Whether or not you believe in the adage “It takes a village to raise a child,” when it comes to discipline, the rules aren’t always so clear. Is it ever OK to scold someone else’s child for behaving badly? And does it matter if the badly behaving kid is targeting your child or belongs to a friend or a stranger?
A Today survey asked if it’s ever OK to discipline someone else’s child. More than 8,000 people responded, and the answers were practically split down the middle: 52 percent said it’s fine to reprimand the child, while 48 percent said it’s not OK to do so.
What the Experts Say
In general, when your child’s friend comes over to play at your house, he or she should abide by your rules. If the friend is doing something you don’t allow, such as jumping on the couch with his shoes on or roughhousing, experts recommend speaking up. “You have the right to set the rules,” Lawrence Kutner, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, wrote in Parenting. “Just because a visiting child claims that he’s allowed to do something at his house doesn’t mean you have to let him do it in yours. Sticking to your limits will help your own child feel secure. You don’t have to explain or justify your house rules. Just make them simple and clear.”
If the friend is doing something you don’t allow, such as jumping on the couch with his shoes on or roughhousing, experts recommend speaking up. (Photo: Getty Images)
Although your house rules don’t apply to a public playground, Maralee McKee, author of Manners That Matter for Moms, says you should intervene if a kid you don’t know is playing with your child and is misbehaving and affecting the good time of other children. McKee wrote in her blog: “If your child is at the playground and is playing with a child you don’t know who is not playing nicely, say to him or her, ‘Hi, I’m Mrs. Horn, Tara’s mom. I don’t allow Tara to play with people who throw sand. If you want to keep playing with her, you’ll have to stop throwing sand. Is that OK?’ If the child throws sand again, move Tara to another spot in the park a few feet away. The sand throwing will probably stop soon enough, and they can play again.”
Parenting expert Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time, generally advises against disciplining other people’s children, with one exception: “If the child is in danger, then, of course, you should intervene swiftly and without hesitation,” McCready told ABC News.
What the Parents Say
“I never discipline children I do not know unless my child is in danger as a result of their behavior. Lecturing, ranting, or yelling at other people’s children is, in my book, completely unacceptable. That said, I have experienced horribly mannered children to which I bite my tongue, and they are never invited back. The only true scold I will offer other children (again, in my care) is [if they have] a rude tone or attitude, to which I always say the same thing: ‘Excuse me, but you may not speak to me in that manner.’” —Jane Mount.
“I’ve reprimanded kids on the playground, but never in an obnoxious or loud manner. I usually try to speak to them in a nice, friendly tone. I try my best to explain to the child what they are doing wrong and how it’s affecting the other kids. I have never had to reprimand any of my friends’ kids, thankfully.” —Allan Suarez.
“I am the first to step in if the child in question is doing something to harm my children, other children, or themselves. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for unattended, ill-mannered, or ill-tempered children. I also come from a background where if someone saw you do something wrong, they immediately corrected the behavior.” —Tony B.
The Bottom Line
In general, if you see something, say something. Remind your child’s friends of your house rules when they’re over for play dates. If they consistently disobey your rules, discuss the issue with their parents, or you may want to consider putting an end to play dates with this particular friend. If your child is playing with a kid you don’t know at the playground who is behaving badly, tell the kid your child can’t play with him or her if the behavior continues. Or you can simply move your child to a different area of the playground. Anytime you see a kid — whether you know him or not — who is putting himself, your child, or other kids in danger or is bullying or hurting another child, step in and verbally (but not physically) reprimand the misbehaving kid and try to locate the caregiver to let him or her know what happened.