Michelle's Front Page

Over the line?

October 28th, 2007

When is it okay to discipline someone else’s child?  Or is it never okay?  My gut reaction is that it is never okay but then I read this article in Newsweek.  Does it change your answer when the example is a racist comment directed at an internationally adopted child.  The mother who overheard the comment (made about her child) by the boy didn’t say anything because it wasn’t her place to correct someone else’s child.   Would you have said something?  Would you have been able to be constructive if you did say something given the emotional reaction most of us would have?

Let’s take it out of that extreme example.  Can your sister put your child in time-out?  Should your best friend correct your child if he/she is being rude?  Can an acquaintance tell a child to stop jumping on her furniture if the mother doesn’t speak up to the child?

Another scenario:  you and a friend are having coffee and chatting.  Your child keeps interrupting but you choose to ignore the behavior.  Is your friend out of line if she addresses your child and asks him/her to please wait until you are done speaking?

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child but do we believe that in today’s world?  Don’t we get our hackles up at someone else mildly admonishing our child because we see it as a criticism of our parenting?  But if your child made a racist comment like the child in the article (and you weren’t around), wouldn’t you want someone to let your child know how hurtful that was?  Wouldn’t you want your child to feel a little shame by being called out for that?

Let me know your thoughts on this in the comments…I anticipate everyone has an opinion on this topic.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 28th, 2007 at 10:53 pm and is filed under parenting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

22 Responses to “Over the line?”

  1. Jessica Says:

    If I’m around, I really hope that I would never miss an opportunity to discipline my child. That said, if an issue came up and I *didn’t*, I would feel judged as a parent if a friend jumped in to discipline. It would be my fault for not having corrected him/her, but of course I would feel judged. But if I’m not around, have at them! They need to hear it, and I absolutely think it hits closer to home when it’s done by someone other than mom or dad.

  2. Andrea Says:

    I helped out my best friend with her twins. Although I always made sure it was okay, I did, at times tell them to wait until we were done talking. It was usually a reinforcement of her rules. I don’t think I would have done it if she didn’t have that rule already established. I think in that case of that article, I might not have said anything to that kid, but I would have said something to my child. Something to reinforce that his statement was rude and mean, and we should never say rude and mean things. I don’t have the guts to discipline someone else’s child. I’d honestly be too afraid if his/her parent would confront me. I am a big chicken that way :)

  3. Kim Says:

    DH and I do help discipline my best friend’s kids. But, this is always when they aren’t around. (like not in the room) For example, M might tell T to stop throwing the ball against the wall. T stops for a little bit. M leaves the room to go do something and T starts up again. I will tell him to stop and that he would really not like it if M came back in the room and saw what he was doing.

    I don’t discipline her kids if she is in the same room/sees what they are doing. That is her job.

    We also do the same thing collectively with the kids at church. (I go to a small church where everyone knows everyone really well) There are 13 kids under the age of 9 and we all help keep an eye out for all of our kids.

    I don’t think I ever would (or could) “discipline” an acquaintance or stranger’s kids. The only exception to this would be if they were in my house doing something that I thought was dangerous or destructive.

    That was an interesting article, and I’m not sure I would have handled it any differently. I don’t think I could say something to random kids in an ice cream store…..

  4. Maggie Says:

    My hackles don’t get raised if a friend or family member corrects Slugger. Not one bit! I’m a firm believer in the “it takes a village” principle. However, I might get a bit perturbed if a stranger took it upon themselves, particularly since my son has special needs that a stranger just can’t understand.

    This weekend I redirected a stranger’s child, though. I was at a Halloween party and was down the basement with Slugger and some other kids so they could play pool. Some kids I didn’t know were also downstairs and were climbing on the dog’s kennel (which is about 6-foot fencing on a cement floor). I asked them not to climb the fence anymore and when they argued with me I got a bit firm about it and redirected them to another activity. I still don’t know who their mom was, but I trust she wouldn’t mind. At least I hope not… it was all in the interest of keeping those boys safe!

  5. Laurie Says:

    Wow. I didn’t know it was a no-no. I do it ALL THE TIME, especially to older kids in public places who are being obnoxious (like the boy in the article) or swearing. I usually start with, “Hey, guys, I know that you are old enough to know words like that, but this is a family show, so can you use friendlier vocabulary, please?” I use this one at parks and the mall, and I usually get a great response from the teenagers or teeny boppers. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think all kids crave discipline. They feel more secure knowing that the adults around them won’t let them get out of hand. The woman in the article absolutely should have said something. I would have said, “Son, I’m sure you’re a really nice guy, but that kind of comment is just not kind. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way.” I think that silence is an endorsement of bad behavior.

  6. mama k Says:

    “Don’t we get our hackles up at someone else mildly admonishing our child because we see it as a criticism of our parenting?”

    This is totally true. I think people can generally be defensive and when you correct a child in front of their parent, watch out!

    However, if someone said something rude to MY kiddo. I would probably have to say something. (And it wouldn’t be too constructive.)
    Having a teaching background I always have to stop myself anyway from trying to correct behavior and remind myself I’m not in a classroom. :)

    As far as friends and family goes, I guess it would depend on my relationship with them. At some point I will probably tell my mom and MIL what we are doing for discipline and ask them to follow along with that when they are babysitting. If I’m there in the room, I would expect that they would let me set the boundries. As someone else mentioned, I have that relationship with the women at church. We will repremand another child if their parent isnt’ in the room and they are doing something dangerous or in appropriate and we trust that they would do the same for us.

  7. Emily Says:

    I have to admit I am guilty of doing this to my family and close friends. My best friend has 5 kids all under the age of 11. They are a little rambuncious to say the least. I do not hesitate to discipline them, and they often get mad at me (the kids) but the thing is they LISTEN when I say it and for some reason their mom can say the same thing and they ignore. I also have leverage because they love to come to my house and I tell them that if they continue that beahvior they have to leave or can’t stay the night or whatever the case may be. My niece, in my opinion, is very rude to my sister, and my sister just doesn’t mind I guess. She’s almost 12 and I am consantly getting on her about her mouth. Perfect example is Saturday, she was RUNNING up and down my couch trying get a helium baloon of my ceiling. First of all, I didn’t want her to get hurt, and second of all, we don’t DO that at my house. My sister just watched. So I said something. Luckily, nobody that I do this too gets angry and I definetly am selective about it, if the person seems like they would be offended, then I back off and just remember the incident for next time. I don’t mind if someone disciplines Tori, but I’m pretty quick to curb behavior which I dont think is appropriate around other people and she knows it.

  8. Jen Says:

    Let me start by saying thanks for commenting on my blog. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, started back when AB was AB. So, I feel as if my blog was visited by a celebrity! I’ve followed you (not in a stalkerish way) throughout your adoption, and bringing your adorable girl home! You’ve provided me with so much inspiration, especially now, since we are seriously considering IA. So, thank you.

    Back on topic. I personally do not appreciate when someone disciplines my son. Even my parents. It doesn’t take much to get my son back in line. I give him “a look”… that’s usually all it takes. I think people need to respect that myself and my husband are the parents, and we have the situation under control. That being said, we’ve been blessed that my son is usually such a good boy. If he were a holy terror type, I might feel differently.

  9. Melany (in TN) Says:

    Interesting. I actually do it all the time. Well, not DISCIPLINE – in the form of dishing out punishment – but I tell kids who are playing at my house if they are do something that are against OUR rules – to stop. I do it with or without their parents there. For example, if our neighbors are over and the mom and I are talking and her son starts to get my son’s ball stuck in our tree (AGAIN). I’ll tell him “E – please don’t throw that up there. If you do it again, we’ll have to put it away”. She doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. I guess it depends on your relationship with the other family. I have no problem asking my neices and nephews to do or not to do things. Plus, I’ve always felt that at my house – kids should understand our rules, “we don’t jump on the furniture here” (actually we do – bad example. lol). Also, as far as the article – I think the mother would have been completely justified in saying something educational in nature to the boy, “Comments like that are hurtful to people – like my daughter. Please think about it.” Or even just, “Really? Why do you feel that way?” And yes – I am ok with people doing the same with my kids. Although mine NEVER misbehave. ;) LOL

  10. DD Says:

    If one of my friends’ or family’s kid was jumping on my furniture and the parent did or said nothing to stop it, I would SO be on top of that crap. To discipline the child for an obvious infraction is a way for me to actual discipline the parent as well. If they think it’s OK for kids to be kids, well that’s fine. The kids can act like that in THEIR home, not mine.

    As for the article, it’s hard to say what I would have done since the author wasn’t 100% sure that the child was referring to her girl. The problem is with trying to discipline that boy is what exactly would she be disciplining? The boy didn’t swear. He didn’t use a derogatory word. He made a statement that maybe in his head is fact. Just what WOULD you say to him without coming across as snotty?

    I don’t know why people have the assumption that it is not acceptable to set down rules for other children to follow. We expect daycare providers, teachers and baby sitters to do it all the time. I just think today’s society is so worried about being PC or keeping our “Mommy Friends” that we compromise our own rules just for the sake of keeping peace.

  11. Ashley Says:

    I’m a half and half. Let me explain.

    When my nephew is here, I can discipline him. All that takes is “Kenny, stop doing ______”. Most of the time he is very well behaved so I never really have to discipline.

    However . . . my SIL’s kids are a whole ‘nother story. Hello, zoo, welcome to my home. Even though I have been together with my husband for 8 years, I do not feel comfortable disciplining her kids when they are at my house. Take for example, during the holiday season we have Thanksgiving here, and Christmas Eve here… and her children run WILD around the house WITH cups of juice, desserts, whatever. My mothers 5lb yorkie has more brains then my SIL. She lets them run my house.

    When it comes to racist comments though, I really do think parents should say something – especially if it is about your child!

  12. Andrea Says:

    This is not related to this post, but I wanted to share with you about a photographer here in middle TN that is a part of The Celebrating Adoption Program. We met with her this past Saturday. She was great! And you get the session fee waived AND a proof of every shot. I thought I’d share since I know you are a fellow adoptive mom and now a Tennessean, whether you like it or not :) Her website is http://www.angelacrutcherphotography.com. You may just see my cute kiddos on her blog :)

  13. Melissa Says:

    I have disciplined other peoples children when they are with me and they need to be. Likewise my friends and family have disciplined mine. It is always for safety reasons. I also had to talk to a kid who was bothering my kids on the playground. You do what you gotta do. There is nothing wrong with it. I don’t take it as a personal offense if my kids need it and I am not in the room or if they are closer to them. There are 2 of them and one of me. I am not gonna catch everything. I appreciate when someone helps me out in that area. It does take a village.

  14. Shannon Says:

    I will totally tell a friend’s kid who is being sassy to their parents, Don’t talk to your mom that way. Or Don’t yell at Nanny. (i say this to nieces a LOT) They aren’t my kid, no but sometimes I think a kid hearing that (especially about not disrepecting their parents/elders) from people other than their parents is important.

    Other than that, I only really say something if I think the kid will hurt himself, like Don’t touch the stove!! or Stop hitting the dog, he’ll bite you!

  15. Soltana Says:

    I totally disapline my family and close firneds kids. As I would expect them to correct my kids. My sisters kids are WILD with no rules at home. When they come here they always tell me I’m mean. No I just have rules. I know my kids aren’t perfect but they only get better with rules… I’m their mom first their friend second. There have been times that Derek tells me he doesn’t like me but I say..welll I love you and that’s why you can’t do what you want.

    I know it’s touchy with everyone. Some people HATE it when you say something to their kids..well you know what..THEN YOU SAY SOMETHING.

  16. Cheryl Says:

    Ok, first, I love Laurie’s phrasing. It respectfully gets the message across. I think it is easy to respond to folks in theory, but so often we are feeling so much emotion (like the woman in the article) that our first response is NOT respectful and so we end up saying nothing.

    We were apple picking last month and there was a farm/zoo aspect to the orchard. Read: Bunnies in a cage. And a little boy was crouched under the cage, poking his fingers up through the wire trying to get the bunny to move (he was showing off for a couple of other kids). I saw this happening, didn’t see any parents around, and walked past, unsure of what to say. My dad, however, walked right over to the kid and told him (in a Dad Voice) to stop and get out from under there. The kid did . . . but then proceeded to go to another, similar cage and do the same exact poking. My dad followed him over and told him to stop again. I have wondered so many times since then . . . what happened next? Did the kid tell his parents? Based on the article again, probably not as the author’s daughter was often disciplined by others and not only didn’t listen but didn’t tell her mom. It made me proud to see my dad approach the boy, and maybe with Laurie’s help ; ) I can remember to think of what is the most respectful way to say what I want to say.

  17. Samantha Says:

    great discussion.
    my first thought is that the racist kid may very well have learned that at home.

    that said, it is hard to know what i would have done in that situation…i am glad it wasn’t me and my child.

    now on the general topic, i talk to kids, even strangers, as people, and i am straight forward and matter of fact as could be.

    friend story: 3 year old was screeching, literally. i said to the mom, wow, that’s awful, she said “i know, we tell him to stop and he wont…” so i said “hey, teddy, that noise is really annoying and hurts my ears, can you please stop?” and sure enough he stopped. not sure if he was just startled that someone other than his parent said something, or if no one had ever explained WHY he shouldn’t do it.

    stranger story: at crate and barrel there was a kid about 5 years old (seriously) scratching the furniture with a paper clip. i held my hand out and said “give it to me,” i took it, explained that he was ruining something that wasn’t his, and asked “where is your grown up” and marched him right over to his parent and suggested closer supervision. call me a meddler but i simply in good conscious could not just watch that happen.

    i hope that if my child is doing something hurtful or damaging that someone will call it to my attention too…


  18. Ansley Says:

    Very interesting question! I have some disjointed thoughts about this. I haven’t yet had to discipline someone else’s child, and I suspect I’ll be uncomfortable doing when the time comes but I still think it’s utterly necessary and appropriate sometimes. If the child’s parents are there and are taking care of the correction/discipline themselves, it’s obviously not necessary or appropriate. If they are there but not doing anything about the behavior, that’s obviously a lot stickier; but if the behavior is dangerous, annoying, or disrespectful enough I think the parents would be in the wrong if they got upset that I stepped in.

    I guess I would want someone to correct my daughter if she was out of line and I wasn’t there to stop it for a lot of reasons. It’s so important that children learn that how they behave out in the world affects other people, not just their parents. Also, I do want her to respect adults and to realize that being polite, kind, and thoughtful of others is important whether we’re there to see it or not. That being said, I’m sure I will feel embarassed the first time someone does it while I’m there if it’s something I’ve let slide out of exhaustion or the fight for bigger battles, etc. Nonetheless, unless they are trying to teach her something that I don’t agree with or disapprove of, I think I’m just going to have to go with it and not be defensive.

    My mom has been an educator her whole life and she says that, without a doubt, one of the biggest problems in edulcation right now is parents who won’t let teachers and principals discipline their kids or who act as if their kids couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong. She isn’t talking about physical discipline or anything out of line– just taking away privileges or suspending kids. The parents are so invested in seeing their kids as extensions of themselves that they can’t take the implicit criticism that comes with discipline.

    Sorry for rambling, but it is such an interesting topic!


  19. starfish Says:

    I do it alot, but mostly when it is required for safety’s sake or if I know the parent and their parenting style. In general I don’t mind if people I know discipline my child, especially if I’m not right there. I would hate to think seamonkey was doing something inappropriate and getting away with it.

    As for racist comments, you bet you’re ass I’d say something. I’d hunt out the parents too. The state of the world is so sad now, people don’t give a crap about each other and kids have no values. Being Norma Rae and a big mouth, I would have to say something.

  20. DQ Says:

    I only do it to children of close friends / family and certainly not when their parents are about. . .

    But in the extreme example of the women hearing about her child I would have to had said something. I wouldn’t have been able to hold it in. . .

    Great post!

  21. Bobbi Says:

    I think it depends on the “discipline”. I would have likely have said something to the kid to try and make him feel as bad as he would have made my child feel if she had heard it. BUT, that is because I am very brave when I don’t know someone. (Poor telemarketers–they think I am a real _ITCH!!).

    I have had to tell my BF’s children casually not to do something in her presence, but it has really only been a suggestion. I feel that it is her job to speak to them. Though, that can be tough at times, as she often doesn’t say something because she doesn’t want to deal with them having a fit (Yes, at 7 and 12 years old they can put Reese to shame) She often speaks to my children for not ALWAYS saying please and thank you to her. While I agree that this is polite (they do it ALL the time when they aren’t overly comfortable with the person), she does not demand that her children do the same to me. My kids often ask me if they were rude. This is why it is tough, because it bothers her, but not me so much. It does bother me that she corrects them on it. For crying out loud, if Reese wants something she holds it back, and says, “Say please?” HELLO!!!! He doesn’t talk yet! It really offends and irritates me. So, I try to not do that to other peoples children. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean that is the same value that another family shares. But, I gripe about it behind their backs–does that make me bad? Maybe, but that is what I do.

    But, I do hope that if someone said or did something truly hurtful or harmful to my child I would have the guts to say something.

    Thank you for making me ponder this.

  22. Lisa Says:

    1. Just found your blog–and your lovely little girl!!
    2. On discipline–my family and friends are free to discipline my kids when I’m not there. After all, if I’m gone they are in charge. Yes, I will discipline kids who are over playing etc, but only with parents permission [never had it refused]
    3. If my kids are clearly out-of-line, or just grating on nerves, I’d expect someone to talk to them–and then tell me.
    4. On the racist comment etc. My kids are adopted and a friend of my d’s is adopted–from Guatemala! She constantly gets asked in that special tone if “that’s your Mom” or “is she….yours??” Ick! My kids have the same birth mother, but likely not the same birth father. One TEACHER in front of them said “Man you guys look nothing a like” as if having different fathers was such a new concept!

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