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Would You Discipline Other People's Kids?

By Stacie Haight Connerty |

Today I was in a waiting room where I find myself waiting for my son several times a week. This has been the case for a little over three months. Attached to this waiting room, there is a playroom where the kids can all hang out. They watch tv and play with the toys in the room provided by the facility.

Several times during the past few weeks, this one child has been a little mean to my four-year-old. Not so much when I am around but as soon as the door shuts, it is kind of a free-for-all for the kids and some of them are not the best behaved. My kids included, sometimes, but as soon as I hear that behavior from them, I immediately discipline them which has included making them sit out for a few minutes.

My daughter says that this girl pushes her a lot and takes whatever toy she is playing with. Or she takes a piece of the toy she is playing with basically rendering that toy unusable. My daughter just moves away and finds something else to play with until the situation repeats itself.

Normally I don’t say anything because the kids are pretty good at working it out among themselves. However, today it kept happening, my daughter came to tell me several times and then she was just in tears.  I went in for the third or fourth time to see what was going on.

The little girl was playing on a toy while my daughter was standing next to it crying. My daughter said, “I was playing on that and she pushed me off.” I asked the little girl if that was true and she said, “Yes. I wanted to play on it.”

I was speechless. I told her that wasn’t very nice or fair and she just shrugged her shoulders.

I went to look for that little girl’s mother and realized that she was not there (she left her to go to an appointment but was coming right back). No one was watching this five-year-old kid. I am guessing that the front desk employees were in charge of her which is a separate issue itself.

I finally brought my daughter into the other room and told her that she could not go back into the playroom. I found crayons and craft stuff for her to play with. She was thrilled. I was very careful not to let my daughter feel like she was being punished.

I really wanted to say something to that child but I am not sure that it would have mattered. I also really wanted to say something to the mother but  she was still not back by the time we left. The situation was awkward and uncomfortable plus I am pretty sure it is going to happen again.


Wendy on Babble’s Strollerderby said,

“At my own home, when the kids have playdates or friends sleepover, I feel I’m well within my right to speak with my kids’ friends if they aren’t acting appropriately or are doing something dangerous. Their parents aren’t there to intervene, so it’s acceptable to speak with him or her and get the child back on track. I would expect my kids’ friends’ parents to do the same when my children are in their homes.”

I feel the same way. If kids are at my house, I am in charge. I have no problem making a kid who is not playing fairly sit out for a few minutes.

But in public? I couldn’t do it.


Corine from Complicated Mama described it perfectly in her post Disciplining other peoples kids where she shared this advice,

“its important to think before we react because lashing out on another persons child is only making the worst of an already uncomfortable situation.”

Would you discipline someone else’s kid? Why or why not?

What could I have done differently?



Cousin from Hell: How to deal with a misbehaving bad influence

More on Babble

About Stacie Haight Connerty


Stacie Haight Connerty

Stacie Haight Connerty is a mother of three and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. She is a nationally published writer/author/editor for a variety of magazines and online publications. On her blog, The Divine Miss Mommy, Stacie writes product reviews and hosts fabulous giveaways. She is a former Babble blogger, having contributed to the Parenting channels of the website.

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40 thoughts on “Would You Discipline Other People's Kids?

  1. ZombiemommySaves says:

    Similar thing happened to me recently. I kept telling the kids “lets keep our hands to ourselves”. And it worked.

    I would probably say to the kid “Lets not hit, okay”.
    And see if I got an okay.

    If it didn’t work I might say something to the effect in a sing songy kinda voice. “Now, now we don’t hit, you aren’t playing very nice, people won’t play with you if you do that, and you want her to share right? How about we take turns, two minutes each of you, hand the toy back (your kid) and if you can control your hands you can have a turn okay sweetie”.

    Since I use we I am kinda taking I am talking for all the mommies posture.

    Might work:)

  2. Stacie Haight Connerty says:

    @ZOMBIEMOMMY – the child definitely does not play nicely. I will try that next time.

  3. Jennifer @Mami2Mommy says:

    Quite honestly I would never discipline another person’s child unless it was my sister’s kids or have permission from the parents of friends. BUT if the situation called for it I might mention the situation to the parent. Sometimes it needs to come to a parent’s attention. I will admit that when my own child has his moments I do the same as you, Stacie, I discipline my child, nip it in the bud and apologize to the child & parents. But I know not everyone is like that and it is hard to hear a parent you don’t know tell you that your “precious angel” was acting naughty. I had a parent I didn’t know tell me that (in a very nice way) and I had to bite my tongue & not get defensive. Instead I rectified the situation. But I’m just wondering that if I try to correct every parent & child that my child is having an issue with am I OVER protecting him? Am I not allowing him to see how life really can be…unfair?

  4. It depends on the situation. If my boys are being physically hurt or endangered by another child’s actions, I will step in and speak to the child. I have done that plenty of times at playgrounds. Personally, I wouldn’t if there were no one around, like another parent or friend, just because kids can invent some crazy stories.

    If the child is just being rude, I usually just talk to my child about why they were wrong doing what they did and we find something else to do.

    In your case, I would have talked to the front desk people and just made sure they knew she wasn’t being nice and you didn’t think her mom was even there. I don’t think she should be allowed to play in there unsupervised. Doesn’t seem safe even…

  5. Alicia says:

    I am of the belief that if a child is causing another child mental or physical harm and if that child’s parent isn’t immediately available to discipline their child, then it’s acceptable for another parent to discipline the child. When I was in that situation, I explained to the child exactly what the problem is that I was having with him and I made it clear what I thought a normal expectation/consequence is. Then I asked the child “how would you feel if my daughter took your toy away from you?”. I was basically trying to get a conversation going so the discipline didn’t seem too harsh. I am by no means a perfect parent or disciplinarian but I don’t think it hurts to chime in when you see inappropriate behavior from other children.

  6. Felicia says:

    Man, that is a tough one! The problem is that the child is completely unsupervised. I think that you did exactly what I would’ve done in the situation. Try to let them work it out, redirect and then at some point you have to politely take matters into your own hands because there is not another parent present.

    Don’t even get me started on the fact that she left the child alone. Is that even legal?

  7. Stacie Haight Connerty says:

    @MAMI2MOMMY – Yeah many parents seem to not want to hear when their kids are acting up, do they? I am always fine with someone bringing it to my attention because it is learning opportunity for my kids and for me sometimes as well.

  8. Stacie Haight Connerty says:

    @ RENDER ME MAMA – I didn’t really say much to the child but took my daughter out of the situation instead. Good point about no one being around. Things could definitely get misconstrued.

  9. Stacie Haight Connerty says:

    @ALICIA – I feel like I should have said more but I was really stunned that the child was so flippant about taking over the toy.

  10. Stacie Haight Connerty says:

    @FELICIA – Not sure if that is legal. I didn’t think about it that way. :)

  11. Henrietta says:

    It’s never easy to deal with someone else’s child in public. We’ve been in this situation a few times and you’re right, it is extremely awkward, especially when the other parent doesn’t seem to care. I would have done the same as you — found my child another activity away from the mean one. So many kids just do not have manners these days!

  12. Dawn @ My Home Sweet Home says:

    I wouldn’t discipline a stranger’s child, but I don’t think I’d have a problem “advising” them: “please don’t hit/push/whatever her” or a similar comment.

  13. ResplendentLife says:

    This type of situation comes up a lot for us parents. My philosophy is this: it’s our job to raise children to be able to handle things without us. With that in mind, I teach my kids to 1. tell the kid, “hey, i was playing with that!” or “I wasn’t done. May I have that back?”. I just feel like the most important thing is for kids to learn how to assert themselves when adults aren’t around because so often adults aren’t around. 2. tell the adult in charge and 3. make a decision on how to proceed. For #3, does that mean that they will play with something different, but be ready to defend themselves if the kid comes back to snatch from them again or remove themselves from the situation. I try to talk it through with the kids, “What do you think will be the best thing to do?”.
    With all of that said, I have no problem correcting another person’s child. Say for example, my son brought his own toy to that particular place and the kid took it from him. I would say something like, “most of these toys are of everyone to share, but Jody brought this one from home. You may give it back to him now and choose another toy to play with”. If that doesn’t work, I don’t have a problem being more firm. “We are waiting. Return the toy now, please. Now.” If that doesn’t work, you have to just feel sorry for the parent because clearly the kid has some anti-social behaviors and very little respect for authority, so you can just imagine what life is like at home for the mom.

  14. Motherhoodintheraw says:

    I like to defer to this line every time, “I don’t think your mommy or daddy would want you doing (insert bad behavior here).” For me, this is especially effective for when the parents might be in ear shot. However, I only get involved when things get physical or on the very rare occasion when it exceeds the “sticks and bones” level.

  15. Diane says:

    I have stepped in to discipline when it looks like someone is going to get hurt. One time, some older kids were rough housing and fell right in front of where I was going with my kids and I basically just told them to knock it off before someone got hurt. In general, though, I don’t discipline other people’s kids in public. I just explain to my own kids that not everyone knows right from wrong and find a new place to play.

  16. Jessica @FoundtheMarbles says:

    I probably would have reacted the same way in the same situation, but I do love the idea presented above of using the word, “let’s” as an alternative to something that might sound accusatory. At home I would prepare my child for dealing with this girl the next time around but I would also be bringing more to keep her busy while in the waiting area. Unfortunately, a bully is a bully regardless of her age…

  17. jeri maxedon | pink & posh says:

    i have been put in an almost identical situation except the parent WAS there and didn’t even notice (or care!) what was happening. AND when i removed my child from the play room to draw, the other child followed and wanted to draw too. since it was now MY activity, i laid down the law and i instructed that they share, also letting them know that if they couldn’t be nice then they couldn’t participate. it was amazing the difference in this other kid. they were much better behaved after that. sometimes kids NEED a little discipline… the only time i would probably discipline another kid without looking for their parent first would be if they were hurting or threatening to hurt my child.

  18. BusyWorkingMama says:

    It takes a village…if you go about it the right way, I feel it is correct to discipline other people’s children.

  19. Wifey says:

    My family and I were out at a restaurant recently and some preteens were tearing up the patio while the parents sat inside sipping a beer. Right. I wrote a post questioning the same thing, do you say something to the kids? The parents? My husband was going to tell the manager of the restaurant be he didn’t surface before we left.

    I will discipline other kids that are left in MY care or that are in MY home; other than that I don’t get involved unless there’s a safety issue. It’s such a touchy subject. You handled it AWESOMELY, Stacie! ;)

  20. BalancingMama (Julie) says:

    Yes, there have been cases at parks or indoor playspaces where another kid is repeatedly breaking rules or being mean. When I look around and can’t find any adult watching, I will absolutely say something to the kid. Not discipline really, but I will reprimand with words. If they keep doing it, I find someone who works at the playspace or I’ll search for the parent. If it’s typical kid bickering, I wait to see if they can work it out. But usually it’s an older kid and my 3-yr-old gets involved – then I have to step in.

  21. desiree says:

    I’m not shy about asking children if they know the Golden Rule and ask how they would feel if my child did the same thing to them. It’s all about treating others the way you want to be treated. Maybe she’s just never been taught. I would make a point at your next appointment of talking to the people at the front desk and asking about who usually supervises the little girl left all alone (yes, this wording is intentional to express your concern for that child, but it’s also a good way of pointing out there’s a child in there that no one is watching and if it’s their responsibility, maybe they’ll step up more…if it’s not their responsibility, they may talk to that mother about not just dropping off the child alone). The point with me is to make them think it’s their idea to step up–not to tell them that they should. I hope that makes sense.

  22. Kelly says:

    I only discipline other people’s children if I am put in charge of them or they are part of my core group of friends kids in which we all have an understanding. It’s completely innapropriate to discipline a stranger’s kid unless that kid is causing bodily harm, & I think you handled the situation perfectly. I think it is important for parents to remember that learning how to deal with difficult people is an important part of growing up. It sometimes is a hard lesson to remember when it comes to our precious babies, but raising strong adults who can take care of themselves is so important.

  23. Melinda@LookWhatMomFoundandDadtoo! says:

    I’ve told other children to keep their hands off my kids. No way I’m sitting by and waiting for their parents to step up and do the right thing; I have to protect my kids. If another kid is being mean and taking toys I’ll tell them to stop while in the act. I don’t consider this discipline though. I would never tell a kid to go somewhere else or take a time out.

  24. Autumn says:

    That’s a tough situation. My daughter has been bullied by a little girl at CHURCH, simply because she was playing with a little boy that another girl had already laid claim to for future marriage. Crazy, right? This 3 y.o. has hit, pushed, and yanked the hair of my daughter, and once even went so far as to stand over her at a table speaking harshly to my 2 y.o., while she was forced to lean back over the table. In all those situations, we just removed our daughter (who was crying) and tried to soothe and play with her. I wish I could have had the courage to stand up to the 3 y.o., or at least speak to her mother – but the problem is: the child is the daughter of the pastor, and his wife teaches the children’s church, that my daughter goes off to each week alone. Yikes! I’m reading all these comments for advice, but really – this is a difficult question! Good luck to you with your own daughter’s bully. Maybe the parent will see what her child is up to :(

  25. Corine says:

    Your situation definitely sounds tough– especially when there are no parents around- Who leaves their child in a waiting room play area? I agree with the other comment– I think that’s illegal somehow.

    I probably would have done exactly what you did. I believe you can try and nicely correct the situation but when the kids repeatedly defies you and says “NO” to your face— that’s all you can do- walk away. This happens SO often when my kids are with with my friend’s child…. its tough.

  26. rajean says:

    Hard call, as many children’s behavior is a reflection of their parents behavior. I think it speaks volumes the mother had left her five-year-old alone in the waiting room. I think you did the right thing removing your child and giving her another option to keep her happy and occupied.

  27. Jessica says:

    I will ask a child to find his/her parent if they are being mean or dangerous to other children. I’m not an outgoing person but I hate it when kids are being bullied or hurt by an unsupervised or undisciplined child.

  28. Maria Smith says:

    I think you were right on! You just don’t know how a parent will react. I have talked to the parent but seldom talk to the “bully” or mean kid. Unless my kids are in physical danger I just leave the other kids alone.

  29. Titania (Atlanta Green Mom) says:

    I like to try and let my child work it out with others and refrain from hovering over him all the time, but if he is being pushed around or the other child is way out of line, then I will most certainly intervene. I think you did the right thing.

  30. Niri says:

    It really bothers me when people leave their kids unattended… really bothers me! I see several people leave their kids in the car at a store or a school and go inside.

  31. Jennifer Mercurio says:

    I have an extremely hard time watching other kids misbehave which results in the being mean to my kids. I TRY not to be too rude but it’s so hard.

    I have had to outright say things (with the parents within hearing distance) “K, well these kids are just mean, lets go”, or “wow, guess we didn’t learn how to share” and to my shock the parents just sit there.

  32. Shana D says:

    I probably would have done the same thing you did since there was no parent present. I wont touch on that since I could talk for ever about how wrong that is of a parent to do that but I definitely agree with saying something to the kid, even if it’s that’s not how you treat other people.

  33. Caryn B says:

    I would only discipline another child if they were strictly under my care. Parents these days unfortunately aren’t very receptive to that. Now if another child was hurting my child, or another child, I would attempt to diffuse the situation in whatever appropriate way possible. But unfortunately, I really only have control over disciplining my own children. Even if I were to say a one time “you should play nice” if the parents aren’t ultimately following through and shaping that child’s behavior, it won’t likely have a permanent effect.

  34. teejcee says:

    My kids are older now and thankfully I do not have to deal with that kind of nonsense anymore. There is nothing more frustrating than dealing with a little bully kid. I can honestly say that I would have taken that toy straight out of that kids hands and given it to my child and told the kid to find something else to play with.

  35. Tammy @ LoveMy2Dogs says:

    I have no problem telling kids that they should be nice to each other and that it is wrong to be mean. I have been doing daycare for 20 years and it does not matter whether the parent is in my home or not, as long as the child is in my home they will follow my rules.

    I have been out and about and kids can be just down right mean. I have spoke up and I have had parents mouth off to me and I have also had parents just look at me. But you know, if they would tend to their children in the first place then they wouldn’t have to worry about anyone else telling them that they need to behave.

    Obviously this mother really didn’t care what her child did since she just left them in the playroom, which I am sure that is not what it is meant for. But she is probably thinking as long as she was not under Mommy’s feet it was all good.

    Disrespecting elders will get me every time. That I can not stand. We grew up as “community nieces and nephews” when we were around our Aunts and Uncles, which was every weekend and whoever was closest was who we were in trouble with.

  36. Beeb Ashcroft says:

    I don’t have children, so it’s not my place to say, LOL! If that were to happen to me right now – say, if I was looking after a relative’s child or something – I would have done the same thing you did, and gotten the child out of the situation. Kinda tough if there’s no one really supervising that you can speak to (Staff or parents). Plus, even if the parent had been there, there’s no guarantee that they would do anything about it. Personally, I think disciplining a child that isn’t yours (And not a guest at your house or something) would be a bad idea and open up a whole can of worms. But like I said, I don’t have kids, so I know nothing about childrearing! Ask me again in the future when I have kids and know more what I’m talking about, LOL!

  37. Nichol @KiddiesCorner Deals says:

    I was a daycare provider for 6 years, so disciplining other children is nature to me. However, in this situation I would have spoke to the employees who were in charge. You weren’t the in-charge person, so it wasn’t up to you to discipline. I think you did the right thing, by making your child leave the situation, although it wasn’t her fault.

    Unfortunately, many children are bad, very bad. Many parents don’t even discipline their own children, which is why (in my opinion) they act up and have no respect for other children around. That age they are still learning. Again, I think it was best you pulled your child out of the situation.

  38. Heather says:

    Personally, if someone were to discipline my kid without coming to me first, I wouldn’t have any kind words to offer them. That is such a hard situation to be in especially when its happening to your child. I would have gone to the front desk and talked to someone there if they were in charge of the girl.

  39. Stacey says:

    We were at a neighbor’s house for Xmas dinner and their 4 year old girl was being rather aggressive towards my 14 month old. After her parents said over and over, “B, be careful, she’s small. B, watch where you’re walking…,” B bonked my kid on her head with a book. Maybe I over reacted but I grabbed my kid and scolded the older one. I apologized profusely and they accepted it. I just can’t stand by and watch a child be unruly, especially if it results in a possible injury to my own child.

  40. Leah says:

    I think in that kind of situation, where the child’s parent is not available, I would definitely address the child with a minor lecture on sharing. Something like “in this playroom we all need to share and take turns. It’s not okay to take toys from other kids, it makes them sad. If the kids took toys from you, wouldn’t you feel sad? Please give her back the toy and say you’re sorry.” If the absent parent doesn’t like what you did, maybe they shouldn’t be leaving their kid unsupervised! We let other people discipline our kids at school, etc. I guess as a parent, I have the expectation that my kid will be disciplined as necessary in my absence – that’s what I consent to when I leave her somewhere with someone else in charge. I honestly thinking you’re being too nice about this.

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