Other People's Kids

Advice for sticky discipline problems involving other people's kids, and about disciplining your own kids when others are involved.

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Q: What should I say when my mother-in-law, or another parent at the playground, tries to make my child follow rules I don't think apply at his age?

A: In previous generations, adults had few reservations about correcting other people's children. There was a sense of community participation when it came to child-rearing. Today's parents tend to be protective when it comes to the disciplining of their children.

Under most circumstances, it's okay for family acquaintances to discipline your child. It's one thing to be protective about a complete stranger correcting the youngster; it is not always necessary to be sensitive when the adult doing the correcting is a teacher, a good neighbor, or a friend. It may not be a rule you would enforce, but on someone else's turf, their rules apply. If someone reprimands your child, when you are back home you can use the occasion to discuss differences among people, places, and situations.

Q: What should I do when a child is misbehaving in my home and the youngster's parents do nothing?

A: If they do nothing, then you have every reason and right to take control of the situation. Speak directly to the child, not to the parents. Don't ask the child to settle down, or to stop interrupting, or whatever. Instead, tell the child exactly what the rules are in your home concerning such behavior: "In this house, Rodney, we do not allow children to run and make lots of noise. You must be quiet and walk." Keep in mind that Rodney has probably never been spoken to in such a direct fashion. Therefore, it is likely he will do as you say. If not, suggest that his parents take him outside until he calms down.

Q: My 16-month-old gets into everything, wherever I take him. My house is child-proofed, but none of my friends' houses are, since their children are older. When they invite me over, I'm constantly racing after my child, making sure he doesn't break things. It doesn't make for good visits.

A: The next time a friend invites you for a visit, suggest that the two of you would have more time to talk if you didn't have to worry about what your child was into from one minute to the next. Ask if they'd be willing to take a few moments to put valuables out of your child's reach and close off rooms they don't want him exploring. They might also go into the attic and pull out some of their children's old toys. Better yet, they might just leave a few boxes and odds and ends lying around to occupy your child.

Another idea would be to suggest you meet at your house, at least occasionally.

Q: What if someone else's child misbehaves while in my home when the child's parents are not there? Should I discipline the child, or should I simply inform the parents and let them handle it?

A: It depends. If the child has been left in your care, you have tacit permission to discipline. Under no circumstances, however, should you spank. Make the child sit in a chair for a few minutes or take away a privilege. If the child lives in the neighborhood and is in your home as a playmate, inform the child of your rules. If the misbehavior continues, send the child home or, if that is not possible, give the child a time-out by making him sit quietly. Whether you inform the parents depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the misbehavior, how well you know the parents, and the possibility the child may misrepresent the situation to them.

Q: My 11-year-old daughter never fails to speak disrespectfully to me in front of her playmates. Stephanie knows I don't want to embarrass her in front of her friends, so she saves her sass for those inopportune times.

A: You don't want to embarrass her, yet you will let her embarrass you? No wonder Stephanie sasses you. The next time this happens, turn to her friend and say, "Stephanie thinks she can talk to me any way she wants when a friend is over. She thinks I won't do anything about it. Well, she's wrong. I'm sorry, but I'm sending Stephanie to her room for the rest of the day, and I'd like you to go home." Don't warn her of what you intend to do. Just do it! Within a few weeks, her sass should be nipped in the bud.

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