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Issue Date: June 2007 Issue

Is it OK to discipline other people’s children?

Colleen Mytnick
It’s one of the stickiest parenting situations.

Unfortunately, not even the experts agree on when or how to discipline the neighbor kid. Some say that, in your house, all children must follow your rules. If a child does not, take her aside, look her in the eyes and say her behavior is not acceptable. Others contend that it’s never OK to discipline another child. So what’s a mom to do?

One local mother of three says that distraction and redirection are the best approaches to take with another child. If, for example, she saw her own son take a toy from her toddler, she would quickly reprimand him. But if one of her son’s playmates did the same thing, she wouldn’t even consider a time-out. “I would change the situation,” she says.

But maybe that’s not doing anyone a favor. “I think we’ve gotten too politically correct,” says a mother of two. “A little bit too lenient.”

Though she’d never use physical discipline or yell, she does use time-outs. Her son had a friend over and, despite warnings not to, they locked themselves in a bedroom. She gave both children a three-minute time-out. “I would want another parent reprimanding my children and reminding them to use good behavior,” she points out.

Still, she says that she would be gentler with someone else’s child, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Both mothers agree that they like when another mother looks out for her child’s safety. While playing outside recently, the first mother we interviewed had gone inside briefly while her toddler began swinging a plastic croquet mallet. A neighbor saw and told her to stop. “I was glad she did that,” she says.

Other unspoken neighborhood “rules”

>Don’t give any kind of treat without asking the child’s parent first.
>Don’t offer any food or drinks, without asking a parent first, if it’s close to a meal.
>Ask a parent’s permission first if her child expresses interest in riding your older child’s “ride-on.” Example: a toddler riding a battery-operated vehicle or a scooter.
>If a child wants to go from playing outside to playing in your home, make sure they ask a parent’s permission.
>Don’t play on another child’s playset unless the children who live there are playing on it.
>If you see children playing a game outside with their father (especially on a Sunday), don’t let your children intrude. The same is true if another family has company over.
>Don’t give your children money for the ice cream truck if other children are around who aren’t getting any.

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