Is it OK to Discipline Someone Else's Child?

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Recently, a toddler who threw a tantrum on a seven-hour plane ride received attention in the media. The parents of the toddler allegedly did very little to stop the toddler's behavior, leaving the passengers to endure a loud and frustrating plane ride.

What action, if any, would you take if you were a passenger on that plane? 

Discipline is a very hot topic with parents. Every parent has the right to decide what discipline methods they want to implement with their child, but what happens when a parent's relaxed discipline methods affect other people?


I asked various parents their opinions about disciplining other people's kids and how they would feel if someone disciplined their child.  

Parent #1 In theory I'm fine with someone telling my daughter if she does something wrong, but in reality I think it would be odd and uncomfortable. It would depend on how they do it. I wouldn't want someone going crazy screaming at her, but maybe it would help the kid "get it" if they hear the same feedback from people other than their parents.

Parent #2: I see it as loving when a friend disciplines my kid; it means the friend feels close enough to me and my child to care about how she behaves. As for strangers doing it, I am OK with it as long as it's within reason. My child, and all children, are going to be disciplined by people other than my husband and I her whole life—teachers, crossing guards, service people. I think it takes a village and I wish it were more a part of the playground culture for it to be OK for adults to set appropriate boundaries with all kids.

 I like to think of it not as butting in but as, "these are all our kids, we're all responsible for them." That mentality takes the burden off of me having to do it all the time, especially as kids get older and I am not the only person witnessing all of her behaviors.

Parent #3: I want to say it's acceptable to discipline other people's kids if (1) the parent isn't around and (2) the kid is doing something that everyone would consider unacceptable—e.g.

biting, defacing property, etc. and (3) you're just telling the child it's not acceptable. But then I wonder, if someone did that to my child, would I be upset? For example, let's say my child is 5 years old, and we're at the playground, and he swears, and another adult tells him not to swear. My husband and I are lax about it and just don't care, but I know that's probably not the social norm. I don't think I'd be down with another adult intervening there. But if my child hit another kid, I would want someone to stop it and tell him that's not OK. The problem is that I don't know if I trust random strangers—I hear crazy stories all the day about strangers judging parents for the dumbest things.

Parent #4: What is most important to me is how the discipline is enforced as opposed to what it's about. If the rule is stated in a way that I find appropriate, I'd be fine with it, but that's where it gets sticky. One person's appropriate might be another person's yelling or arm-grabbing.  I'm OK with people enforcing rules different from ours as she is going to need to learn that different rules apply in different places sometimes. I guess it may also matter who the discipline is coming from—is it a flight attendant trying to do her job or just a nosy person telling my kid not to swear?

So, I guess there are about a million gray areas here and I can't surely say what I would or would not be OK with until it happens.  

Parent #5: I think the discipline is acceptable if the focus is on how the questionable behavior is affecting you or your own child. I think the kid is their parent's problem until their behavior encroaches on others and, to that extent, the discipline should be proportional and related to that. For me, the stickiest part of this issue when I consider someone else disciplining my child is how it's done.  It's really the tone and level of discipline that I think varies greatly from person to person.

I don't like the idea of a stranger yelling at my child and certainly have a hard no to physical discipline. 

Parent #6: I think the problem arises more when a child is acting up and parents are ignoring the situations versus someone disciplining a child inappropriately because people are so worried about doing the wrong thing or putting their nose where it shouldn't be. I find it so annoying when a parent is right there and either isn't paying attention or doesn't care and their kid is doing something to my kid that is clearly inappropriate, like hitting or pushing.

Do you feel comfortable disciplining other people's children? Is it appropriate only when it impacts your own child? And how would you react if a stranger disciplined your child?

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