When, if Ever, is it Appropriate to Discipline Another Person's Child?

Adult scolding child
How do you feel about another adult disciplining your child?

We can all probably (hopefully) agree that the guy arrested last month outside of Seattle for allegedly punching a noisy, disruptive kid in a movie theater was wrong to the nth degree. He could have moved seats, called the theater manager or even waited in the lobby after the movie ended to see if parents or guardians picked up the kids and then talked to them at that time about their obnoxious behavior. But hitting the child? Just horrible.

However, what if you were in the movies with your kids and their pals and they were the ones acting up? Do you do or say something? Is it ever your place to discipline children other than your own, whether you know them or not?

Because as a rule, unless you’re my kid’s teacher, I’d generally prefer you leave the disciplining of my children up to me.

A woman I know once put an acquaintance’s child in time out without checking. She was annoyed the child had taken a toy from her child and didn’t give it back even after repeated requests.

If someone similarly put my kid in a time out, I’d be just short of apoplectic. If my daughter takes something and doesn’t return it to you, you’re free to go and take it back. But you’re not free to discipline her. Take it back, come and tell me, tell her she can’t play with your kid anymore and walk away — but leave the punishment up to me, thankyouverymuch.

I never presume to think that everyone has the same values as my family — what’s right in your house might be wrong in mine. I also never presume to think there are the same consequences for equal transgressions from one family to the next. Taking someone else’s toy doesn’t necessarily merit a time out in our house. We like to make sure the time outs really mean something, and depending on a variety of circumstances, it’s might not be the call we’d make in that situation on that day.

If my kid is at your house and does something to offend your rules or standards (that doesn’t include physically harming herself or anyone else) and fails to stop after being asked sternly a few times, call me. If I’m out of pocket, isolate my kid until I can be reached — and by isolate, I mean park her in front of the a TV or give her some books to leaf through. But don’t assume we necessarily agree on the appropriate consequence to arguably inappropriate behavior to the extent that you can discipline my child. Let me play bad cop — you can play good cop. She doesn’t need extra bad cops in her life, especially since she went to your house to have fun.

My older daughter is almost 4 and having some sharing issues of late. She knows that when a friend comes over to play she is expected to share all but a few special toys we put aside in the beginning. If a toy struggle ensues, I let the children try to work it out amongst themselves. If it can’t be managed, my daughter knows her friend will be sent home.

Similarly, if she’s going to someone else’s house to play, I ask them to call me to come and pick her up if she can’t manage to share. Beyond that, a phone call to me is still the most appropriate course of action if discipline is necessary. The only thing she’ll learn if you discipline her is that she doesn’t like you. I guarantee it.

When I see a strange child misbehaving I generally keep to myself. If the behavior is affecting me in some way, I might look to see if there’s parent or guardian nearby, or even ask the kids who they’re with. But unless someone is in physical danger, I just don’t think it’s my place to get involved beyond a few words of reproach if it’s really merited. I’d mostly do what I tell my kids to do in heated situations, which is: walk away.

The exception, I think, is for teachers. My husband and I chose our older daughter’s preschool quite carefully. We know the protocol that is followed in the event that she misbehaves, and by virtue of the fact that we send her to school there almost daily, they have our tacit permission to mete out any necessary punishment for behavioral transgressions.

If I’m at the movies and a child other than my own but who is with me were to throw popcorn, I would make the kid sit alone and then call make a call to his or her parents. I don’t believe it’s my place to do much more, just as I would appreciate other parents not doing much beyond telling my child to cool it.

Some things are family-only affairs. Discipline is one of them

Do you think it’s ever OK to discipline other people’s children, whether you know them or not?

Photo credit: iStock

Article Posted 4 years Ago

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