Should You Discipline Someone Else's Child?

When to Step In and When to Stay Quiet

Sometimes, you have to step in and discipline someone else's child.
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Clearly, not everyone subscribes to the same parenting style or type of discipline. As a result, you’re likely to run into situations where you’re tempted to step in and discipline someone else’s child. However, many parents stop short because they aren’t certain if it is really OK to discipline another person’s child.

Dealing With Public Situations

When you're in public—whether you're at the playground or at the museum—it’s best not to step in and discipline someone else's child unless there is a safety issue.

If you witness a child hitting, throwing rocks, or pushing kids down the slide, take steps to keep everyone safe.

Address serious behaviors, like bullying or aggression. Ignore minor behaviors such as yelling. If you can't tolerate witnessing another child's misbehavior not being addressed, you may need to leave the situation.

When you find it necessary to speak up, do so in a kind and gentle manner. Approach the child, get down on his level and say, “There's no hitting allowed here.” Remain calm and use the opportunity to role model respectful behavior for your child.

Hopefully, speaking up one time will remedy the problem and the child will begin to behave. A mortified or overwhelmed parent may even appear with an apology. But sadly, there may also be times where you can't figure out who the parent of the misbehaving child is because there's no one sight.

Addressing Someone Else's Child in Your Home

Disciplining someone else's child in your home can be a bit uncomfortable.

But, if your child's playmate misbehaves during a visit, you may need to intervene.

Prevention is usually the best course of action. Start by explaining your household rules to the other child and ask him if he has any questions. If he’s aware ahead of time that you don’t allow jumping on the furniture or running indoors, he’s less likely to commit those offenses.

Keep in mind that he may have different rules at his house or, he may not be used to any rules at all.

Don't address every little behavior problem. If a child is louder or more hyperactive than you're used to, try to stay calm and ignore minor behavior problems.

Provide adequate supervision to prevent things from getting out of hand. Give a warning when necessary and remind the child of your rules. If the child’s behavior escalates, end the play date early.

Responding to a Friend or Family Member's Misbehaving Child       

It can be especially awkward when visiting friends or family members don’t adequately discipline their children. However, you don’t have to let other children destroy your home or teach your child bad habits, in an effort to be polite.

If other children in your home are breaking your rules and their parents aren’t stepping in to address it, it’s okay to say, “In our house, we don’t jump on the furniture, OK?” Hopefully the parent will then take over policing that behavior if it continues.

If another child is destructive, obnoxious, or hyperactive, provide ideas for activities that will keep him busy. Offer to move the visit outdoors so the kids can play or provide coloring books and crayons to try and occupy them.

Praise good behavior by saying things like, “Wow, you’re coloring so nicely together,” or “Great job playing so quietly with dolls over there.” And if the behavior becomes unsafe, destructive, or unhealthy, speak up.

Things to Think About When Stepping In

Whenever a situation arises where you feel it’s necessary to speak up and discipline another person’s child, remember not to punish other kids. If you have to leave the park early or take your child to a different area of the zoo to get away from some misbehaving children, it’s unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

Avoid embarrassing the other child.

And remember that you don’t have to address every single behavior problem. It can be helpful to have conversations with your child to explain that other parents have different rules and it's important to treat others with kindness and respect, regardless of their behavior.