Correcting Another Parent's Child


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Parents are often confronted with inappropriate behavior from a child who is not their own. Whether at your home or another location, what should you consider when this happens?

Cultural factors

Every culture has expectations about the role of the "village" in raising a child. Current U.S. norms tend to emphasize the role of the parents rather than the community, often leaving adults who are confronted with the misbehavior of someone else's child unsure of whether their help is appropriate or welcome.

Other factors

Cultural norms provide only general guidance. There are many other factors to consider in any situation. Is the child in your home under your supervision? If the child is in a public space, is one of the child's parents present and noticing the behavior? How egregious is the behavior? Weigh these factors to make your best judgment about whether to correct the child.

Primary obligations

Parents have a primary obligation to protect and provide a clear moral compass for their own child. Children need their parents' help when they are playing with or observing another child's inappropriate behavior.

Consider the following scenario: Ms. A's 4-year-old son, James, has a friend, Keith, visiting for a play date. James and Keith squabble over a Lego piece, and Keith throws a handful of Legos in James' face.

Ms. A's task in this situation can be broken into three parts:

1.         Manage the squabble.

2.         Respond to the friend about his misbehavior.

3.         Respond to her son about his experience.

Ms. A has some responsibility to manage the squabble. If the boys don't settle it before she intervenes, she could talk about the situation with the boys, perhaps deciding who gets which Lego pieces, or even end the Lego play or separate the boys.

Addressing the misbehavior

These pragmatic management strategies do not necessarily include correcting Keith. Ms. A needs to decide whether and how to express her disapproval to Keith about his actions. Simple disapproval is the most common and effective form of discipline.

Ms. A has some options. She could discipline Keith herself by expressing her disapproval and talking to him about other choices he could have made. She could share this incident with Keith's parent and leaving the discipline to him or her, or she could do both. Parents will need to weigh the many factors to determine what is best in each situation.

Talking to your child

However Ms. A decides to help Keith with his behavior, she definitely has a clear obligation to help her own child with this experience. James needs to know his mother disapproves of aggressive solutions to situations and to his being the victim of aggression. Ms. A has two options for her obligation to James. If she directly disciplines Keith, James will get the message loud and clear, and little else may need to be done. If James only sees her managing the situation without a clear disapproval of Keith's behavior, Ms. A can talk with James about the situation after the play date ends.

In this conversation, she can explain that she told Keith's mother or father about the incident because it is his parent's job to help Keith. She could stress that Keith's behavior was wrong and he could have asked for her help, or that Keith could have tried to work out an arrangement with James. Ms. A can emphasize that James should never be attacked and that it's natural for James to be upset and angry with Keith since that is a reasonable way to feel after being attacked.

Correcting another parent's child is always challenging. Although there is no rulebook, parents can respond constructively by applying some thought and sensitivity to the matter.

The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the health and well-being of children and families.

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