Recently, I've been facing a parenting challenge — and it has nothing to do with my own kids. This school year marks the first time I've ever carpooled, and I've gone all in, sharing driving duties for both of my kids to preschool and the "parents' day out" program; to my daughter's soccer practices and Girl Scout meetings; to school functions and local kid events. For the most part, I absolutely love carpooling, but it has brought on one challenge I didn't expect: it's forced me to become more comfortable disciplining other people's children.
I have absolutely no problem laying down the law with my own kids; in fact, I've found myself in the unasked-for role of our house's main disciplinarian, while my husband somehow got to claim the job of "fun parent." But with the kids' friends and my neighbors' and friends' children, I've always happily given up the toughness and tried to be the silly mom who puts the music up loud and always brings yummy snacks along for the ride.
For the most part, it's been smooth sailing. My kids seem to enjoy seeing this softer, less rigid side of me, and I've formed some bonds with (and gotten some good intel from) the kids I occasionally drive around town. But there's one kid who's a frequent passenger in my car that just can't get his sh*t together enough to let me relax into my laid-back carpool persona.
Every single time I pick him up, he's running into parking lots, throwing things in my car, demanding specific snacks, messing with my lights and windows . . . and inspiring my son to act equally awful (not that my son needs that much persuasion to act awful). All these shenanigans have put me in the uncomfortable position of pulling out all my usual discipline tricks (stern voices, threats, and the occasional raised voice) with a kid who's not my own.
If you find yourself in a similar position, here are some basic rules for disciplining other people's kids that might help.
- Don't go overboard. No matter how out of control the child's behavior is, it's not your job to yell or get physical. Focus on gently pointing out the actions that he needs to correct. Think positive talk, not punishment.
- Set boundaries in advance. If this child is a regular part of your life, it's a good idea to set up some expectations. Sit both your kid and the other child down and go over your rules (i.e., "Stay with me in the parking lot," "Trash doesn't go on the floor," "Sharing is a must").
- Understand that your rules aren't everyone's rules. Every set of parents has different expectations and boundaries, so don't blame another child for not following your rules. Let small infractions (not saying thank you, interrupting) go without mentioning them, and never embarrass another child by disciplining her in front of your child or a larger group.
- Use positive reinforcement. Praising good behavior ("That was so nice of you to share your toy!") is always a good way to get more of it. Also remember to give your own child kudos when they behave nicely, despite the bad behavior of another child, but wait to do it in private.
- Talk to the child's parents . . . carefully. If you're inviting a new child over for a play date or adding someone to your carpool, it's probably a good idea to get some basic ground rules on snacks, screen time, and approved activities from the parents ahead of time. If you're continually dealing with a child's misbehavior on your watch — and you're close to that child's parents — you should mention the issues you're having, but tread lightly. Say, "I'm having a hard time getting him from school to the car without him running away, and I'm worried about his safety. Do you have any tips for getting him through the parking lot in one piece?" Hopefully, the conversation will spark a larger one with their child on their end.