When Other People’s Children Misbehave

By Zipporah Neuman, LCSW-C

When someone becomes a parent, they know that providing discipline is going to be part of the package.  While people may have differing styles of parenting, most agree that discipline in some form is necessary in child rearing.

At JCS we like to say that children don’t come with an instruction manual.  Nobody warns you that it’s not just your child who’s going to misbehave.  Other people’s kids will, too, and it is going to happen when you are the adult in charge. They may try to get away with things, talk back, take toys from others, and made a big mess, just like your kids.

I encounter these situations all the time; when I drive other children to school in carpool, when my children are visiting the playground, when my children are playing with neighbors and when my children have play dates.  On any given day, I could find myself disciplining other children as much as my own.

When my children go to their friends’ homes for a play date, I remind them that their friends’ parents are in charge.  I tell them to listen to those parents and respect them.    I’m sure other parents do the same, but no matter how much parents prepare their kids, incidents can still happen.   That’s when it can get tricky.  Some parents may take offense if someone else attempts to correct or redirect their child.  It is a fine line – how do you manage children without offending their parents?

Here are some tips to navigate this delicate balance:

  1. Think about what you say before you say it. You should always be more careful with the words you use to discipline other people’s children. Think about how you would want someone to speak to your child if the situation was reversed.
  2. Establish rules. If there is a scenario in which you are in charge of other children on a regular basis, such as driving carpool, establish rules for the carpool at the beginning of the school year. For example, in my car, there are no secrets, if someone wants to share a snack they must share it with everyone,  and everyone must speak kindly in the car.  Likewise, create play rules for your home. Children need to clean up and put away one toy before taking out another.
  3. Create conversation. Incorporate your child into the conversation to help redirect their friend.  This will help avoid singling out the child who misbehaved. For example, you could say, “Emma, let’s show Josh how we ask for some help nicely in our home.”

There will be times when you feel it’s inappropriate to redirect a child.  Instead, you can use their behavior as an opportunity for a teachable moment with your child after the fact.  You could ask, “Did you see the way David wasn’t sharing his bubbles, is that something you would do? What would you do instead?”

It’s important to remember that you are not everyone’s parent.  Try to use your best judgment based on each situation.  You can be a little more tolerant when it comes to other people’s children.  Of course, even when a child is not in your direct care, if what they are doing creates a safety concern, you need to speak up.

Whether guiding your own child or someone else’s, always remember the ultimate purpose of discipline is to teach.

Zipporah NeumanBy Zipporah Neuman, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services

Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.

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