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Have you ever disciplined another person’s kid?

Erin Zammett Ruddy

I tend to tread very lightly with reprimanding other people’s children, even if it’s warranted. Honestly, I have almost no mom balls at all when it comes to this stuff. But maybe that’s because I haven’t really been put in the position to show them. My friend emailed me about a park incident with her daughter that made me so mad I could scream. And I don’t know what I would have done in her shoes…

Here’s what she wrote me about her five-year-old daughter (who’s adorable by the way):

I was at the park yesterday and to make a long story short, I totally reprimanded some kids (that I didn't know) for being mean. They were calling her ugly and the momma bear in me came out. My question is, Do you think it is appropriate to discipline other people's children? When do you step in? These mean little girls were 6 or 7 and I did not see their parents anywhere. Just thought I'd ask your opinion. Maybe you could blog about it so I could see what others think:) 

I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if some big girls called my little girl ugly. I actually worry about things like this happening because I don’t know if I’d be able to control my reaction. And the name-calling to me is so much worse than stealing someone’s baby doll or tackling someone instead of two-hand touching (which is the kind of shenanigans my kids get into these days). Here’s a little more of the back story from my friend:

She wanted to play with a group of older girls and they didn't want to play with her. I could tell they were being mean and not including her, but I wanted to give her a chance to either walk away and play with the perfectly nice 5 year old she had previously been playing with, or use her words to tell them they weren't being nice. That's when I heard them say "You're ugly.’ She responded with “I am NOT ugly.” I jumped up from the bench I had been spying from and said something like this: “I hear mean words being said and it is unacceptable. You cannot talk to my child or any other child like that. It is NOT ok.” I then looked around and said, “Are your parents here?” I didn't see any caregiver with these kids. They ran off after that and didn't come near us the rest of the afternoon.

My friend said she later felt embarrassed and clearly she was worried about whether she’d done the right thing. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what she did. She waited long enough to let her daughter try to work it out on her own and only stepped in when the older girls crossed the line. Still, I don’t know if I would have been as bold. I’m not exactly assertive when it comes to OPK, even when they’re not doing anything wrong. Last weekend a bunch of people were at a friend’s house and I didn’t think the kids (none of them belonging to my friend) should be climbing in a particular tree. Not because they would get hurt—they weren’t going far up and kids are kids and trees are trees—but because it’s a gorgeous magnolia that I know my friend loves and I didn’t want them breaking a single twig. I knew my friend (who wasn't around at this point) wouldn’t say anything but as the mother of one of the kids out there, I could have. If Alex were the only one on the tree I would have marched over and told him to get down immediately. And if it were my house and I didn’t want them in a tree, I could have handled it (though I would have likely coated my request with unnecessary amounts of sugar). But there were a bunch of kids and I'm just not comfortable being that mom (do you remember the post about the time last summer when I let a group of six and seven year olds intimidate me?). I hemmed and hawed about it for a while then basically let it go and went back to devouring my friend's awesome guacamole. Then another friend saw a couple of kids in the tree and very casually and coolly said, “Kids. Not in the tree. Out.” It was simple, direct and done. I was totally impressed. And it made me feel like such a weenie.

That, to me, is an example of a time when it’s perfectly OK to tell other people’s kids what not to do. When there’s a group and you’re not singling out one kid and you’re not offering any further unwarranted lessons. I have friends (none read this blog so it’s not you I promise!) who’ve been more direct with my kids than I’d ever be with theirs. I don’t get offended or say anything but I do notice that they step in and “educate” when, if it were me, I’d just worry about my own kid. Perhaps that's why I shy away from addressing other people's kids with any kind of negative. If it’s an issue of safety, of course you need to say something. But how far do you need to go? I err on the side of non-interference as it is. So if I’m going to step in for some reason I’m going to deal with my kid—not yours.

Part of it is that my kids are still young and are rarely playing with other kids whose moms or dads aren’t also there to witness any injustice and step in (Alex and Nora always have scuffles at their playdates and it’s always handled fine—perhaps that’s because I mostly hang out with friends who have similar parenting styles). And also, my kids are often the aggressors so my instinct is to police them and make sure the other kid is OK. That said, I have disciplined my sister’s kids plenty. Andrew, my beloved Godson, is in a fresh-mouthed, too-cool-for-school phase and I have no problem reprimanding him if need be (when he’s at my house and I’m in charge—otherwise I stay out of it). And Melissa disciplines my kids when she’s the boss. But we are insanely close so that’s just how it is. I imagine I’ll have many more opportunities with OPK as my kids get older. And I can’t wait…ugh.

Have you guys had experience with reprimanding other people’s kids—or having another parent reprimand yours? How did you handle? Do I just need to grow a pair? 

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