Disciplining Other People's Children

Disciplining Kids

Would you correct another person’s child?

The Irish Times featured an article on Tuesday 12th of April called “Who Dares Discipline Other People’s Children” (Click Here)which the opinion of Help Me To Parent is featured.  I was interviewed by the journalist writing the article, Sheila Wayman, and I would like to expand my ideas on this subject.  So when exactly is it okay to discipline another person’s child?  These days, parents are quite protective of their children and have their own ideas on how their child should be brought up.  If another adult disciplines their child, they feel that this is wrong and as their rules and accepted behaviour for their child is for them to decide and not you.  Gone are the days when any adult would feel free to give a child a telling off or even more, a ‘clip on the ear’ for misbehaving.

So is it ever okay to correct another person’s child?  I feel that there are circumstances when it is acceptable.   Firstly, if the child is doing something that is dangerous to themselves or others, it is absolutely correct for an adult to intervene.  For example, if a child is pushing another child into a roadway, it is absolutely correct for a passing adult to ask them to stop and explain that it is dangerous.  As a parent, I would be grateful to the adult who intervened.  To an extent but intervention is acceptable in terms of stopping the behaviour and preventing a possible accident but it stops there.  I would not be happy if the adult disciplined my child or went on to criticise them for their behaviour – that is my job!

Another situation where it is acceptable for an adult to intervene is where the child is damaging private property.  For example, if I saw a child climbing on the bonnet of a car and jumping on it I would certainly ask them to stop and explain that they are damaging the car.  I would also explain that they could hurt themselves if the fall off the car.   Again, I would be happier if an adult stopped one of my children doing something similar and thus avoiding damaging, and possibly causing me to have to pay for repairs, to another person’s property.

The subject of an adult intervening when children are having disagreements among themselves is a very difficult subject to have a clear cut guideline on whether an adult should interfere or not.  Children will have their little disagreements and periods where they ‘fall out’ with another child.  As adults, we should not intervene and take sides.  Children have to learn from these experiences how to stand up for themselves, how to handle disagreements and hopefully, how to work things out and agree a better way of getting on with their siblings or friends.  Parents interfering can cause the child that they are defending to become dependant on the adult to sort out their problems rather than learning how to do it themselves.  Similarly, the child being ‘blamed’ can feel very isolated and hurt by the adults interference and rather than trying to work out the disagreement, may not bother because they feel ‘picked on’ or embarrassed by the adult’s intervention.  The adult’s intervention has damaged the situation greatly.

If however, you see a situation where a child is being severely bullied or endangered by another child or children, then it is right to intervene.  This is similar to the situation where a child is endangering themselves or another child by their behaviour.  If you saw a group of children hitting or hurting another child it is okay to tell them to stop and to tell the child who is the victim to go back to their parent/childminder so that they are safe.  This is not correcting other people’s children it is rescuing a child from a situation where they could be hurt.

As those of you who have attended our parenting courses know, balance is very important in parent/child relationships.  One of our key messages at our courses of getting a good balance between positive parenting and positive discipline is vital.  Positive parenting includes noticing and encouraging good behaviour.  This too can be applied with other people’s children.   As an adult, in the same way that you could intervene if a child is misbehaving, you can also seize the opportunity to praise a child when they are behaving well.  So if you notice good behaviour in another child, why not comment on this and encourage the child.  For example, if you see a child picking up litter and placing in a litter bin, why not say something like ‘Wow, good girl – aren’t you very good to pick up that litter!”.  I was walking through my estate one day and a little boy was sitting on the grass with his dog looking a little anxious.  When I asked him was he okay, he explained that his dog had ‘pooped’ and he was waiting for his friend to bring him back a bag to pick it up.  I went to my house and got him a bag and then praised his good behaviour saying “you are a very good boy for making sure you cleaned up after your dog.  Your parents should be very proud of you!”.  He was delighted and encouraged by the praise, when he told his Mum, she was also proud of him and thanked me for encouraging his good behaviour.

So to summarise, it is okay to intervene when:

  • A child is placing themselves or another child in danger
  • A child is damaging private property
  • A child is being bullied or threatened by other children

Remember to, to try to notice when children behave well and comment and encourage them when you can.