The Fine Art of Disciplining Other People’s Kids

by | Oct 26, 2012 | Discipline & Behavior

Do’s and don’ts when it comes to dealing with other parent’s ill-mannered and ill-behaved kids in a modern-day sometimes too-litigious world

When I was growing up and misbehaved I was set straight by the parent in charge, and if my friends misbehaved at my house there were held accountable by my mom and dad. But these days the parenting rules about disciplining other kids have changed.

Parents are far much more cautious about disciplining kids who aren’t “theirs.” One reason is out of self-protection — our society has become so darn litigious these days. (FYI: The media has contacted me to let me know that there are play groups in the Manhattan area who are actually having parents sign waivers so they won’t be sued when supervising the other parent’s kid!!!) Beware!

But the neighborhood block as well as parent support systems where we know each other’s children and help raise them has also broken down.  Too often we don’t know each other. We don’t feel safe knocking on our neighbor’s door to even share cookies let alone discuss parenting issues like discipline.

So how do you navigate those tricky issues of discipline the “other kids” when the child is in your care and you are in charge?

My view: it’s never intruding when you’re protecting a child. You also don’t want to offend the kid’s parents, but when his behavior is dangerous or harmful to another child, you can’t ignore it either.

Still, the right response depends on the circumstances–and in this day-sadly!-you also have to be a bit cautious on how that other parent just may respond. (And you wonder why so many kids are rude or engaging in risky behavior? All these mixed messages or being allowed to get away with those inappropriate behaviors have a lot to do with it).



Six Tips to Discipline the Other Parents’ Kids

I’ll never forget my oldest child’s four-year old birthday party. One of his invitees came barreling into the house screaming out, “Where’s the Mom? I have to find the Mom!”

My biggest nightmares began spinning in my head: “Is a child hurt? Abducted? Hit by a car?”

“I’m the Mom,” I said. “What do you need?”

“I’m Max,” the preschooler said. “My Mom said I have to ask you what your rules are so I don’t get in trouble. So can you tell me your rules so I can have a good time?”

Smart Mom, eh? She wanted to make sure her child was also a good guest. Max was a delightful kid, but could be…well…shall we call it “spirited”? His Mom had also taught him an important lesson: “Every Mom has rules for her house. Her rules may be different from ones in our house. Your job is to find out her rules and obey them.”  Love it!

We often get caught up in the trap of being concerned about how the other kids act and how to discipline them when they come to our homes. Remember Max’s Mom’s strategy: “Be a good guest and stick to the house rules of your host and you’ll be just fine.” It may be a strategy we all need to use a little more in today’s world.

Meanwhile, here are a few tips The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries to navigate those sometimes murky parenting waters.

1. Get on board with the other parent

Anytime you are responsible for the care of another child always introduce yourself to the other kid’s parent. Take a few minutes to have a cup of coffee (“Can you come in for just a minute?”) or at least have that key phone conversation.

You can exchange emergency information, but also bring up discipline.

“Are here any special rules you’d like your child to follow?”

“What would you like me to do if they act up when they’re with me?”

A brief chat will clue you into the parent’s discipline views and also make things easier just in case there is a problem.

2. Review your ground rules

Lay down the law with your child before the friend arrives and even post those core house rules on your refrigerator. You or your child can quickly review those rules to any first-time guest or every time with a more aggressive kid.

~ Don’t change your basic house rules to accommodate  an obnoxious guest who your kids is just dying to have as a friend. It sends a huge mixed message to you child.

~ Do remind kids of the rules such as: “We don’t run in the house. We stay in our yard. Doors that are closed are off-limits. Do not use the computer. When in doubt, ask please. Have fun!”

3. Know your discipline limits

Most parents have no problem if you remind their kids of your house rules or enforce them. The problem is when you use certain types of punishment. A few general don’ts and no-no’s:

~ Don’t spank another child. Ever.

~ Don’t be judgmental: “You’re so naughty.”

~ Don’t push or even touch the child except in the case of safety! Do beware!

Don’t discipline if the other parent is present. You could say, “We don’t run in the house.” “I don’t allow my kids to go into my bedroom. Could you remind your child please?”

~ Don’t use time-out, take away the other kid’s personal possessions or ground a child from a future event (unless of course the parent asks you to!)

~ Don’t discipline if the child if his parent is present. Whatever the kid does, the parent is in child. (You may take the kid by the hand and “return” him to the parent.

You may review your rules in front of the parent: “We don’t throw balls in my house.” But you can’t discipline.

4. Make “safety” your core policy

Step in for any safety issue! You are responsible.

~ Aggression or cruelty (hitting, biting, fighting, slapping, or exclusion.

~ Risky behaviors like jumping off the roof, running with a sharp object, experimenting with alcohol.

~ Leaving your property.

~ Using technology with Internet access that access adult or inappropriate content.

5. Use “cool” discipline and watch your terms

You do not have to tolerate any guest’s acting inappropriately. Just remember that the child may later share with his parent how you discipline (and those stories can be embellished).

For instance, best to not use “time-out” but you can still say, “Looks like you both need time to cool down. Why not sit here a bit until you’re ready to play again?”

You can separate two kids. And it’s always good to have a just-in-case quiet game or kid video to pop into that player just in case things get heated.

6. Call the parent for severe infractions

 If you’ve tried the cooler discipline approaches and the guest continues to misbehave, you could:

  • Issue a warning that if he continues to not follow your rules you will call his parent (and then follow through).
  • Separate the kids. Put your child in another rom for the remainder of the playdate, but keep the guest in a central spot you can still supervise.
  • Take the child home. Call the parent and explain that the two kids seem to need a break from each other, then ask if it would be acceptable to drive the guest home. Never do so without that permission and never tell a child to go home without calling the parent to make sure she is there.
  • Decide if the parent needs to be told. Do realize the child may give his own interpretation, so better it come from you. Use a tactful way: “This is a little problem we had today. I’m sure you would want to know so I wanted to tell you what the kids were up to.”

Every kid (even yours) has a bad day now and then and deserves a second chance. But if the guest’s behavior continues to be a problem at your home, despite your best efforts, it may be time to tell the child that he may not come over until his behavior improves. Just be prepared to tell his parents the same.