you’re at the park and another child takes your child’s toy from her. You see the other child’s parent turning a blind eye to the situation, so you walk over and tell the child, “You should always ask before taking something that doesn’t belong to you.”

Harmless, right?

Well, it depends on the situation. Maybe the other parent thinks that those situations are best left to the kids to sort out between themselves. Maybe the child has a similar toy and mistook it for his own. Or, quite possibly, the parent was waiting to see if her child would give the toy back without being disciplined. There are a lot of possible explanations, but when it’s your child that’s been wronged, you probably tend to react a little quicker than you would otherwise.

Instead of intervening with the child, try speaking to the parent directly. Do this away from other parents, if possible, and explain the situation without being judgmental. Something along the lines of, “I think our kids are having a little dispute over there. How do you usually handle this sort of thing?” Asking advice from the other parent helps to make them feel like you’re inviting a collaboration instead of a confrontation.

“How would I feel in their shoes?”

Let’s be honest; no matter how honorable someone’s intentions might be if they discipline your child, you’re probably going to take it as a bit of a slap in the face. Another parent reading your child the riot act in front of you carries some serious implications, whether the parent intends them to or not.

“Your child is out of control, you’re not taking the proper corrective action, I know how to handle this, and clearly, you don’t.” This is the message that you probably receive when someone corrects your child when you’re standing while you’re in the vicinity, so make sure you take a moment to recognize the other side of the situation before you react.

Your house, your rules.

If the child is at your house on a playdate, and his parents aren’t around, then it is ok to set some expectations for proper behavior while they are at your house.

Example: My son had a friend over and as I walked through the living room the child said,
“Get me a snack!”

I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “That is not the way we speak to each other in this house. If you say something like that again, I will call your mom and she will come and get you, and you will not be invited back.”

He quickly asked, as politely as possible, if he could have a snack.

Obviously you wouldn’t give someone else’s child a time-out, but it is totally appropriate to lay out the rules, and if the child won’t follow them, tell him it’s time to go home.

Again, it’s a good idea to speak with the child’s parent about the incident before the child does. Every mother knows how kids can bend a narrative to make themselves seem innocent, so call ahead, be apologetic, and avoid placing blame directly on the child.

Try saying something along the lines of, “The boys were getting a little worked up and I think they need a break.” Typically, the parent will ask for more details in this situation, which gives you the opportunity to fill them in without sounding judgmental or angry.

When you look at the big picture, most of these situations typically aren’t worth getting into an argument with another parent. We all have our own parenting styles and we all experience moments where we don’t react as quickly or as diplomatically as we should. Pick your battles and remember that you’re responsible for your child; not everyone else’s.

Thank goodness for that!

Does your own child have behavior issues like not listening, throwing tantrums, etc.? If you haven’t yet, you may want to check out Kids: The Manual. It’s a discipline system that is designed to deal with some of the most common behavioral challenges in children ages 2-12.

Learn more here.


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Dana’s Sleep Blog

Straight talk about sleep, parenting,
babies, toddlers, relationships… and
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My blog is a great place to find opinions, advice, the occasional rant, and some great videos about sleep.

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