It happens all the time, whether it’s at the playground or park, or while supervising a play date. A kid, who is not your own, behaves so badly you feel compelled to do something.
But do you? Should you?
It’s one thing to mete out your brand of justice when it’s your own flesh and blood. But is it OK to punish someone else’s child?
For a “He Says/She Says” take on the issue, TODAY asked two experts to weigh in.
In the “it’s OK to discipline someone else’s child” corner is Ian Kerner, therapist and author of “Love in the Time of Colic.” Kerner is a firm believer in the three Fs method: Be firm, fair and don’t freak out.
In the “it’s not OK” corner is Susan Swimmer, features editor for More Magazine. Swimmer says when it comes to kids under the age of 10 who are not your kids, it’s not your job, nor your business, to correct their behavior.
He says: Get involved and be fair and firm
For Kerner, the key to getting involved with another child depends on how the situation has escalated and whether anyone (your child, or another child) is in danger.
“You have to intervene on behalf of the children involved,” Kerner says.
His three Fs method goes as follows: Be firm with the child. Be fair to the child’s parent or caregiver. And, whatever you do, don’t freak out.
Imagine a scenario where a child is being aggressive with your kid. Kerner suggests: Use a firm tone of voice to stop the situation and get the aggressor’s attention. (Often a sharp, “Hey!” will do the trick.) After that, you should explain to the parents – calmly – what the problem is. A parent will respect you more for intervening if you explain to them fairly and rationally what happened, says Kerner. Do not get emotionally hijacked by the situation and lash out -- or freak out -- at the other parent, because that’s when they’ll be less likely to listen.
She says: Let their parents handle it
For Swimmer, the issue of discipline is a tricky one. Other than a few exceptions (when something dangerous is happening or if you are in a leadership role, such as a coach or teacher, or if you are dealing with older kids) Swimmer believes that you should defer to the parents or caregivers of the child causing problems.
Why? For starters, it’s an imbalance of power. Says Swimmer: “You’re big and they’re small and you are a stranger.” Swimmer recalls an incident where her own child was reprimanded by another kid’s father, and was emotionally scarred afterwards. “He was waaaaaaay too fierce,” she said. “If he wanted to speak in that way, he should have spoken to me, at least he and I would have been on equal footing. I chased him down and told him so.
Most importantly, you have a choice for your own child, says Swimmer. “If you don't like how a kid is behaving, take YOUR kid out of the situation.”
Kerner agrees that sometimes the best way to be proactive is to be aware of your child’s surrounding and keep them away from problematic children.
“I've learned that while I can be firm with another parent's child, I can't change their parenting style," he says. "It can be frustrating, but it's better for you to put yourself and your child in safe situations rather than toxic ones.”
And for parents who aren’t disciplining their own kids, Swimmer has a message: “They're your kids, you need to MOM UP and do the job. Don't rely on others to do what you should do."
What do you think? Is it OK to discipline another's child? Or is it none of your business?