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Should You Discipline Another Parent’s Child?

When another child punched my daughter while walking down the street, I went into protective-mommy mode.

It's a sensitive subject, but a parenting expert says the answer is pretty clear.

By Barbara Turvett, Working Mother

One breezy, balmy New York City summer afternoon, I was walking my then-6-year-old daughter to ballet day camp. On the way, we ran into one of her fellow dance campmates and her caregiver. As we all lightheartedly strolled together, the girls cavorting a few yards ahead of the adults, the other child suddenly pushed and punched my daughter. My child wasn’t hurt, but I was disturbed and immediately ran to them, got down to eye level with the other girl and firmly said, “We don’t hit or push; we use our words, not our hands.” The child burst into uncontrollable shrieks and sobs, carrying on for what seemed like hours (really only minutes) before her caregiver could calm her. It was as if I was the wicked witch of Manhattan.

[post_ads]Did I do the wrong thing? After all, we weren’t in my home—we were out on the street. But she did hit my daughter, and I confess that made me furious. Still, I didn’t harm the child, nor did I shout. I just admonished and corrected her. But I didn’t know her that well and I didn’t know her parents. Would she tell her mother and would her mother turn on me? Should I have ignored the roughness and just let it slide? And what if the situation were reversed and my daughter did the hitting? How would I feel if another parent disciplined her? Do parents have any right to discipline someone else’s kid?

Turns out, I probably reacted appropriately, even though the girl was distraught that I called her on her actions. “People don’t step in nearly enough,” says educational psychologist Michele Borba, EdD, Today show parenting contributor and the author of more than 20 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. “A parent is right to step in with another’s child, particularly when there are aggression or safety issues. It’s not only your right, it’s your responsibility.” And if the kids are hanging out in your home or you’re in charge, you have every right to set the ground rules and then intervene when there are behavior problems, she adds.

If another child will be at your house, or if you determine that there’s an aggression or safety situation in the park or playground, Dr. Borba recommends these strategies:

Review the rules with your child. Remind her of your core family policy: “It doesn’t matter what your friend does at her house; these are our rules.” Then post them on the fridge. While she’s not responsible for her friend’s behavior as they play, she can say, “We’re not allowed in my daddy’s office.”

Anticipate problems. Before the friend comes over or joins you at the park, set up a discipline plan. Invite the friend’s parent or caregiver in for coffee for a few minutes, or give a quick pre-playdate phone call to the mom when you’re both at work. Say something like, “I know there will be times when my child misbehaves. What would you like me to do if your child does?” You want to know what the other family’s policy is so you can set up a just-in-case plan.

Discipline, don’t punish. For example, if there’s a row, you could say, “Looks like you kids need to sit it out for a minute,” rather than, “You’re out of control so go take a time out.” And never spank or even yell at someone else’s child. “Use your teacher voice,” suggests Dr. Borba. “Be firm without shouting.” If the other child continues to misbehave and defy you and your rules, give warning, then say you’ll have to call her mother if this continues. If things persist, call her parent and say, “I need you to take your child home.” You’re in the right to separate the kids if a parent or caregiver can’t come till later, Dr. Borba adds.
Debrief afterward. If you weren’t able to check with the parent ahead of time about rules, be sure to relate any incidents at pick-up time: “We had a little problem today with some hitting, so I was very clear to say we don’t hit in our house.”

Refrain if the other parent is present. “You should not discipline the other child if her parent is there,” warns Dr. Borba. But if there’s an altercation, you might say, “Okay, kids, you need a little time away from each other,” or, “You both need to turn off the computer right now.” With younger children, you can always say, calmly, “We don’t hit each other in our house. We play nice and use our words.”

Follow through at the playground. Be careful about intervening with a child you don’t know when things are mild, but don’t let bigger problems go. You can say to another child: “We don’t hit—hitting hurts. If you can’t play nicely, you can’t play with Alice.” You can also ask where her mom or babysitter is; you want to find out if the child is supervised. If she’s with a caregiver, take her by the hand as you say, “Let’s go find your babysitter.” You need to be careful not to overstep in these instances, says Dr. Borba, “but you really don’t need to allow kids to get away with hurtful behavior.” Overall, this can be sensitive ground, so be careful with your tone and your words. “It’s not your job to lay your values on another’s child,” reminds Dr. Borba. “It is your job to, when necessary, use discipline as a teaching tool. It’s ethical parenting.”



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Lifestyle Magazine: Should You Discipline Another Parent’s Child?
Should You Discipline Another Parent’s Child?
When another child punched my daughter while walking down the street, I went into protective-mommy mode.
Lifestyle Magazine
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