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Is It Ever Ok To Discipline Other People’s Children?

The Mom Squad takes on a tricky subject

We’ve all been in this predicament at times: On the playground, at a playdate, or any number of other places, you see a child doing or saying something they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s dangerous, or maybe it’s just not nice. What do you do?

Do you speak up? Wait for the child’s mother to do something about it? Hope that somebody else will step in so that you don’t have to? Well, we think it all depends on many factors.

Nicole:

I can be a very outspoken person, sometimes to a fault, and when it comes to my children the “mama bear” side of me takes the outspokenness to a whole new level.

I’ve been in several situations where I’ve been faced with the harsh reality that there are times where Evie is going to be faced with challenging situations and it’s my job to help prepare her for how to handle it. This is not easy especially for someone like me and it can be very difficult to navigate the waters.

When we’re with our mommy group, we all have a very good understanding of each others children because we spend so much time together. If I know that there is a problem arising with our kids because I’m closest or I can see what’s going on, even if my kids are not involved, I’ll step in but only to a certain extent.

I would never presume to put one of my friends children on time out, but if they are pushing or throwing or about to knock a vase off a shelf, you can bet I’ll tell them to stop. But that’s also because I know my mommy friends are like me, they discipline their children. They all want their kids to behave, to be nice, and to be respectful. So I know if I say “So and so, we don’t hit”, so and so’s mommy will be right behind me ready to take over. And no one gets offended because we’re not just mommies, we’re friends.

Now there are other situations where other children that I don’t know are involved. This is where it can be tricky. As , our job as parents is to teach our children how to handle these situations themselves without always being directly involved.

My daughter has the most unbelievable ability to let things roll off her back, a talent I have not yet come to master (she gets this ability from her father and I’m thankful for that every day). She tends to get picked on a lot at the park, I’m not sure why, but she does and it’s hard for me to watch. It astounds me to watch her remain so calm and unruffled, she amazes me.

Recently, at the park a little girl was sitting next to her at the playground. She was older than Evie, maybe around 5. She kept telling Evie not to play there, and she didn’t want her there, and just generally being rude and it was making me more and more mad. I wanted to say something and then I had to remember “She’s 5 Nicole, not 30, get over it” but like I said, you don’t mess with “mama bear.”

And as I was going to get up to tell Evie to move somewhere else, she gathered up her sand toys and moved somewhere else. I was completely blown away by this. She didn’t want to be in that situation and she just moved. I didn’t even need to be involved.

In a different situation, a little boy ripped a shovel out of her hand and was taunting her with it. Granted, she just stood there and stared at him with a look on her face that said “Really?” but “mama bear” was not having it. So I went over and I asked him nicely if he would give the toy back because it was Evie’s and she was playing with it and she had other toys he could play with if he wanted to. But no, he continued to taunt, this time me.

I looked around for his mother, father, nanny, SOMEONE (I even verbally asked “does anyone know this child?”) but no one arrived. So that’s when I realized, I may not know this child, or his mother, but it’s not ok. So I firmed up my voice and I said “Excuse me, but this toy is not yours and you took it out of her hand, you need to give it back” and again, he just stared at me. Finally, his mother came and asked me what happened and I explained and she apologized and made him give the toy back to Evie. In this case, it all worked out, but I know it doesn’t always work like that.

Bethany:

Let me start by just saying that this is so complicated. I don’t think I would ever “discipline” anyone else’s child, but I would intervene if need be. As Nicole said, when we are with our usual group of Mommy friends, we all step in here and there as needed. Usually I try to let my kids (and others) work things out for themselves. It’s just something they have to learn on their own. But, if there is a fight one of us is there to break it up, or if someone is about to get hurt we step in.

I think it is important to speak out against bullying (physical or verbal). It’s not always that simple though. That said, I have spoken up for my child and others with varying degrees of success.

For example: Last summer at the playground we encountered two older boys (about 10 years old) on the toddler playground at . Usually this is no big deal. Sometimes it’s just older siblings of the little ones playing there, or sometimes they’re just passing through during a game of chase. This particular day they decided to stick around and make fun of the “babies” playing on the toddler playground.

They climbed into the little playhouse and blocked the slide for other kids. At first I sat back and waited to see what would happen. When it was obvious that they were not going to move, all I did was to say, “Excuse me, can she please go down the slide?” My request was granted, but as my (then 2 year-old) daughter went down the slide they made fun of the fact that she was nervous and scared to go down by herself and wanted me to hold her hand while she slid down. Mama Bear didn’t like that at all, but I managed to hold my tongue.

They continued on making fun of the smaller kids, but escalated to playing very rough and eventually pushing them around. I looked everywhere in sight and asked around for their mother, father, grandparents, nanny, anyone. But nobody was with them. So, I simply said, “Hey boys, this playground is actually for the little kids. Don’t you think the big kids playground would be more fun for you guys?” They giggled and ran off to play elsewhere. No big deal, right? Wrong!

At that moment a woman came storming over to me screaming, “How dare you yell at my boys like that!? If I had spoken to your kid like that, you’d be ****** too! Who the **** do you think you are?!” etc, etc... Whoah!... um... what!?

I decided to first explain what had happened (how they were picking on, and pushing the little ones), that I did in fact look for her first, and that I simply asked them if they wouldn’t have more fun at the other playground. I did not yell at her kids (or her) and I did not even tell them what to do. But when she kept screaming at me and wouldn’t even listen to what I had to say, I decided to get out of there.

This woman actually followed us around the playground screaming at me (8 months pregnant and with a 2 year-old in tow!) the whole time. Then she told her boys that they could “play wherever and however they wanted to” and not to listen to “that mean lady or anyone else.” That did it for me. Time to go. We said goodbye to our friends and left. It just wasn’t worth it to stay at that point.

Most times all I have to do is very nicely say something (as I did this time) and then the kids either move on or their parents come over and take care of things. My kid has tried to take sand toys that weren’t hers or tried to skip in line for the slide too. And other parents have said things to her such as, “Actually, that’s my son’s toy.” or “Hold on sweetie, it’s not your turn yet.” No big deal. Happens all the time.

Disciplining other people’s children is SO tricky. You don’t want to offend anyone, but as a parent, you expect your child to get treated the way they would treat others. You also want to give your children the tools to handle these situations themselves. The only thing you can do is hope you’re doing right by not only your child, but other children around you.

It can be a very sensitive subject because it’s not your job to parent other people’s children. However, when your child is being hurt or you see a child who is about to get hurt, your first instinct is to protect them. It’s always ok to speak up if anyone is in danger for sure. It’s just very hard to know how to do it and how far is too far.

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What do you think? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Kristin Gippetti April 02, 2012 at 11:28 PM
This is a very touchy subject. I'm very grateful for my mommy group where we have each others back. I guess I step in more when a child is about to or going to get hurt. We were at the jungle one day. I was with another mommy and her kids. We were watching her 2 year old daughter up on the structure then all of a sudden an older kid (around 8) went by her kicking her as he went. We both looked at each other in shock " did that really happen??" even though it wasn't my kid that got kicked my mama bear instinct kicked in. If it was my child I would want another mom to stick up for them. So I walked over to the kid and said " we do not kick other kids" I also gave him the mommy glare. He ran off and we all went on our merry way. Yes I could have not said anything but I felt my mommy friend and her child needed someone to back them up.
Bethany Curran April 03, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Thanks for sharing Kristen! Sounds like you handled it well. It is so true, we all have that inner "Mama Bear". Some of us more than others ;) So tricky to know when and what to say in these situations. We think it's always ok to step in when someone is in danger or is being bullied though.
Just Dandy April 03, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I don't think it's a tricky subject at all. Not anymore! After 20 years as a nanny & daycare owner and 11 years as a mom, I've learned to Not be scared, to just speak up if any kids are misbehaving. I don't wait for someone else to step in if it's dangerous or wrong. And if MY kids are misbehaving, I'm pleased when someone else sets them straight. I treat other people's children as respectfully, yet firmly as I do my own. Kid throwing sand? I don't hesitate to say, "no throwing sand, it's dangerous," with an even, firm tone. (I don't ask, "will you stop throwing sand?") Kid blocking the slide? I say, "you need to move or go down the slide so others can take their turn, please." Another child takes my child's toy while they are playing with it? I don't jump in immediately, but if they don't give it back after my child asks, I'll say,"You need to give that back" and I will take it back if they don't comply. (I don't ask "will you give it back?" because it is not their choice--they must give it back) Seriously, if a 4 year old has my property & won't return it, I'm not going to beg & plead & whine & cajole for 5 minutes or wait til their parent shows up to beg & plead with their child more...I'm just going to take my toy back. It is amazing how children respond with good behavior if they know the rules & they are told what is behavior expected & correct.
Just Dandy April 03, 2012 at 08:54 PM
My best advice: Don't ask, tell. I think parents don't realize they are asking when they're really trying to tell. Telling is not unkind; it is being clear when giving instruction. When you are not really giving them a choice, asking only confuses kids. An example: It is cold outside & about to go for a family walk. You ask your 3 year old, "Do you want to put your coat on?" Well, when you ask a yes or no question, you are giving them a choice to answer either way. Only ask a question if the child REALLY has a choice. If you're REALLY giving your 3 year old a choice about putting their coat on, and willing to let them go without one, great. But if you ask that question and they answer, "no" and then you respond, "Yes, well you have to put it on," it's cruel! You're now denouncing & ignoring their 'choice'! That is frustrating & confusing for kids. Life with kids is much easier if you TELL kids what you want them to do & only ASK them if they really have a choice. (Or give them a limited choice: "this coat or this one?") I think too often adults talk to children as if they are adults, as if they have the experience & wisdom of a grown up. They don't! Children need to be guided & disciplined, and when adults do that by speaking fairly, firmly & confidently, it makes makes children feel safe & loved. Too often nowadays, fear of offending others (kids or their parents) keeps adults from acting like adults, keeps them from doing the right thing for our community or our kids.
Just Dandy April 03, 2012 at 09:00 PM
BTW, I don't "police the playground" telling kids what to do & "helicoptering" their interactions. I hang back and let kids play & only intervene if there is a problem occurring. :)
Mayra Flores de Marcotte April 03, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Wow! Thanks for commenting and sharing your insight on this topic, Just Dandy. As a parent, there are times where I have to step in and be the parent for all involved, including other people's children but I always wait to see if the kids can resolve the issue on their own before walking over. But if something looks dangerous or a child's safety is in question, I walk over and "momma bear" comes out. :)
Bethany Curran April 04, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! We agree, it is best to be clear with kids. They really need that from the adults in their lives.
Bethany Curran April 04, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Good points Mayra. As long as nobody is in danger or getting hurt, we like to wait to see if kids can resolve things on their own too. It's an important life lesson for them to learn to work things out on their own. Of course, if the situation is dangerous, someone is about to get hurt, or there is bullying going on, it is time to step in.

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