The Etiquette of Disciplining Other People’s Children

We’ve all been there: a child throws a toy at your child at an indoor playground or your child pushes a kid on the ground.  Next the parents intervene. The question is how?

Should you get down into a kid’s face it you don’t know and yell at them because they hurt your child?  I would very strongly advise against that.  More times than not your child will be perfectly fine in an hour. Also, the child who hurt your child didn’t mean to do it with a serious intent to harm.  Small children don’t understand the concept of consequences to their actions. Little kids see a toy they like in a sibling’s or friend’s hand that they want and they will hit, push, snatch. Sharing is a wonderful skill to discuss and teach our children at a very young age, however they don’t really start to understand sharing until after they are three years old.  The child who hurt your child was probably simply getting what they wanted. 

If this is a situation where your child is being hurt at a playground or public place you probably don’t know the child. The child could be on the spectrum, having a bad day, not feeling well, or have sensory issues.  These are other reasons why not to aggressively discipline.  By aggressively discipline I mean to discipline with intent to punish.  Yelling, getting in close proximity of a child’s face, shaking your finger, and any form of physical contact would be considered aggressive.  I would not recommend using any of these forms of discipline with children you don’t know.  While I have been known to lift up and separate my children when they’re not getting along I certainly would not want some stranger at the park lifting my sons!

I have been a teacher for 15 years and I was in charge of disciplining other people’schildren in my career. I recommend thinking of disciplining as guiding rather than punishing. In a moment when your child is crying hysterically because they just got hurt and you’re the first person on the scene, I would recommend asking in a firm tone that the other child “Please stop” and take your child away from the situation.  If the child continues to bother your child, then I would just go somewhere else.  Their parents should be disciplining them if you’re somewhere public and this is happening.  If the parents of the other child are not stepping in to help-removing your own child will put a stop to the situation without getting the other parents involved.

Another situation you may find yourself in is that of catching something at school or day care. Teachers are so busy with their students that they don’t always have their eyes on each and every child all the time. You might catch something when the daycare teacher is changing a diaper.  For example, I have seen a child hit another child with a book while the daycare teacher had her back turned.  In this case, I would just let the teacher know. It is their job to handle the situation.  Don’t blame them that they didn’t catch it, they were probably doing their job and meeting the needs of several of their children.

Lastly, if you are in a social situation such as a play date or party where it’s a small group and you know the parents when a situation arises that needs a behavioral intervention I would just let the parents know what happened in a calm voice. I’ve told friends that their child pushed my child. I just left it up to them to discipline their child.   However, if my boys have a friend dropped off at our house and I’m watching while an incident happens I go into guidance mode.  I might tell them “no thank you” and redirect to another activity. I might remind them “We keep our hands to ourselves.” If I see we are having trouble sharing I will change the activity the children are doing (this is a great time for snacks!).  If the other child gets hurt by your child I would definitely recommend letting the parents know upfront, as it builds trust.  

This article has actually been inspired by a recent occurrence I had in which my child harmed a stranger’s child at a playground innocently. He was playing too rough. The parent aggressively yelled in my child’s face. I did not apologize to the parent because I went into protective mode. I understood why she was upset, I was sorry he hurt her children, however my son is only three years old and he’s learning the ways of the world. He makes mistakes and sometimes he plays too rough. I immediately took him away from the play area where the incident happened and kept him away from there for the entirety of our playground trip. He was really upset after this happened and cried for a while because the parent got in his face and yelled. The parent continued to follow us around and glared at us. Please if a child harms your child, at a young age, know that there was not an intent to do harm.  Kids are learning and growing every day.

 I have been on the other end of this when my son was 18 months old and a child at elementary age pushed him.  I was the only parent who intervened. I firmly told the child to “stop” and explained that my son was “just a baby who wanted to play in the same area with him, could he include him?”  The child included my son from that point on.  Their parent did not intervene at all situation and I could tell that child was not familiar with babies. 

If you keep in mind that discipline is really about guiding children and not punishing them you’ll be coming from a positive place and really teaching children an important lesson.  I will make a list below of tools you can use and strategies to handle these delicate situations.

  • Physically remove your child from any situations in which he or she is being harmed.  Don’t yell at other people’s kids while your child is crying.   Protecting your child should be your first priority.
  • If you see a young child not sharing or including your child, walk up to them and introduce your child to them. Say something like “This is Alan, he would really like to play ball with you. Do you think you could play ball with him?”
  • Never touch another person’s child, just focus on removing your child from the difficult situation.
  • Remember that young children are growing, learning, and do not think about consequences. When you approach another person’s child come from a place of guidance.
  • If you know the parents of the child who has been playing too rough with your child, let them know what happened.
  • As a teacher I always used a firm “No thank you” to diffuse situations quickly.
  • Remind children we keep our hands to ourselves and redirect.

5 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Disciplining Other People’s Children

  1. Shelby @ For The Love of Paws says:

    These are actually really good tips! I don’t have kids of my own, but I have a lot of cousins and it’s always awkward when you see another parent going crazy on someone else’s kid. Like you said, you don’t know their circumstance.

    • mypetitepicassos says:

      That’s different from my experience. I have a group of mom friends so if I’m busy with one of my children and my other son wants to play with her son I will ask her to keep an eye on him. Personally, if a child is harming my child I’m definitely going to speak up.

  2. Lynn says:

    I don’t have kids, but will share with those that do. I’m not in situations where I’m around kids much, but I don’t think I’d discipline a child I don’t even know.

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