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Disciplining Friends' Kids

Would You Ever Discipline a Friend's Child?

Here's a post from our partners at BabyCenter! Every week, we bring you the best parenting and lifestyle stories from the experts at BabyCenter, including this post about disciplining children.

When you talk to parents who raised kids a generation or two ago, you hear a lot about the village. What seems to make these magical stories about kids playing kickball in cul-de-sacs or roaming free until they tumbled in the door for dinner possible is that back then, you weren't raising kids on an island. A large network of aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors, and grandparents were keeping a friendly eye out. Sometimes, this resulted in a not-so-friendly scolding if they felt a child was out of line.

Related: Does this video get fatherhood right?

Perhaps it's because I live in San Francisco, but I cannot imagine anyone, outside of a grandparent or caregiver, scolding another person's kid. At my local playground, I feel like every parent, including me, is playing defense—rushing in with our sharing spiel at the first sign that our toddler might be grabbing a Tonka truck that isn't his.


We spend so much of our energy trying to make sure our kid is nice to everyone else that the idea of actually reining in another child, even if he's whacking little kids on the head with a light saber, is as foreign as landing on Mars. Most parents just get their child out of the path of destruction and leave it at that.

Which got me thinking—is there ever a scenario where it is okay to discipline a child that isn't yours, or in your care?

When I asked friends about their thoughts, the first response was a universal cringe of awkwardness. But a few sensible patterns began to emerge.

First of all, there's a big difference between intervening in a playground dust-up and actually disciplining another kid. If a child is throwing sand in your toddler's eyes or pushing him, obviously get in there, remove your child, and say something like, "We don't push other kids because it can hurt them, especially if they're littler than you." Don't touch the other child, and keep your voice calm; never sound angry. If the other parent is on the scene, defer to them.

Of course, if said parent acts like nothing happened, that can be frustrating, but it's probably not worth saying anything. The only reward you'll get for a, "Hey, your son was throwing sand in my son's eyes and wouldn't stop when I told him to," is to be avoided like the plague every time that parent spots you at the swing set.

Age also matters. I wouldn't discipline any child under 2, based on my own experience with a 19-month-old toddler, who wouldn't understand the concept of a time out any more than he would the theory of relativity.

With all that said, there are a few situations where it may be appropriate. If a parent or caregiver isn't present, and the child is at your house for a play date or you're chaperoning her at an activity, then you're in charge and need to use your judgment. To me, physical injury or the risk of physical injury is the bar to use, though—a kid throwing some cheerios on the floor after you've told them not to isn't exactly a capital crime.

So if little Susie is trying to pull the flatscreen on top of her for the third time, explain to her, "In our house, we don't touch the TV, because it could fall over and hurt someone. Okay?" If she continues to do it, you can decide to give her a short time out, or you can simply say, "We're not playing in here anymore." Pick the option you think is most likely to make the rest of the play date go smoothly.

If you decide on the time out route, tell your friend when she comes to pick up her kid, in as nonjudgmental way as possible. "My kids always used to do this too, but Susie was pulling down the TV after I asked her not to and I was worried she was going to hurt herself, so I gave her a short time out." Your friend may get defensive or upset, but it's better that they hear it from you than from, well, Susie.

And if you're dropping off your child for a play date, always ask the host parent what the house rules are (i.e. no running in the hall, no cannonballing off the couch) and make sure your child understands them.

But no matter what, it's tricky to know what the right response is when a child is misbehaving. My advice is to use some kindergarten philosophy: How would you feel if the roles were reversed?

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tameakacarlowe1389065403 tameakacarlowe1389065403 3 years

My daughter 20 months at the time was playing with a structure at ikea when a well fed boy about 2 came over and punched her in the face I swooped down at him and smaked the hand that he used to punch her and screamed "you dont do that -you dont touch her"! The kid had total bogan parents who just looked over than looked away. I can tell you im five foot 3 and I turn into hulk if I see this shit!

AmandaS24396 AmandaS24396 3 years

Been there. My son was two and wanted to try and climb the rope ladder on a play structure. I made sure he was off to the side so other kids go up as fast as they wanted. My son had gone up three little steps when a kid pushed me out of the way and climb up and over my son stepping on his fingers, lucky I caught him. The kid was almost to the top when I raised my voice and told him next time go around not over and if you try it again I wont let you climb it. This was after he did this to five other kids smaller then him. I told my son lets try again. This time this kid made a point of looking for his fingers and stepping on them. I took my son down handed him to my mom. I took this other kid off the rope ladder and stood over him telling him that being mean and rude to other kids is called being a bully. How would you feel if someone did it to you. His dad came over and got in my face for picking up his kid. I don't back down to anyone. I looked at him and calmly said maybe if you learned to watch your kid instead of texting you would have seen him crawl over my son and then step on his fingers, plus five other kids, then come looking for him so he could step on his fingers again. If you are fine with your kid being a bully then find another play ground because I don't stand for kids being bullies then parents defending their so called right actions. This other mother came over with her daughter who was crying. This boy had used his feet to push her down the slide then came right behind her and hit her in the back with his feet. She had bruises already. All the dad did was say be nice and walked away and let his son continue bullying. I have no problem with disciplining somebodies kids. Just like if I didn't see my son doing something wrong I would have no problem letting somebody else correct him. He has to learn to respect people.

CoMMember13613660115019 CoMMember13613660115019 3 years

I agree with littlejsn. If a child is at my house, I would discipline them the same way that I discipline my child. It the kid is with me, they are probably not strangers. If I see something at a park and there are no parents around, I usually just intervene and redirect without discipline per se. I don't think it's appropriate for another adult who does not know the child to discipline if the parent is present though. The stranger isn't familiar with the child's history, so I think any discipline should be deferred to the parent.

KathleenGonzales KathleenGonzales 3 years

Sounds like Common Sense to me

shannon1385709373 shannon1385709373 3 years

one more thought, i don't feel like I need to take long vacations with a person, or even be interested in having coffee with them for my son to know he can go to them when he needs something and that they can tell him not to do something. My son is 7 so it's different then a 2 year old. It's not realistic to think every parent is going to parent your kid the same way, but that creates an opportunity for discussion about why you choose to do things one way and another family chooses to do it different.

shannon1385709373 shannon1385709373 3 years

there is nothing wrong with teaching and sharing what is wrong and right. If you are a level headed, kind person, you will react to "strangers" kids in that same way. When you get defensive and uptight about things, you may not be in a good place to talk to another child. It's all about us, as adults, keeping ourselves in a state that we can monitor the behavior of the children. I believe the Village is all around us, we just keep thinking it's not. Chill out, and enjoy the playground, these kids "doing mean things" to our kids are not mean. They are kids trying to figure it out. The "distracted" parents are also, not mean, just distracted. I think we should calm down and realize we are not at war trying to protect our kids from terrorist, we are at a park, living life. Stop judging and the Village will happen.

Larissa88472 Larissa88472 3 years

I am petrified at the play ground in these situations. I want to teach my children to be nice humans, but what am I teaching them by playing defense? Example that took place recently: When another kid (4-year old) repeatedly (3-4 times) on purpose comes and kicks down the sand castle that we're building with the kids, I ask him if he want to join us, I ask him please not to destroy, and - third time around - ask him to go to another part of the sand area and do his own sand games...putting my hand softly on his shoulder to stop the kid from being a bully... Guess the result? A scolding from the mother (watching from a distance until then) for touching her son and comments about how it was just f**'*n sand. Was so upset that all kids had to accept and witness that bullies get their way.... So sad, but will just have to become better at playing defense... I really wish there was more of a "village"!!! If my kid was the other kid, he should be asked not to destroy others play!!

PamelaTestut PamelaTestut 3 years

I grew up in Long Island, my block was one big "family". There were several age groups. The adults watched out for the kids. If the someone got out of line or acted up, it wasn't uncommon to get yelled at by the neighbor. But we learned to RESPECT our elders and we didn't go crying to our parents that someone yelled at us because we knew if we did, we would get yelled at more because we should have been acting right. I believe we are sheltering our children too much. If I am out and my child misbehaves and I do not see it, I have no problems with an adult saying something to her. If I am at a park and I see where a child is about to endanger themselves or someone else, yes I will speak up and say something. If the parent has a problem with it, then they need to watch their child better. If I send my child to someone's house to play, I expect the adult to put her in time out if she misbehaves after being told not to do it. As the same goes at my house, if a friend asks me to watch their child and the child does something after me telling them not to, yes they will go in time out. If the parent has a problem with it, don't ask me to watch your kid.

JenniferNeumeyer JenniferNeumeyer 3 years

If the child is at my home and I know the parents, then the child will be disciplined. I would expect that if my child was doing something harmful or disrespecting the rules at a friends home that they would be disciplined as well. I try to surround my family with people I trust and in doing so trust their judgement. I think part of the problem today is that everyone is so afraid of upsetting the other person that the bad behavior is just ignored.

SallyRodriguez14925 SallyRodriguez14925 3 years

My girls are 13, 8 and 6 so I have had a very broad range of years in park experience. While I do not "discipline" other people's children and would definitely have a problem with a stranger doing so to mine I do speak up when children, including mine, misbehave in my presence especially when it will harm them or other's. I will firmly say "Be careful, you're going to hurt someone playing like that", "We don't rough play with other's that way" and the like. I don't yell but I say it loud enough that if the parent is in the vicinity they can hear and I would hope, take it from there. This is especially good with the "oblivious parent/caregiver". Those are the people that are more interested in hanging out with other adults or on their electronics then actually watching or interacting with their child. I have had experiences though where the parent knows perfectly well what's going on but sees nothing wrong with it, in that case I direct my child to another play area. Thankfully my girls are now at the age where they can speak up for themselves and/or walk away if need be.

clwaff clwaff 3 years

I think you were right to. I don't even consider that discipline, just a logical reply.

clwaff clwaff 3 years

Honestly, I wish it were still a "village" mentality, because I think kids would be better-behaved. If another child is hurting my daughter (or a friend I'm responsible for at the time), I watch to see how the kids handle it themselves. I also watch/wait for the other kid's parent to intervene. But if it continues to happen without any stop or correction, I'll pull my child away AND (if the child is old enough to understand) let the other kid know it's not ok, and that we won't be playing with him/her when he behaves this way. I don't time-out other people's children, we just don't associate with them if they're ill-behaved. (My kids are a bit older now, and able to speak for themselves and help each other, so I'm referring to past experience). By the same token, I've always asked my friends to keep my kids accountable, too--I don't want my daughters thinking they can misbehave simply because Mom isn't there; the adults in charge are the authority figures, and their rules are in effect.

JenniferSmart51843 JenniferSmart51843 3 years

There is a line, 20 years ago children that did not fit in were often sent away and not seen. Today we keep our children with us and don't send them to bording homes if they don't fit the norm. Many disabilities are invisable and you can't see them. Parents of children with things like ASD are often labeld bad parents because other people see the behavior of the child and blame the parent.

kerriemanning kerriemanning 3 years

Once one of my son's friends ran up to me and said my son was a stink brain or something like that, I said it wasn't a nice thing to say about my son.

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