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As a parent, the choice of whether to discipline another person's child is a difficult one. In these cases, discipline should not refer to spanking, yelling or any other form of aggressive discipline, but merely a reminder of house rules, or the need to break up a fight between two or more children. You unequivocally do not have the right to ever discipline another person's child in any questionable manner.
There are a few times when a parent who has another child under their care must intervene. Instances of bullying, aggression or violence on the part of someone else’s child must be dealt with, especially when the child’s parent is not there to stop such behavior. In these cases, ask a child to stop the behavior in a calm manner. You might need to separate squabbling kids or help an upset child calm down in a quiet room. You should also note what you did do when you chose to discipline another person's child and be prepared to give the parent a full account of what happened and how you responded.
It gets trickier when you would like to discipline another person's child and the parent is present. In general, unless some impending violence is expected from the child, you should avoid taking over the parent’s job. If you’re a grandparent or an aunt, it can be fair to state house rules to a child who doesn’t know them. Do recognize that especially young children may not realize there’s a difference between their own house rules and yours, and it’s wise to not overstep your authority, especially in family relationships, by disciplining a kid in a different way than the parents would.
Instead of saying “No,” assert house rules positively. If a child is running in the house and this is a behavior you don’t permit, you could say, “We only run outside on the grass,” as opposed to “No running in the house.” Alternately, say “We only drink milk in the kitchen,” instead of “Don’t drink that in the living room.” You do have a right to set reasonable standards for young guests, but do state these in ways that tell the child how to behave, rather than offering a blanket negative.
When you discipline another person's child, the child, who doesn’t understand that rules can be different from house to house, might question you. This should not be viewed as a challenge or talking back, but can instead open up a dialogue about how rules change. You could also ask the children if they can think of any house rules in their own home. Such lessons will prove valuable as children move through different social settings like pre-school, play dates and elementary school.
When you are in the presence of the parent whose child’s behavior needs attention, you might say, “Looks like Jack and Tony are about to get into a fight. Shall we each take our own kid or should one of us deal with it?” Give parents, who may not have noticed potentially difficult behavior, the opportunity to discipline their own child, rather than stepping over their authority and providing your own discipline. If the parent still fails to act, the friendship between the two children may not be a good fit.
Any instance where you must discipline another person's child should be reasonably short and sweet. Simply state a rule or stop a behavior. When the behavior doesn't stop, recognize there might be a reasonable explanation for this inability. A child with ADHD might not be able to sit through a full movie, or another kid opening presents at a birthday party.
The situation where one might need to discipline another person's child often comes up at birthday parties. It’s a good idea to avoid the matter, especially if you have experience of a certain child’s poor behavior in the past by making sure parents know to accompany their children. Plan some fun things for adults to do at a child’s birthday party to make the party more attractive.
As a general rule, you should discipline another person’s child only as a last resort. Any disciplinary action should be quick and calm. Recognize the child is not your own and may have different rules or standards. Also, not all children (or parents) view misbehaving in the same light. Remember also, that some children may not be able to behave as well as others, like kids with hyperactivity, and this may not be entirely within the child’s control.
@habura: I agree with you, to an extent. I firmly believe that when other children are in your home, they should follow your rules. I am not sure at what level I would be comfortable with regarding discipline. I know that I would not do any type of physical discipline. However, depending on the child's age, there should definitely be some type of punishment if they break your rules.
As a firm believer in the whole "it takes a village" concept (even though I'm not a big fan of the author herself ;)), I actually think its good to discipline another person's child. There are limits, of course, and you should only do so within the approval of the parents, but I think it's good for kids to learn that they should act right not only in front of their parents.