Should you discipline other people’s kids?

Do you discipline a friend’s toddler when he or she acts in an unacceptable way when the parents are not around, or do you just leave things alone? Here’s what the experts say.

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Raising our own children is challenging enough, but when their friends or peers act in an unacceptable way, the issue of teaching right from wrong becomes even more complex. Should you discipline them or not? Other people’s children are a precious gift, providing our own offspring with friendship and valuable lessons in social and peer development. But what happens when you feel that a friend’s – or stranger’s – child is behaving inappropriately? Do you step in, using the parenting techniques you use with your child, or do you simply leave things alone? A tricky issue is that we tend to worry about offending another parent. Moms and dads are naturally protective of their children – and whether or not that particular child’s parent is a family member, friend, acquaintance or stranger in a park, it’s often difficult to pluck up the courage to deal with the situation.

Toddler discipline – 5 rules for dealing with other people’s children

Clinical psychologist and author of Tricky Kids, Andrew Fuller has identified five general rules for dealing with other people’s children. You can adapt these to suit your own parenting style, or use them as is. You may also prefer not to use an authoritarian-type approach and that’s fine too.

  • Be careful when approaching the situation. Be clear about what you’re going to say and how you plan on handling it. It is key that you are aware of the sensitivity of the situation.
  • Problem in your house? Andrew says that you definitely have the right to ask, politely, that the behaviour stops immediately. For example, you can ‘quietly and gently’ tell the child how he or she needs to behave when in your home and emphasise what is done, rather than what is not done: “In this house, we jump on the grass”, instead of “stop jumping on my couch!”.
  • Child refuses to stop? Don’t just get angry and keep quiet. Approach the parent, using phrases such as, “I’d like this to happen”. It’s then up to the parent to sort out the situation.
  • Going out. If the child is bullying another child, for example, you can employ the above technique, but remember that it won’t have as much impact as when it’s said in your home. If neither parent nor child complies, accept that you may simply have to leave.
  • Whisper, don’t shout. Using a loud, strident voice is not nearly as effective as a quiet, firm one.

No parent wants to find herself in a situation that requires sensitive handling of other people’s children. However, our nuclear family-focused society tends to negate the fact that, for thousands of years, we have lived in communities with extended families, where it took a whole village to raise a child.

Though risky, depending on the reaction of the other parent or child involved, using the right words carefully and upholding your own principles fairly and firmly, can only be of benefit, in the end.

 

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