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What Are the Rules for Disciplining Someone Else’s Kid?

Have you ever found yourself seething at another parent’s inaction as her son or daughter wreaks havoc on the playground? A New York Times blog post I ran across this weekend reminded me of a quandary I occasionally had when my girls were younger. How do you deal with the aggression of other people’s kids, especially when the other parent is sitting right there and not doing a thing? Do you step in and discipline somebody else’s kid? At what point? What if the other kid is simply being obnoxious but not physically hurting anyone? What if she’s hitting — but the target is a kid other than your own? What if the other kid hits yours — but in response to a verbal jab from your little angel?

Now let’s turn it around. Have you ever found yourself seething because another parent stepped in a disciplined your child while you were sitting right there?

I’m curious about all sides: What are the rules for disciplining a child other than your own?


  1. Damsel says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of questions in one post!!

    For me, if someone is antagonizing my child, I’ll step in and firmly tell them to “please stop” doing XYZ. If my child is the instigator, whether physically or verbally, I take him/her to the side and discipline with a time out.

    If a child is physically hurting or verbally taunting a child other than my own, I still step in and do the same thing. I always use “please” and “thank you” and speak firmly.

    If the child doesn’t stop and the parent does nothing to intervene, I leave. I know it doesn’t seem fair in some ways, but there are two things I know:
    1. Better for my kids to learn early how to be okay with the fact that life’s not fair.
    2. It’s my job to protect my child.

    The truth is that I feel sorry for those kids. I want my children to be fun to be around and to have friends, and I enable that by disciplining. Those other kids will eventually run out of friends.

  2. Just stopping by to say how excited I am about your book and this website! I graduated from law school with Hollee and after reading her profile in Duke Law Magazine, I finally just ordered the book. So excited to read it!

    Since I’m here . . .

    I agree with Damsel. Certainly when there is an element of physical harm in play (whether by my own child or someone else’s), I think it’s important to correct the aggressor. And I’d follow Damsel right out the door if my child was the target and the parent wasn’t doing anything about it. I would add that the same goes for mean, bullying play, once it reaches a certain level.

    Generally speaking, I have no problem with my friends disciplining my child. Oddly, we have one set of friends whose own child can be a bit of a bully, yet they discipline our children all the time. Sometimes I think it’s because they recognize that their child goes over the line pretty often and they want to feel like it’s more normal than it is.

    Thanks for prompting the conversation.

  3. BigD says:

    I think the situation that drives me nuts the most is my Mom disciplining my kids–before I even get a chance to handle it. I have to tell myself it’s old mothering habits–not that she thinks I’m incompetent. But it sure feels like it. (especially when I’m in the room.)

    I have no problem stepping in when a child is causing problems if the parent is not, particularly when someone is getting hurt.

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