MomTalk: Bringing Down the Hammer -- on Other People's Kids
We all read a recent blog post where a dad talked about disciplining other people's children in his home. It got us thinking. What do we do when a child that isn’t yours misbehaves on your watch? Do you bring down the hammer? Do you let it slide?
Check out the blog post and then read our responses. Let us know what you think!
Caveat for the more timid: speaking up to other people’s kids can get you in trouble. One time at a public playground, some little sparkplug came running by me and was moved to give my rear end a hearty smack as he did so. He was about three. I called over to him, “Hey! That is NOT okay!”
Enter, stage right, Momma Bear. She said, “Are YOU talking to MY child??”
I wheeled around and said, “Oh! Is that YOUR child who smacked me on the bum just now? Yeah, I was talking to him.”
Hmmm, how to make this story short, but still convey to you the tension and absurdity of the whole thing? Momma Bear’s contention was that I should have spoken to her about the incident and I maintained that I needn’t have sought out the mother when I had the little culprit right in front of me. Besides, I pointed out, though I felt my sharp tone was justified by the assault on my personal space and the breech of manners, we could both observe him playing contentedly and surmise that I had not scarred him emotionally.
The situation escalated quickly as Momma Bear got in my face and said, “I oughtta slap you!” Disbelief gave way to hilarity as I quickly sized her up and reasoned that I could handle her until the police arrived, but continued to puzzle out how I could take a picture of her with my camera phone for evidence. What came out of my mouth, however, did nothing to mollify Momma Bear. *Guffaw* “You oughtta WHAT??”
“I oughtta slap you!”
“Well,” I replied, pretending to warm up, “Let me just put down this infant I have in this sling here and get mah guurrrrlfriend to hold mah earrin’s and we’ll go at it!” I bugged my eyes out for effect before I guffawed again. It was surreal to be physically threatened by another mother at a playground and what can I say? I’m one of those people who laughs/makes jokes when nervous. Luckily, after letting fly with a string of expletives about what kind of mother I was, she decided to let me off the hook and dragged her blameless pookie off the playground, giving me the stink eye the whole way.
I suppose some will say I asked for the trouble, but I wish to go on record to note that there were several other mothers on that playground who said and did nothing while this went on. I like to think they would have at least taken my baby if Momma Bear had actually taken a swing at me… Thus do I confess to being one of those moms who- *gasp!*- tells other kids to knock it off when the situation warrants it.
When kids are little (say, two and under), I know there is a certain amount of taking stuff and maybe some pushing. In these cases, I would give my child the words to use before directly interfering. Something like, “Ouch! Don’t hit! Hitting hurts!” The point is to begin showing our kids that even if each family operates differently, there have to be general standards of conduct that they can use to measure acceptability of conduct. I want my kids to know that we love them enough to not let others mistreat them. I want them to grow in a strong self-respect that won’t let others mistreat them even if their parents aren’t around to intervene. I want to lay the foundations of decency in them that won’t allow them to just stand aside, mute, while people around them are being mistreated, whether strangers or not.
Tasha Schlake Festel
I am a fairly permissive parent. I let my kids explore the world, discover their strengths and express their independence. There aren't a lot of rules in my house besides the basics: always use manners, no hitting, no chewing with your mouth open, clean up after yourself (including toys, craft supplies, and dishes after a meal), no talking to Mom when she's on Facebook. Pretty standard fare.
So, when the kids have friends over, I hold them to the same basic standards of behavior that I do for my own children. I figure if my kids can do it, any kid can do it. In general, I think that kids rise to the occasion. They like to please and like to know what is expected of them. They like boundaries. (They also like pushing those boundaries, but that is another story entirely.)
Any kid in my house will, first and foremost, speak to me with respect. I will not tolerate attitude or rudeness. I don't accept backtalk, and I will scold for sassiness. I joke around with my kids' friends plenty and we're pretty informal, but there is a line, and I have no problem letting any kid know when they have crossed it. I am not mean, but I will absolutely tell any child - no matter their age or the relationship I have with their parents - that they should "try that again with manners" or watch their tone. In general, it just takes once and the kids get it. Like I said, they like boundaries and to know what is expected of them.
When it comes to some of the other stuff, I'm a little more lax. Hitting is usually a boy thing in this house, and usually only when roughhousing goes wrong. Boys get pissed, take a swing, scuffle a bit, and move on. I'll admit that I often try to look away and let playground justice prevail, but sometimes I have to step in if it doesn't resolve itself quickly. If I do need to get involved, I will definitely scold them for the behavior.
Call me crazy, but it really bugs me when kids don't clean up their dishes. Food is often served at playdates, and I try to put out healthy snacks that usually require plates. Cheese, crackers, veggies, dip, apple slices, etc. are all better on dishes. I am always surprised when kids eat and then just get up, run off, and go back to playing without a second thought about what to do with their dishes. But no worries! I will not hesitate to call them back to take care of their messes. I usually get looks of shock and a bit of lip, as the kids claim they either don't know how to clean up their dishes or that they don't have to do it at home. To that I always say I'm happy to teach them and that we all follow the rules of the house, whether you live there or not.
Most kids we have over are really good kids. However, the ones you encounter “out in the wild” are a bit of a crap shoot. I had to discipline a few kids – with no parent in sight – last week when they were picking on my kids and their friends. I was doing a boot camp and the 5 kids we were with were all eating lunch on the gazebo at the lake. These 3 little punks decided to throw their lunches around. Our kids asked them to stop and were ignored. Finally my son came over to get my help. I sternly told the trouble makers to back off, and reminded them that they knew the right thing to do and that I was sure I would not have to come back to talk to them again. A few minutes later, however, I had to go back again. Now my workout was interrupted for the second time. I was not a happy mama.
I marched over, arm out, finger pointing, and said to the closest boy, “Where is your mother?” He stammered, looked shocked, and said, “Uhhh... I didn’t do anything!” I said, “That’s not what I asked. I asked you: where is your mother?” From behind me came a clearly annoyed voice, “I am his mother. What is the problem?!?” All that was running through my head as I sized her up was, “Great. Am I going to have to throw down with this woman? I think I can probably take her...” (I was bolstered by the fact that I was with my Fit-to-Fight crew from Defensive Edge that includes a 4th-degree black belt, a professional MMA fighter and several other bad asses that I would never cross.) I explained what her boys had done. Of course, she defended them and said they would never do such a thing. Exasperated, I said, “So all 5 of these kids made up the same story about your boys? And they scattered their own food around the gazebo?” She saw the evidence and eventually confronted her kids.
Luckily she took over and removed them from the area without incident (unlike what happened to Melissa in the story above!), but I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I had overstepped my bounds by scolding those boys, and I was afraid it was going to get ugly with some mom-on-mom aggression, complete with hair pulling and chest bumping. I respect that mom for handling the situation and disciplining her boys. It easily could have gone badly.
Back at our house, we’ve been pretty lucky. My kids have well-behaved friends. The few that don't fall in line and observe the rules don't get invited back. I have enough trouble with my own children. I don't want trouble from others as well. Being at my house is a privilege. We have fun, we laugh, we eat, we play. We also say please and thank you. Always.
And it only takes one massively dirty look for our guests to understand that when Mrs. Festel is on the computer, they better stay away.
Extra children are the norm in our house. Having a home daycare means that my children are often outnumbered by our daycare friends. That’s never a bad thing, our daycare family fits right into our life in a unique way. Because of our situation, I get lots of practice disciplining children other than my own.
I discipline all the kids in our care with the same love that I discipline my own kids. Fortunately my kids are the worst behaved kids at daycare so I focus most of the discipline on them! My kids aren’t monsters they are just in their own house all the time so I think they are the most comfortable and can act up. As for the other kids it’s part of our job so we do what we have to do to keep everyone safe. Of course there are the usual “stop running” or “don’t hit him” comments but for the most part these kids are extremely well behaved! I’m sure when they get in their own houses they are not the little angels that we see every day but thankfully we see the very best of these kiddos.
My conflict comes when we socialize with our daycare friends. I have been taking care of these kids all day and then if we all decide to head to the park after daycare I have a hard time separating myself. My rule is we don’t go down the slide head first, broken noses and all...but not everyone agrees so I have to keep my mouth shut when the parents are around. Obviously if there is a safety issue, I would step in, and we definitely rely on one another to watch each other’s kids. It’s a fine line and one I am continually trying not to step over!
I am not much of a disciplinarian. Most of the punishments in my house are things like five-minute time outs in your room or write “I will not hit my brother” fifty times, so I don’t think I am in danger of overstepping any bounds with other people’s kids. I have been pretty lucky so far that I have only really had to discipline another child once in my own house.
My son was having a birthday party and all the boys were “rough-housing” and wrestling while they were waiting for all the other kids to arrive, when one of the boys decided to try out his professional wrestling moves and a few of the other boys started to complain that he was hurting them. My husband told him to stop, and that he was being too rough, and he might hurt another kid. He went back into the mix with the other boys, but he kept on hurting other kids, albeit unintentionally. We ended up separating him from the rest of the boys for a “time-out” for a few minutes until all the kids were there and the official party activities could begin. I don’t think this child was trying to defy us, or trying to hurt anybody but we couldn’t let him go on hurting other kids.
I think disciplining other people’s children is fine if safety is an issue. I would expect another parent to remove my child from a situation where he or she was going to get hurt or hurt another child. I would also hope that parent would tell me what happened. My kids are generally pretty respectful of other adults, and their friends have been respectful of me and my rules so luckily, this hasn’t been much of a problem. If the parents are present, I would say something to the parent, but if not, I would not have a problem telling the kid he needs to share/give someone else a turn/stop hitting, or whatever the issue might be.
Telling a child they have to follow the rules in my house or be polite is not disciplining. There is a difference between laying out the expectations I expect everyone to follow, and punishing a child for misbehaving. I would not yell at another child, put my hands on them, or give them a “writing assignment,” like I might with my own kids. I expect my children’s friends to follow the same rules my kids do, If they won’t, I threaten to call the parent and end the playdate. Usually it is my own child who is misbehaving, anyway. I would never punish someone else’s child in my home. I would, however, stop them from doing something where they, or someone else, could get hurt. Beyond that, I would tell the parents and let them handle it.