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Why It's OK to Discipline Other People's Kids

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Guest blogger Jill Simonian: For those of you freaking out about the title of this blog, let me clarify: I'm talking about VERBAL discipline. And I very well might eat my philosophy once my precious little newborn turns into a toddler. But as a brand-new, first-time mom, I've suddenly developed beliefs about why it's important and necessary to take an active role in saying "no," "stop it" and anything else you deem appropriate to the misbehaving spawn of your circle of friends.

kid being disciplined
Over the course of three childfree years of dating and marrying my hubby, I silently endured unacceptable behavior from some of our friends' and relatives' kids. I've dined in fine restaurants while the adorable rugrats ran circles around us adults and played hide-and-seek under our table, tripping the staff and patrons while crawling all over my new shoes. I've repeatedly witnessed one toddler punching his buddy in the face, to the point that the victim winces in anticipation every time the two get close. I've snottily been told, "Can't you ask someone else?" by one of my favorite 6-year-old girls when I politely asked her to help me distribute birthday cake slices at a party. Sure, I probably did these things when I was a tot, but I got in trouble. In my experience, the parents see their children's behavior firsthand and do not make a single effort to remedy the issues as they arise.

I'm not suggesting stifling kids with antiquated rules, but what ever happened to appropriate parenting? Now that I have the clout of being a mom, I'm sick of pretending that their kids' wild behavior is OK because "they're kids." It's NOT. I didn't grow up in a world where my parents allowed me to run amok, and I'll be damned if I'm going to raise my little girl as a self-centered brat who doesn't respect others or understand the meaning of the word "no."

I respect that each parent disciplines differently, but some of these kids desperately need to be put in check. Here's why I haven't been shy about expressing my opinions to the parties that cross me.

THE KIDS SHOULD KNOW YOUR RULES. For the good of our social structure, kids should learn what is respectful behavior towards adults outside their home. What might be acceptable with their parents might not be OK with you at your house. I've had plates broken and beautiful cakes smashed by dirty little fingers because I assumed the parents would see their kids' behavior and prevent disaster from happening in my home. Wrong. Be assertive for the sake of your own personal property (and sanity), and it might rub off on the kids. You soon might become the only adult that they listen to ... at least, that's what's happening with me.

THEIR PARENTS SHOULD KNOW YOUR RULES. This is just a respect-for-your-fellow-adults thing. If you reasonably take charge when absolutely warranted, maybe their parents will get a clue? They might realize that you don't tolerate out-of-control nonsense, and make an attempt to enforce some of your rules -- when in your home -- out of sheer embarrassment. If they get angry, well, that's an adult-to-adult conflict that must be dealt with sooner rather than later. Nip the bad behavior in the bud while the kids are young (age 2) to prevent larger falling-outs with their parents in the future. (Otherwise, the problems might only get worse as your kids grow up together and reckless behavior becomes potentially dangerous.) Best-case scenario? Their parents might thank you for having the gusto to teach their kids some basic manners. Again, that's what's happening with me.

YOU NEED TO PRACTICE YOUR RULES. I've heard that one of the hardest parts about parenting is following through with discipline. Some say they feel guilty about being a "Mean Mommy," and that it breaks their hearts to see their wee ones unhappy with punishment. Who exactly is in charge here? Since I was raised in a household with consequences, I figure there's no harm in testing my skills on a modified scale. I'm currently finding that the afore-mentioned "punching toddler" responds best when I stop him in his tracks (yes, in front of his parents), bend down six inches from his face, look him square in the eyes, point my finger and firmly say "NO" in a loud, intimidating way (as opposed to his parents yelling "No, honey" from the couch across the room while the other kid is getting pummelled in the face). True, the little offender pouts and screams at me, but he always stops beating his friend. His glares initially devastated me, but now I've developed a tough skin. You must build up your disciplinary confidence for correcting your own child's bad behavior when it's time. I'm hoping that my assertiveness also deters Mr. Punchy from picking on my baby in the future!

DISCLAIMER: This philosophy is currently my experiment, and takes shameless guts. You might also feel like a real bitch for a brief time. However, from what I've found, the kids will adjust and their parents might even grow to respect you more (even if they talk a little smack about you behind your back at first). Fear not: It's for the greater good. Stand your ground. I have done this, and so can you.  Who's with me?

next: Elizabeth Edwards: Heroine or Cautionary Tale?
29 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jilly December 10, 2010, 7:17 AM

I am partially in agreement. I absolutely, in the absence of the parents or in the case of them not seeing the offending behavior, stepping in and taking action. However, in the presence of other parents, I am careful to not step on toes if the parent is there and maybe not aware of the behaviors. On the other hand, if the parent is aware and does nothing, maybe this is not the family you should be associating with….do not set further playdates or if you are on a public play area, move away from that child. I am not going to set off a s***storm from a parent who is oblivious and takes offense that I step in, I just remove myself….NOW, that being said, if my child is being affected personally and nothing is done, I do not care who the heck you are, I will protect my child!!

zandhmom December 10, 2010, 7:54 AM

I agree with you for the most part too. I have no problem with disciplining my own kids and the kids inside of my family…neices, newphews, cousins and close friends children but I draw the line at kids of people I don’t know well. I would never approach a child in public that I didn’t know but if the situation was dangerous, I would approach the parent.

Annie December 10, 2010, 8:18 AM

I couldn’t agree with you more! Also, it’s easier said than done to remove yourself and your children, if the offending children are your neighbors’, and those parents are either not present or ignorant when all the children are playing outside together.

Moopy December 10, 2010, 9:14 AM

Yes yes YES! With you ALL the way! “It takes a village…”

When I was a toddler, my parents encouraged their friends (who had older children) to feel free to step in if they saw me misbehaving. I was never swatted by these couples, but certainly verbally reprimanded when I stepped out of line.

Public shame is a common method of teaching young ones unacceptable behavior with most mammals.

Lisa R. December 10, 2010, 9:15 AM

Kudos! This article is right on the money! I am amazed at what behavior children get away with right under their parents’ noses, with nary a word, let alone a consequence. I, too, refuse to raise a brat. Everyone thought I was too hard on my now-13-yr-old daughter, but she was a delight to be around & everyone loves her still. I also have a 3-1/2 yr old son, who is more of a challenge. He does things that frustrate me (rude, not destructive or harmful), and many people tell me “kids are like that” or “he’s only 3.” Yes, well, how long can I use the “he’s only [fill in the age]” before I end up w/a 15-yr-old that is intolerably rude & no one wants to have in their home? Parenting—esp. disciplining—is a lost art these days. I may not always do it right, but at least I haven’t just given up.

K8 December 10, 2010, 9:46 AM


Amy December 10, 2010, 10:16 AM

I do agree with you and see the points others have made. I have done this many times, and I have no problem with other people verbally disciplining my child if I miss what happened or am not there. But, you also have to be careful with some parents who may take advantage of your initiative and assume that as long as you are around, they really don’t have to watch their children because they know you will…even when they come to YOUR house.

KS December 10, 2010, 10:22 AM

I completely agree.

Jennifer December 10, 2010, 10:24 AM

I like this. You know what I’ve noticed? The parents who are oblivious- or actually pretend to be oblivious- are pretty much embarrassed when you call out their kid for their atrocious behavior. It’s like, if they ignore the brattiness, so should everyone else and when you speak up, you’re saying “um, yeah, that’s not ok and it’s noticeable that you’re slacking off in your parental duties”. This one little boy- who’s in 2nd grade and definitely old enough to know better- repeatedly acts like a little turd while his mom has social time, not surprisingly with her back turned to him. She beat a hasty retreat when I said, “Do you think maybe you could be the one to yell at your kid this time?” Because she knew she was DEAD WRONG in the handling of that little snot and the rest of us were tired of dealing with it.

Monica December 10, 2010, 1:28 PM

I totally agree. I have a friend who has two kids and I had to kind of break off the relationship a little because part of the problem is dealing with her children. She’s one of those moms who constantly threatens but never takes action. It got to the point that I dreaded going anywhere in public with her and her kids because not only did I have to discipline my son but her kids also. My son, who is four, even tells her son when we are together, “you heard what mama said, behave yourself’. And I’m sitting back thinking one day, why the heck do I have to make sure her kids behave. Its like when I go out with her I have three kids, not one. She’s always complaining that her kids are bad but does nothing about. Yet, constantly tells me how well behaved my son is when he is with her. What is she not getting? Anyhow, I backed off from her because of that and other issues. But I agree that its totally appropriate to discipline someone else’s child especially if it in your own home or if you are in their presences and the parent refuses to do anything. Who cares about being called the mean mom (which her kids tell me I am). In the end the discipline is for their safety and others. I agree with Jilly. Sometimes it will come to the fact that this is not the type of family you want to associate with and you have to back away. I hope in time that her children will mature and get better. Which I see a little. But when they come to my house they know the rules and when they are with me they know that I will say something if they get out of line. And I tell all my friends that if you see my son doing something he shouldn’t then you need to tell him and stop him. I won’t get offended. Because nothing irks me, nothing, than a child who miss behaves and the parent does nothing. I know kids miss behave but its that parents response that irks me. If you won’t do something then why can’t I?

Tracy December 10, 2010, 3:54 PM

Well, it’s obvious that you’re a new mom Ms. Blogger. I can agree with some of it. Of course we should tell children “NO” when they are doing something inappropriate. However, I honestly feel that you’re taking it too far by getting up close to the child’s face & being intimidating without having prior approval from the parent.

When your child is a little older, you’ll modify the aforementioned belief quite a bit. You will not be so forgiving if one of your friends gets a little testy with ur child w/out asking u first. There’s a fine line. Although I agree that parents need to step in, it is completely inappropriate when people think they have the right to say something to your child w/out approval. For example, when people offer candy to my child, or milk, or anything I forbid. Also, my child has really beautful curly hair and every time we’re out, people comment on her hair. They don’t realize that I don’t want her growing up feeling that she is defined by her hair. My point here is that YOU don’t know what a parent wants for their child. YOU can’t take action as u see fit bcuz of ur beliefs. You need to ask the parents for permission first.

and instead of focusing on the child, why don’t YOU educate the parent on YOUR rules. If they don’t follow them, don’t spend time w/them. It’s foolish to believe u can change a child’s behavior. If the parent constantly allows them, they will continue regardless of what u enfrorce. The parent has the power to make that change, not u. I get what ur saying. It makes sense, they need to learn the rules of other folks….and u can do that by stating ur rules when they come over, but u CANNOT get in a kid’s face w/out permission from the parent. Not only are u teaching a child that we can be getting into people’s faces everytime someone doesn’t follow YOUR rule, ur also undermining their parent. Tell the parent what u have in mind. They might agree. But I can honestly say that if u did that to my child without asking me first, I would gladly educate u on MY rules!

KS December 10, 2010, 4:25 PM

Tracy, If you don’t want your child to be “defined by her hair” why don’t you cut it all off? Just wondering because if someone complimenting your child offends you so much maybe you should take steps to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

I can tell you this. If your child was punching my child in the face and then you went off all half cocked because I corrected your little angle you would lose a friend that day. There is no excuse for children being allowed to bully and physically assault another child.

Anonymous December 10, 2010, 7:49 PM

Well said. In my country, people with feral children get asked to leave restaurants. Eating out is expensive. Restaurants would rather have five tables of happy people who’ll linger over their meals and lose the money from table number six than have everyone gobbling down the food just so they can get away from a screaming brat. Telling other people’s children off IS okay. If the parents have a problem with that, they’ll stop bringing their child into your presence. Problem solved either way.

Tracy December 10, 2010, 10:33 PM

Sorry KS, it doesn’t work that way. You’ll one day find yourself in court with your behavior. I work for Social Services & can tell you that you’d find yourself coming out of pocket if you crossed the line with bullying a child. In fact, I once had to press charges on a woman (complete stranger) who slapped my 5 yr old niece’s hand because she was inserting a coin to a machine that the lady was already using. When I confronted her, she said “she needs to be taught manners”. Granted my niece overlooked the fact that someone was using the machine, but this stranger did not have the right to slap her hand off the coin slot. In fact, it’s criminal. Some people feel they can take matters into their own hands with other people’s children. Yes some children are annoying, but you need to keep your aggression to yourself.

I didn’t get into specifics when mentioning my child’s hair because I was trying to make a brief point. My child is cute, curly-headed and bi-racial. I don’t like the TYPE of compliments people make about her skin tone or her hair in her presence because of what it implies. You probably wouldn’t unerstand it and don’t expect you to….& I won’t waste my time explaining it to you. But don’t be a jacka$$ and make such a brainless comment about cutting off my child’s hair. I’m sure you would love that though.

Of course children should be disciplined w/words and be asked to leave…especially if there’s hostility involved. There are ways of handling matters. But if you have the urge to bully or intimidate the child, take it up with the parent. Or are you too afraid you’ll get decked??
So yes I may lose a friend if they cross the line. They’re not much of a friend if it comes to that.

If we’re talking about children who are notorious for being hostile, then don’t be a dumba$$ and invite them. They can also learn a lesson about their behavior by not being invited.

It seems that lots of people here have encountered annoying children. So have I, but I’ve always managed to get the parent to be mindful….and I have had situations where I’ve had to tell a child to leave a room or go back to their mommy. or keep their hands to themselves. I’ve never had to “tell a kid off” as anonymous suggests. Maybe you need to release some aggression else where. Learn how to be an effective communicator instead. Be a parent, not a bully! There’s a difference!

KS December 11, 2010, 9:26 AM

Tracy, It’s awfully presumptuous of you to say I will find myself in jail one day due to my behavior. The no brain comment made me giggle just about as much as your comment on your little girl being defined by her hair. How absolutely ignorant of YOU to assume everyone else in this world is incapable of seeing beyond hair.

Being that I haven’ actually stated my actions in any situation I have faced with other peoples children. Unless of course your one of the people who feels that discipline and punishment is actually abuse.

Then again I have to say based on your lengthy comments I wouldn’t put it past you to assume I should be jailed because I don’t think children should be running around punching each other in the face.

The only bullying mentioned was that on the part of the child and getting at eye level of a child when speaking to them as well as using a low tone voice has always been shown to be the most effective way to prove that your serious to a misbehaving child.

Though I wouldn’t expect you to get that either being that you can’t differentiate verbal corrections and physical ones. Good luck to you and your extreme views. I hope it works out for you the way you think it’s going to.

Carol December 11, 2010, 10:24 AM

KS, I agree with. Experts have stated that it IS best to get eye level with the child.
To tower OVER a child and talk down to them is what’s imtimadating.
Tracy obviously has some issues that have nothing to do with you or or position.
Seriously? A criminal charge because some lady slapped your niece’s hand away? A bit much.

Kelley December 11, 2010, 12:49 PM

Totally agree! Being a former teacher, I have no qualms about disciplining a child that is not mine. However, I do it by usually saying “I bet your mommy wouldn’t want you to do that…let’s go ask her”……works beautifully…..and I always try to use teachable moments with other kids bad behavior and show my oldest that we don’t act like that/do that bad behavior/etc.

Teacher December 11, 2010, 3:42 PM

If you don’t want people commenting on your child, negative or positive, don’t take them out in public. Yes, eye level/in your face is important, they’re still teaching that in upper level education courses. As a teacher, my biggest pet peeve is parents that wont discipline their child or makes excuses for them. As a mom, I’d rather someone else verbally correct my child than just sit back and talk smack about my kids misbehavior, when I’m not aware of my childs misbehavior in the first place. At least do me the courtesy to bring it to my attention. Most mom are frazzled to the point that we have to admit we’re not perfect, and sometimes we just miss stuff our kids are doing. If a stranger slapped my child’s hand, I would be furious. But I would not let my kid see it. It is not my job to correct an adult stranger (no matter how bad I might want to), it is my job to correct my child.

Kel December 12, 2010, 10:30 AM

You all just don’t like kids. Get some therapy!

concerned with todays kids December 13, 2010, 4:41 AM

i believe it is very important to make sure that children follow the rules even when mommy is not present. some of the things children get away with today would not fly when i was growing up. you all know what i mean when i say the little humph that seems to come right after the word NO is said and the bad behavior continues, or the child acts as if you said nothing. if mommy is right there and does nothing about it and gets angry with you when you correct them, what then.

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