We Are Both Right

If You Aren’t Going to Discipline Your Child, I Will

Would you discipline someone else's child?

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A good majority of the parenting decisions we make every day are incredibly minor and done in the context of our own lives. No one knows (or probably frankly cares) that you let your child eat whipped cream on her waffles for breakfast or that your son insists on wearing the same pajamas to bed every night.

Now not to sound too much like a fifth grade hall monitor here, but I believe that sometimes though, the parenting decisions we make concern the greater good and need to expand beyond our happy little bubbles.

Like disciplining someone else’s child.

I remember the first time I raised my voice to a child who wasn’t my own. My daughter A. was about 15 months old and my son C. about three-and-a-half. We had just finished eating lunch at a local fast food  restaurant and the pair of them were happily playing at the small indoor playground there. In this particular facility there was a special room set up with tables right in front of the play area. There were some tunnels, a slide or two and a place the little ones could climb up through a tube. Because of the layout of the structure, parents couldn’t really go into where the kids were, although we could see them just fine, aside from any time they might be in the slide or shimmying up the tube.

As I watched my kids like a hawk (my default position) from a chair a few feet away, I noticed that there was one little boy, probably the same age as my son, who appeared to be targeting my daughter. He seemed to be wherever she was and he was behaving pretty aggressively towards her, pushing her out of his way and generally being unpleasant. Still, he was a little kid and my daughter was a tough cookie (she had an older brother, remember) so I chose to sit and watch — for the moment.

I didn’t have to sit for too long. He got her in the slide, pulling her hair and I’m guessing here, but hitting her face as well. As soon as she came out I could see something was wrong, bit fat tears rolling down her tiny face. She toddled over and in the saddest voice I had ever heard she said, “Baby hurt me.” (At 15 months, all kids were babies to her.) As I checked her over with one eye, the other was roaming the room, looking for the parent that belonged to the heathen that dare touch my baby. There weren’t too many people in the room and I couldn’t make a connection, so I let my mama bear instincts come out.

I marched over to him, got down to his eye level and in my sternest voice asked him if he had hit a little girl. Again, my eyes were working double-duty, looking for an adult who might take exception to me talking to their child. Still, nothing. The boy squirmed a bit and then walked away. But another parent, one who I realized didn’t belong to the troublemaker, came over to me and said that this boy had been causing unpleasantness for the past half hour and who she presumed to be his mother was sitting in the other room with some other women.

That’s all I needed. To make a long story short, I found the mother, told her what her son had done and needless to say she was mortified. As it turned out, her boy was nearly six (not three-and-half as I had guessed) and she thought he was OK by himself. He wasn’t.

And neither were any of the children around him.

From that day on, I never had any issue saying something to a child who was grievously misbehaving (looking for their parents first of course). But over the past few years, I’ve learned something. The few times I’ve had to step in and discipline someone else’s child, (or at least give them a talking to, I’m not for corporal punishment or anything) chances are the parents aren’t around or at least not looking. And maybe I’m lucky (or intimidating), but I’ve never had a parent stand up to me and tell me to butt out. Each time I’ve been met with embarrassment more than anything else.

Look, I’m not running around yelling at kids at every transgression that I see. Not every infraction requires me to stick my nose in and express my oh-so-important opinion. But there are certain instances where I will definitely intervene. If I witness bullying in action or a child deliberately causing harm to something or someone and there is no parent in sight, I’m going to speak up. Any safety violation will also hear me weighing in as well.

And if my kids are around and they are embarrassed, well that’s too bad. Because I think by correcting a wrong, I’m teaching my kids an important lesson — sometimes it’s important to get involved and stand up for what is right. Especially in the case where a child is causing harm to my child. If my child is young (as was with my daughter), it’s my job to advocate for her and to set the example that standing up for yourself is very important and something they shouldn’t be afraid to do.

It’s definitely a complicated issue, one with many interesting variables. Where do you fall? Have you ever disciplined a child who wasn’t your own? Suzanne’s a bit nicer about the whole thing, but now she’s got me wondering if my kids are really as well-behaved as she swears.

You Discipline Your Child, I’ll Discipline Mine

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There are some things I just won’t do as a mom. Disciplining other people’s kids is one of them. (Making meatloaf is the other.)

It’s not a completely selfish decision. Of course, I rather not expend the energy setting some other kid straight when I have two of my own to look after — who despite being lovely and adoring most of the time, keep my disciplining skills finely-tuned enough. I will also admit that I find it uncomfortable to speak up and set boundaries for someone else’s child. Especially if the parent might pop back into the room in the middle of it.

But my main reason for skipping substitute duty on discipline is that I think I’m doing the child more of a favor than I am protecting my own interests. Here’s what you can expect if your child is acting up when you are not around:

{1} The passive approach will have to do. That’s my default setting, not knowing how intensely you would usually discipline your child. I will suggest that throwing game pieces is not a good idea and maybe it’s time to move onto a new activity, but I won’t make the offender stay behind to clean up. Seeing this side of me, my kids always wish they weren’t related to me.

{2} I won’t yell. Again, if that’s not your style, I don’t want to upset your child, or confuse or embarass him. After all, I’m not the usual adult he “reports” to.

{3} My child will bear the brunt of your child’s actions. Especially if it’s a group offense. Like: “Boys, L. is not allowed to shoot milk out of straws with his nose, so let’s not do that right now.” Or if your child is setting the example of not so great behavior, I might say: “I’m going to put S.’s very favorite doll away now because she gets really upset whenever any of us draw on her with markers.”

{4} I will invoke your name. As in: “You might want to check with your mom/dad before you drink your fifth soda.”

{5} But not to worry, if your child has rigged a pulley system from my backyard up to the roof and plans to practice rappelling, I will put a stop to it before they get more than a foot of the ground. That I promise. Danger is in a different category than discipline. And I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I even yelled a little in that case.

But other than that, we’re all happy go lucky here, so don’t expect to drop your child off and pick-up a reformed one when you return in two hours. The Nanny I’m not.

I always tell Amanda she’s free to discipline my children if I’m out of the room, and vice versa. But at least she keeps her word.