My Kids, Your Discipline?

“It takes a village to raise a child,” a wise woman once said.

A noble philosophy one can concede, but is it realistic?

Sure, in some instances extended family is the glue that holds everything together, from child care to support to finances and more. There’s nothing like having grandma and grandpa step in and give mom and dad a well-needed break.

But what about discipline? Does the “village” paradigm still hold when it comes to this touchy subject?

How we choose to discipline our children  – or not – is one of the few polarizing topics that divides parents like no others. Discipline, which could mean anything from a “time out” to, in some cases, corporal punishment, is an extremely personal aspect of parenting. It’s one of those topics that has been formed in our psyche from the time we ourselves were children. From those of us who may have received a “spank” here and there to others who were the victims of full-on physical abuse to still others who were spared the rod (and apparently became spoiled in the process), it remains a touchy subject in more ways than one.

When children enter the picture, couples are forced to discuss how the little ones will be disciplined. Often a point of contention, it’s not unusual for disagreements to ensue. After all, if one party believes that spanking is acceptable and the other party disagrees, what to do when the child misbehaves becomes a source of struggle.

To spank or not to spank – that is the question, and most people fall squarely on one side of the fence or the other. The ensuing discussions and potential disagreements are considerably magnified when taken to the public realm.

It’s one thing trying to sort out the best course of action when it comes to correcting your child and teaching them right from wrong. But how do you feel about other people disciplining your child?

“If another parent disciplined your child, what would you do?”

We’ve all been in situations where there’s been a public display of bad behavior by an little one. Whether it’s in your local grocery store or supermarket, the park or the movie theatre, it’s never pleasant. Seeing a child in the throes of a full-on meltdown is only less stressful than watching a parent who doesn’t do anything to quell the situation. It’s annoying in the least and agonizing at best for those who sit by and do nothing.

But what can be done? Is it alright to discipline other people’s children? Spanking notwithstanding, is it ever okay to jump in and take the bull by the horns?

Whether or not you agree or disagree with spanking or otherwise, the overarching issue of discipline is one that becomes acutely in focus during public displays of bad behaviour.

We’ve all been in situations where there’s an uncomfortable silence that counters the screaming of an unhappy child at the store/park/playground/[insert locale here]. It’s uncomfortable not only because of the child’s screaming, but because many of us don’t know what to do. We’re often stultified against our better judgement that tells us that the offending child just needs a good talking to – or worse. What stops us in our tracks? Is it our fear of repercussions from the child’s parents or other strangers? Is it the fear that perhaps we’re wrong in our desire to stop the child and perhaps we should just let nature take it’s course? Or is it the fact that we are ourselves unsure of what is the correct course of discipline for this or any child that steps out of the boundaries of acceptable behaviour?

The issue of boundaries when it comes to other people’s children is one that, in our society, is sacred. We’re taught to not cross that line, and to follow the old adage “when in doubt,don’t.” We err on the side of caution just to be on the safe side. Too often against our better judgement.

Yet, in many parts of the world, the “village” philosophy continues as it extends to children in public spaces. In these cultures, the support of the community is what in turn makes the same community strong, and if that includes public discipline of others kids, so be it. So what about us? Have we lost our sense of responsibility to others, or are we just being smart and staying out of the fray?

I’ll put myself on record by saying that while I’ve never harshly “disciplined” another parent’s child in public, I have spoken to kids who are out of line where I felt was appropriate. Case in point: at the local playground, there’s been more than one occasion where a child was acting up, e.g. hitting another child in the sandbox, grabbing toys out of others hands, etc. This was in view of either the parent being there or close by and not doing anything. In each instance, I as thanked by the parent for stepping in. That being said, I’m not foolish enough to believe that similar future outcomes should be so rosy. We’re all touchy about our children and our “mama bear” claws come out when we feel that they are either being threatened, or boundaries are being crossed.

In a similar situation where my child was acting out of turn, I would have no problem if a parent accordingly stepped in and said something to my child, as long as it was done in an appropriate manner (I would not tolerate spanking). It takes a village indeed.

So what about you?

Have you ever disciplined another person’s child, in public or otherwise? Would you step in if you saw a situation where you felt that discipline was warranted? Tell me about it in the comments below.

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  1. Rorybore says

    Excellent article. Love it, and I think it is so timely and important these days!
    I would intervene if it was a circumstance where another child was causing physical injury to mine – or even another child. whether it be hitting, biting, shoving, or just something dangerous like running and pushing on a play structure. And I have asked cursing children to please watch their language. Plus, I always, always follow up with the parent in a non-confrontational way. Judgement without dialogue is a dangerous thing.
    But if I simply saw a child having a temper tantrum or other bad behaviour, and if I saw the parent was clearly stressed and having difficulty, I would be more likely to approach the parent and offer some sympathetic assistance – than to approach their child. I think a lot of situations could go much more smoothly for a frustrated parent and emotional child if there was more supportive encouragement – than side eye glances and “tsk, tsk’s.”

    My husband can’t stand it when someone addresses a problem with one of our children when we are present. He views it as complete interference and a comment on his parenting abilities. I kind of subscribe to the “village mentality” – to an extent. I don’t mind another adult saying something to my child if it’s necessary, especially if I have missed or over-looked the behaviour myself. But their mode of instruction/discipline certainly must fall in line and support my own authority; first and foremost. And I would really prefer that they did follow up with some kind of dialogue with me, or their father afterward.

    Case in point: We once had someone grab a hold of our sons’ arm to stop him when he ran through a restaurant, and then proceed to hold on to his arm and lecture him. We were busy with our 2 other children, and 1 were babysitting, but when we noticed, hubby immediately rushed over to take the situation in hand. This woman would not let go of our son ANd proceeded to tell my husband to back off: that he was rude for interrupting her. WT!!?? THAT did not sit well with me at all. She has no right to take hold of my son like that and treat him in such a manner as to make him cry. He is a boy who temporarily forget where he was in his excitement to see his cousin arrive across the restaurant. I confess, I also temporarily forgot myself and told her if she didn’t drop my son’s arm… imma gonna drop you. She had other options – like approaching us first (she was with our party), or simply saying “hey, how about we walk over to see your cousin together? I’m excited to see him too!”.
    Sorry….this was long. but I find this kind of thing so prevalent these days….I just couldn’t hold back. LOL Basically, I think people really need to make an effort to consider whether the manner in which they interfere is truly going to benefit the situation, or make it worse.

    1. Samantha says

      Wow! What a great and insightful answer – thank-you!
      I agree with the village mentality too. As I mentioned, I have spoken to other people’s kids, but always just spoken, never in a threatening manner and always in an instance where the parent was clearly not aware that their child had taken a misstep. It’s a fine balance and a slippery slope when you start to talk to another one’s child, so always do it with caution. I’d be fine if someone did the same to my child if they needed it; again, it’s all in the approach, as well as the intent.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. OneMommy says

    There have been times where I have had to bite my tongue…like with kids in Chick-Fil-A play area who aren’t being nice and whose parents aren’t in the room to hear what’s happening.

    1. Samantha says

      It’s the worst when you’re confronted with a situation with someone else’s kids and the parents aren’t close by, isn’t it? What to do: correct their behavior or let sleeping dogs lie (at the risk of further meltdowns to occur). We’ve all been there and I guess it’s best to take it on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, I’ll speak to another person’s child but won’t take it further than that. Even so, it’s risky!
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. zera says

    great read thank you, well I’m only at the beginning of motherhood as my boys are only two so I haven’t had major issues with my boys but when we go to play groups I find it so hard to stop myself from disciplining other children when I see their mothers do nothing about their bad behavior, being a nursery nurse and have experience in classrooms it’s natural for me to want to tell a child what is right and wrong but that can only be done in a classroom when you are the teacher, as a parent now I simply don’t have that authority anymore and even when I give a child a warning look I have had issues with some mothers so, sad really as if my child was in the wrong and if I didn’t notice it I would want another mother to tell them appropriately.

    1. Samantha says

      I know, it’s so hard isn’t it? I think we as parents in particular, want to step in where we know that a situation could easily be rectified by some simple words or a gesture. That’s a difficult thing to realize when you’re dealing with someone else’s child. There are so many risks in speaking up, with no guarantee of reward. If anything, you could be chastised by the child’s parent, even if you are in the right. I guess the best thing to do is jump in where there’s no other choice but to do so, and in other instances, take it on a case-by-case basis, depending on how bad the child is behaving.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Emily says

    There’s a time and a place. But, just because you would discipline your child for something, doesn’t mean someone else would.

    1. Samantha says

      True – and that’s what makes it so difficult when deciding to do anything, if at all…

  5. Diane - It's All Good Until You Burn Dinner says

    Great post! I have NO problem disciplining a kid if the parent is either a) no where to be seen or b) is clueless about acceptable behavior. And heck…even the “stink eye” can come in pretty handy occasionally! I’d be pretty careful about where and how I’d do it — never in a store but I certainly woudln’t have a problem in a play group or at a neighborhood park.

    1. Samantha says

      My sentiments exactly, Diane! It’s all about a measured response as well as responding appropriately, depending on the situation and location. Oftentimes a knowing look or similar can have a desired effect, especially with kids. Now if only we could convince the masses. Mwahahaha!

  6. Wendell Jordan says

    I feel that it is a difficult position to put one self in when it comes to “other peoples kids”. It can be very annoying to watch a child in melt down. Being a positive parent, I have learned to see the signs before the melt down begins and I try to nip it in the bud. Once a kid is in total melt down, it is very difficult to stop. But if the parent stays alert and diligent the kid will know when they are crossing that line. I remember when I was a kid. My mom and dad would give me that “LOOK” and I would usually get that moment of clarity that would keep me from going to “The Melt Down Zone”.
    When I see a kid in that zone, I go to the parent. After all they are the ones that should be in control. I don’t try to embarass them. I give them my experience in that situation.
    It is my experience that some parents make the fatal mistake of being friends with their kids.They don’t want their kids to hate them. They don’t want to them uncomfortable. They fail to realize that treating them as equals creates these melt down situations. Parents have to be parents. There has to be that line that separates me from my kids. I am not their pal. I am their dad. My job is to teach them how to be useful members of society and sometimes they just can’t have it the they want it and I do them a great disservice when I don’t make them aware of that.
    I started with my kids when they were babies and they know when I give them that “LOOK” all is not well in the kingdom.

    1. Samantha says

      Thanks for your insight, Wendell. I agree that there should be a line and some boundaries between parents and kids so that the children will respect the parents’ authority. I too used to get a “look” from my parents and that was enough to make me realize that I was out of line and that my behaviour needed to be revised. Unfortunately that’s not always the case these days as many parents and kids have relationships where the boundaries are not as clearly drawn. Disciplining someone else’s child would not be an issue at all if the kids knew when they were out of line as well as the parents stopping or preventing an uncomfortable situation before it happens.