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Is It OK to Discipline Someone Else’s Child?

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I sighed as I heard the doorbell ring. My friend had arrived with her kids. I enjoyed spending time with her, but lately, her kids had been getting more rough and rowdy than we’re used to at our house. The last time they were over, two toys were broken and the noise level got out of control. I didn’t know what to do. If my friend is standing right there watching, is it rude of me to ask her kids not to throw the toys or to stop yelling when she seems just fine with it?

I bet you’re familiar with this parenting dilemma. Disciplining someone else’s child can be tricky, and so can talking to your friend about it without hurting the friendship. And yet it can be a healthy choice for you, the children, and your friends—if approached carefully. Here are 3 tricky scenarios you’ve probably found yourself in and how to handle disciplining someone else’s child without offending anyone.

1. The “Conflict” Situation

All kids go through conflicts with friends, from fighting over a toy as toddlers to feeling left out as teens. Often, kids can work it out on their own, and it’s healthy for them to try. But what if it’s happening right in front of you and the other parent and the kids aren’t resolving it? What if you feel like your friend’s child needs to be reprimanded and your friend isn’t saying anything? In this case, try the “let’s all remember” approach. You can say something to the whole group that stops and redirects the conflict but doesn’t single out anyone.

For example, three little girls are playing with LEGOs. One of them takes the other girls’ LEGOs and ignores her requests to give them back. The conflict escalates, and your friend hasn’t noticed or doesn’t seem to care.

Your response: “Girls, let’s all remember that we share the LEGOs. I know you can make it fair.” Many times, that’s enough to get the kids back on track and tune the other mom into the conflict.

2. The “Inappropriate Behavior” Situation

This can be the most delicate situation of all because it deals with a more serious (and embarrassing) offense. If the mom of the child witnesses it, she likely will step in immediately. But most of the time, these kinds of things happen when Mom isn’t watching. And although it is uncomfortable to address, a parent needs to know.

First, make sure you have the facts straight. It works best if you witnessed the behavior firsthand. But if not, do the best you can to verify what happened. Then use the “from one parent to another” approach. This approach communicates that we are on the same team. There’s a mutual understanding that nobody’s kids are perfect, and parents should let other parents know when something concerning happens. Keep it calm, humble, and gracious (that is key), but also honest.

For example, your son alerts you that a neighbor friend has been saying inappropriate things (talking about private parts). The next time he’s playing in your back yard, you open the window so you can hear what’s going on. Sure enough, you hear him make several inappropriate comments.

Your response: In this case, your response is twofold. First, you calmly go outside and say, “Hey, boys, I heard some words that are not appropriate. We don’t talk that way at our house.” Then you talk to the boy’s mom. “From one parent to another, I just thought you would want to know about something I overheard tonight when the boys were playing.” Gently but honestly recount what you heard. Be short and to the point with a kind, not judgmental tone.

3. The “Everyday Manners” Situation

The manners that parents expect from their children can vary quite a bit from family to family. What’s offensive in one family might be hilarious in another (take farting or burping, for example). We need to expect that and let some of those things go. But when it really bothers you, it’s happening at your house, or it becomes habitual, it may be time to say something. The great strategy, in this case, is the “assuming you were about to do the right thing” approach.

For example, neighbor kids are playing in the back yard and leave empty water bottles and snack wrappers all over the yard.

Your response: Bring out a trash bag and announce, “I bet you guys need a trash bag, don’t you?” And just stand there until they start cleaning up (and they will—kids are smart). Even if your kids’ friends’ parents are present, no one will be offended.

What are your thoughts on disciplining someone else’s child?

Remember! This goes both ways. Here’s what to do when someone else tries to parent your child. 

ASK YOUR CHILD...

How have you seen kids act differently when their parents aren’t watching?

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