We’ve all been there, you’re in a situation and someone else’s child is just unruly. You are left with the debate, do I discipline them since their parent/caregiver is not going to, or do I let it go? I found some experts to give some advice on this and I’d love to hear your personal thoughts or experiences on the topic.
First up is Dr. Cindy Bunin, AKA Dr. Cindy Buttinsky. Dr. Cindy attended Ithaca College for her undergraduate degree, and then to The University of Miami and received her Masters Degree in Music Therapy and became a registered Music Therapist. She received her Doctorate in Early Childhood Education and Development from Nova Southeastern University, and as a licensed therapist, is a Clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Dr. Cindy’s professional standing has also been spotlighted both nationally and internationally on NBC’s “TODAY SHOW”, “CNN”, and on “Attitudes”, which aired on the Lifetime channel. In addition, to co-producing videos on health and family issues, Dr. Cindy was a co-host of a local television show called “Healthbeat” and has lectured and given seminars at colleges and other public forums throughout the country.
When I asked Dr. Cindy if you should discipline someone else’s child, this is what she had to say:
ABSOLUTELY, especially if they are not! If the child seems out of control, and the parent is unable to do anything, I believe that you can run interference in a non threatening way. That does not mean that the parent will not get upset with you. You should expect that. However, every child deserves some help. After all, it takes a village right? What is the worst that can happen, you will get yelled at? Just stay calm and do not react to the parent’s verbal bites.
Just say you would like to help, as you have been through this before. This will immediately allow the parent to connect with you, as she knows you understand how frustrating these situations can be. This connection will enable you to give some advice!
I have seen many extreme situations where a child is in danger; running in the street, not being supervised in a pool, going near a dog that is growling, and being around an angry parent who uses hitting as a way to control and intimidate their child. Therefore someone must step in and lend a hand!
I have been cursed at, hit, the police have been called, and I will still ALWAYS be there for a child. If you are calm, state your case, smile, you will prevail in the situation. And best of all, the child will know someone cares.
Bette Alkazian, a family therapist, parenting coach and nationally recognized parenting expert in Southern California offered these thoughts on this subject, especially when it comes to home playdates:
* I believe that parents should only discipline other people’s kids when those kids are in their homes. It gives their own kids mixed messages to allow behavior from other kids that you would not allow from your own children. The way I recommend that parents say it is: “You know, Bobby, we have a rule in our house that we don’t jump on the beds. Everyone has to stay safe.” It’s very respectful to fill other kids in on the rules of your house. In fact, I recommend that parents be proactive about the rules before the playdate begins.
* Parents should be selective about the disciplining that they do of other kids in their own home. You don’t want to make too many issues during a playdate. Take notes in your head and talk to your own kids about the behavior you observed. The values lesson is really for your own kids – don’t try to change other people’s kids.
* Be aware that other kids’ behavior is very telling of what is going on in other people’s homes. Let the bad behavior be a warning about letting your kids go THERE.
* When the child’s parents are around refrain from disciplining. It’s not your job and it can be very intrusive. Again, remember to bring up their behavior to your own kids later as something you didn’t care for, so your kids know that you noticed. I guarantee you that YOUR kids noticed!
* Keep in mind that you don’t always know the whole story of the child or their family situation. If you intervene where you’re not invited, you might be handling something without all of the information. Stay out of it unless the child is your responsibility and is unsafe in that moment.
Finally, Anne of Nannies4hire.com offered these tips:
A controversy is raging about whether (or when and how) you should discipline someone else’s child. This issue is divisive because it is more complex than meets the eye. The factors involved include parents’ differing perspectives on:
1. parenting (risk-averse or _laissez-faire_),
2. what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a child,
3. what methods of behavior redirection are acceptable, and
4. whether a child is the sole responsibility of his/her parents or if it truly takes a village to raise a child.
Let’s address each of those factors individually.
1. Some parents are risk averse. They are uncomfortable taking chances with their kids, so they inform their kids of acceptable behavior and consistently reinforce those boundaries at each opportunity provided. Their goal is to ensure that they raise kids who adhere to the expectations that the parents believe will help their kids survive and thrive. On the other hand, some parents are _laissez-faire_. They believe that there are times when kids need to learn by trial and error. _Laissez-faire _parents’ goal is to make sure they raise kids who adhere to wise parental expectations . . . while also allowing their kids occasional free choice to do otherwise and experience the negative outcomes. If a risk averse parent redirects the behavior of a child of a _laissez-faire _parent, the _laissez-faire _parent may see that as critical or controlling behavior on the part of the risk averse parent.
2. Some parents think that kids should not disagree with their parents. Some parents think that constructive disagreement is a healthy exchange of ideas. Some parents allow their kids to put their feet on the coffee table; some parents find this behavior unacceptable. On these and a host of other topics, parents should be free to establish the boundaries for their own kids.
3. Some parents believe in calm, reasoned verbal redirections and time-outs. Other parents believe that parental direction need not be explained to kids but merely followed by kids . . . thus, when errant behaviors occur, reasoning is not needed as consequences are the persuasive tools. Still other parents support the use of spanking as an acceptable means of redirecting a child’s behavior. If a parent spanks a child of parents who don’t believe in spanking, the non-spanking parents will see that spanking as a personal violation of their child.
4. Some parents feel that they are solely responsible for their kids. Other parents believe that it literally takes a village to raise a child. At issue here is whether the collection of adults around the child share in the responsibility for shaping that child’s definition of what is ok and what is not ok. If an it-takes-a-village parent redirects the behavior of a child of sole-responsibility parents, the sole-responsibility parents will likely feel that their parental rights have been ignored or stolen from them. On the other hand, if an it-takes-a-village parent redirects the behavior of a child of another it-takes-a-village parent, the parent of the redirected child will likely experience gratitude for the help in keeping their child on the right path.
But what if a child is visiting your house, is in your car, or is otherwise in your care, or if there is an urgent safety issue at hand? If a child is in your care and is exhibiting behaviors that are unacceptable to you, it is best to calmly explain to that child what behaviors are expected while he/she is in your care. You have a right to reinforce the boundaries that you have chosen for your home/car/etc., even when those boundaries are different than the boundaries that a non-family member experiences in his/her own environment. In reinforcing your boundary, however, use the least redirective method possible to communicate what behavior you expect. If there is an urgent safety issue at hand, the least redirective method may not suit your goal: instead, the quickest redirective method may be needed if the risk is one of imminent harm.
Whatever choices you make on these issues, you will not be able to win the approval of all parents. This will remain a controversial subject with no clear-cut rights or wrongs. As parents, we navigate the shades of gray daily. We make our best decisions and then try to make our peace with the outcomes, whatever they may be. So it is with redirecting the kids of others as well. Make the best decision you can in the moment, knowing that you still may offend, and make your peace with your outcome because you did the best that you could.
So what about you? Have you been in a situation where you questioned if you should or should not discipline someone else’s child? Has one or more of your children been disciplined by someone else? What was your reaction?