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Disciplining Other People's Kids

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Parenting, Families, & the Community > Disciplining Other People's Kids


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My friend is yelling at my child

Oct 2008

My toddler son is very active and curious. From an early age, I could see that he would react negatively if he had too many restrictions, heard too many Nos, and he would do better if I allowed him to explore relatively freely and to teach him about dangers. I am proud to say that he is very good about streets, gentle with animals and children, and very good at managing himself physically...knowing what is too much for him to handle. I have a playdate friend whom I see about 1x a week and frequently she will yell at him ''Come back'' ''get down'' etc...She is more of a yeller than I am number one, and two, I am more likely to give him a chance to come back first before yelling. My question is: Shall I say nothing and let her express her parenting style (which is what I have been doing) or shall I try to explain to her what I am trying to do with my son and ask her not to interfere. Part of me thinks it's fine for her to say what she wants as he will experience that other people have different limits. The other part of me wonders if he is confused by this, wondering, ''why is my mom not saying anything while she yells at me''. Your advice apreciated mom


Your friend's interfering (which is what I evaluate it to be) sounds very difficult and stressful. Your child can learn about differences in many ways, including by watching that person parent her own child. How about saying, ''MYOB!'' Just kidding. I'm sure you can find a respectful and truthful way to tell your friend that you are upset by her actions, and that in doing so, you are actually valuing her and your friendship. My experience is that when I am honest and compassionate about difficult issues with a friend, our relationship deepens. (Nonviolent Communication can be helpful. You might check out the BayNVC website or Marshall Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.)
I've been in your situation, as I had a similar approach to parenting as you do. In the moment a friend voices the limit I restate in a kind voice what a parent has said in terms of limit setting. For instance, 'Mary said 'fill in the blank' because Mary cares about you and wants to make sure you don't accidently 'fill in the blank'. Later on I'll tell my child that life is like this, some people have different limits than others. And ask if it bothers him or not. Often they figure out Mary is just being Mary on their own and aren't as sensitive to the behavior as we fear they might be. Been there
I just want to say, off the subject a bit, that you sound like such a tolerant and kind person. That just really stood out! Anon
Stand up for your kid! If it's working for both of you, tell her to back off! If she's your friend, she'll understand; if she gets upset, drop her like she's hot. To put it another way, albeit an extreme way, if you are I were hanging out at the park with our kids, and I said, ''Uh-oh -- did you see what little Johnny just did? Don't worry, I'll go spank him a few times for you,'' would you stop me? Or just let me express my parenting style? (I don't spank, btw...) kevin

Friend disciplining our child

Sept 2008

My husband and I are close friends with another couple who have small children, as do we. We spend a lot of time with this other couple and enjoy their company. What we struggle with, however, is the wife of the couple who is constantly disciplining our child, even if they are not doing anything that seems like disciplining is needed. For example, if our child is jumping on OUR couch, she will say ''stop that'' to our kid, when it is our couch and we are fine about letting our kid jump on it. There are many other examples, and again, it isn't like our kid is hitting her kids or anything like that. It is really frustrating and makes us uncomfortable as well as our child, who always looks crestfallen when she says something. My husband is closer to the husband of this couple than I am to the wife-should he say something? How do we deal with this? I don't want to cut off our friendship or anything, but disciplining other people's kids, unless they are in danger to themselves or others or ruining something, does not seem appropriate. What to do?


I think it's perfectly reasonable to counter their discipline. For instance, with the couch incident(s), after your friend has told your child to stop jumping on the couch just step in with something like ''she's ok, we let her know that jumping on our own couch is fine, but that it's only a special privilege for home!'' Really, though, just counter every disciplinary ''attack,'' hopefully they'll get the hint. If that doesn't work then just be upfront. If someone thought I was being too invasive I'd want them to say something to me so I could correct my behavior. anon
Everyone has different house rules. Where it might be OK to jump on the couch at friend ''A.'' It might be tolerated on a couch in the rec room and not the new couch for friend ''B.'' Jumping on a couch might be just fine at your house. Here is the difficulty- the rules are not posted in clear view. You have to say it out loud. Tell your friend that you are OK with the jumping on the couch at your house. No one can read your mind. In addition, keep in mind that some rules for some people don't always have the foresight to see that a child can get hurt if too many people are jumping or if someone falls down and hits their head. There are reports of children getting hurt and sometimes parents don't always have the foresight to have prevented it. If the concern is about safety then I think that has to be considered. As far as your kids go, remind them of the different rules at other people's houses as you learn those rules. The kids may ask why but will deal. Nanny in the know
It may simply make your friend uncomfortable to be around children who are jumping on the couch or otherwise being wild. If I was sitting on your couch and your kids were jumping on it, I would be tense about them either falling into me, or falling off and hurting themselves and screaming. I'd be cringing just waiting for the inevitable. Plus, if they are jumping on the couch, they're probably not doing it silently. I may be a terrible person, but I would not be able to relax and enjoy socializing with you if your kids were jumping on the couch in front of me. To me, it would seem inconsiderate of you to allow this behavior in front of me, even if you otherwise tolerate it. Could you tell your kids "No jumping around guests"? I let my son do all sorts of things when we are home alone that he can't do in front of me while my friends are over.

The bottom line is that it is really hard to maintain a friendship with someone whose parenting style is dramatically different from yours. You may need to find a more relaxed friend (which would not be me). Fran


Why don't you just immediately say, ''Oh, we're OK with that actually, thanks.'' Then to the child, ''No problem, honey.'' Or even go a little further to your child, ''Different houses have different rules, and jumping on the couch is OK here.'' Or whatever immediately, loudly to everyone in earshot, no anger, then continue finishing your sentence. Do this every time as things arise so they don't build up & your friend will get the message. Anon
That's a challenging situation. You want your children to have good manners and respect for the environment when they visit other people's homes, especially because you want them to be welcome and invited back. As a teacher I know that what children learn at home, they take out into the world. I sometimes have to teach them skills they might not be getting elsewhere, even though I'm not the parent. We want them all to have good social and communication skills, problem-solving skills, and a respect for themselves, others, and the environment at large. When they take that out into the world, they are appreciated and valued, and people want to be around them. It's a gift you give them. You could identify that in your house you allow jumping on furniture, but that it would not be a good idea to do that in other places or people's homes, unless it's okay with the parents, and let your friends know what you've told them. Linda
I would try to respond lightly by saying something like ''oh, it's fine if she jumps on our couch.'' ASP
I have had this happen plenty w/ my 4 kids. Three of my kids are boys and are pretty wild, so in our house there are very relaxed rules about certain things. When people like my mom or well meaning aunts, uncles and friends discipline them I always say in a sweet sort of innocent voice, ''Oh, it's alright - I let them jump on the couch - slide down the hill in their wagon, climb the 50 foot tree out back, jump from the roof to the trampoline etc etc'' I play it off as if I have no idea that what they are doing is uncouth or I act as though (and this is true sometimes) it might seem odd that it is ok w/ me to allow their outrageous behavior and that I totally get why the discipliner is saying something BUT that I have learned over the years that I must carefully choose my battles. You could even explain that to your friend - something like, ''Oh you know, we let johnny jump on the couch at home but he knows not to do it at other people's houses - the thing is, I really don't mind, I like jumping on beds and couches too - we are just silly that way.'' If you just SAY IT in the moment and make a joke out of it then the onus is on them. Sarah
Oh, I have (more of a had at this point) a friend like that...I found it easier to cool off the friendship than have her verbally abuse (and that is really what it is...she is always lecturing my kids when I am sitting there) my children. I found that this friend of mine would generally cause my children to bring out their absolute worst behavior because they couldn't communicate that this woman was just a bugger to them. Of course, I can't have my kids sticking at their tongues at an adult or telling her that they don't care what she says. So there are timeouts...but why? Because the woman is a nutty control freak! So, I dropped her and try to keep the toxics to the best of my ability out of their lives... So, my advice...limit your contact to adult only... -anon
You gotta put the smack down. Tell her straight out to lay off, that you're the parent, not her, and you'll handle the discipline. You appreciate her good intentions, but that's not how you want to raise your child, and you're sure that as friends she can understand. kevin
I bet a million women on this board just thought ''Oh my god, is she talking about ME?!?!''. I have some friends who are so close that we discipline each others children as if they were our own. This doesn't sound like a case of that. Maybe say ''Oh, it's OK. That couch is super old. We don't mind''. Or something to that effect. Slightly off topic, I don't think your kid should be jumping on the couch either!! Maybe she thinks she's doing you a favor... Couches aren't trampolines
Why not just say, ''oh, it's ok. We let her jump on the couch here, we don't mind.'' I think your friend probably figures that she's being helpful. And also she wouldn't want that in her house, I'd guess. I'd also suspect that you may not be such close friends for so long if you have such different ideas about what needs correction, as well as different ideas about what's appropriate. Personally, I appreciate that my friends help to notice when my kid is out of line (even though, ironically, it of course stings when somebody else tells my kid to stop!), and I have no problem whatsoever directing other people's kids to behave appropriately in my household, or on common ground. I don't believe it's appropriate w/ small children to let them run amok ''unless they are in danger or ruining something'' nor to ''let them work it out'' until they actually have the skills and insights to know what decisions they are making. And I don't appreciate people who fail to correct their kids. What often ''works out'' is that the shrinking violets learn to keep quiet, and the more aggressive types learn to bully. And none of them learn good behavior or manners that you can bring to other locations. However, we all have a right and responsibility to communicate our own preferences with our kids, and we tend to gravitate toward people with similar ideas. The two-way disciplining or correcting that occurs with my friends wouldn't work if we had different notions about it--and for things that really don't matter, we let the kids do what the parents clearly prefer: e.g., if the other parent says ''you don't have to finish your dinner'' I don't tell the kid to finish his dinner, nor do I tell my kid he doesn't have to. Mine still has to finish his dinner (in my house-at their house I assume he doens't have to).
I am first wondering what kind of relationship this is. Does your husband know the guy through work, so are you concerned about seeming rude for that reason? My advice would depend on why are you worried about offending them. If it's because you don't want to embarrass your husband, then you should talk to him about it asap. In fact, you should talk to him about it asap anyway, since he should know what's going on in your head. Maybe he will have some feedback that will be helpful? If you don't want to react to this woman with anything but deference because either that's your personality or that's the kind of behavior you want your child to emulate (since you're her role model) but this lady continues to annoy you, I would suggest doing your best to not spend time with this woman, including letting your husband know and explaining why you don't want to spend time with them anymore. No need to make a scene with the lady if you don't want to, just stop returning phone calls and start declining offers to hang out. She'll take the hint eventually. Finally, if you're worried about offending her just because it seems socially inappropriate, then my suggestion is to stand up for yourself! This woman is being RUDE and INAPPROPRIATE. She has no right to boss your child around, and your daughter might benefit from being defended by you as well as seeing you stand up for yourself. Your child should also look to you as the end-all of discipline, not this lady. My only defense of this woman is that I might find it disconcerting to be spending time with friends and having their little ones jumping on the furniture while I am trying to carry on a conversation, and I would discipline MY kids for doing that, especially if we had people visiting. But I would NEVER discipline YOUR kids for doing it in YOUR home, though I admit that I would be silently thinking to myself, ''Why isn't she stopping them from doing this?'' (Sorry, but that's just how I personally feel.) But in Your Home -- You are Queen!! If you are visiting HER home and they are jumping on her furniture because they've learned that it's okay to do that at home, well... But again, why bother visiting or hanging out with someone who doesn't share the same parenting philosophy if it can be avoided? Life's too short, in my opinion! I'm sure there are other families who enjoy a good furniture romp who would be fun to spend time with =) Peanut's Mom
My advice is to try as best you can to respond directly to her comments in the moment that they happen. So for example, if your kid is jumping on your couch and she says 'stop that', you could just say, 'actually, Sally, it's fine with us if X jumps on the couch, thanks.' Then turn to your kid and say, 'it's OK, honey' so that it is clear to everyone that you are overruling her. If you are able to politely but firmly push back on her a few times, hopefully she will get the message that her discipline is not needed nor welcome in these situations.

If she doesn't get it, then you will need to have a conversation. In that case, I would try to approach it by saying something like, ''although we obviously want to support each other in disciplining the kids when they are hitting or doing something dangerous, we seem to have different opinions about when to discipline on things like jumping on the couch, etc, and I am worried about the kids getting mixed messages. I want to make sure I respect your rules and vice versa, so what should we do?''

You are definitely in a tricky situation, but I think the more direct and firm - but clear that it's fine if she wants to tell HER kid to 'stop it' when jumping on the couch - the more effective and less disruptive it will be to your relationship. good luck!


I'd be straight - up, but calm, before you blow (which you will if you're like most of us Mama Bear's). something like, ''Heh, (Mary) I was hoping I could bring something up with you...this is kind of vulnerable and awkward for me but I really value our freindship....I've noticed sometimes you correct (my daughter) and I'm finding I'm uncomfortable with it. Here's what would work for me: if she's doing something that directly involves you or your property or just bugs you, please bring it up with me and I'll talk to her about it [pull it away from her]...but if it's something related to our home, etc., please leave the disciplining to me''.

My mother in law was confronted by my husband with the same (I'm lucky here). To her credit, she didn't get defensive - but she would forget, to which my husband would have to PROMPTLY say, ''Mom, I'll handle that,I''m the parent''.

Hope this helps. Bring it up now while you can maturely, if you care about your friendship.. - Good luck....sister


I'm late chiming in on this, but I was struck when reading the first round of responses that maybe the issue is more deeply about the discipline differences in your parenting. One of my kids' best friends is a little wild, talks back to his mother, does things she's just told him not to (without consequence) - stuff like that. It really irks me, for several reasons - the strongest (for me) is that I hate to be around kids like this, and when I see parents behavior (a) leading directly to kids behavior (b), it drives me crazy. Also importantly, in the bigger picture, I hate what this is turning the kids into (kids I - among others, I'm sure - won't take certain fun places because they can't be trusted to behave). I also don't want MY kids picking up on this. And, least defensibly, it just bothers the controlling part of me to see this happening. As a result, sometimes I overstep and discipline the kid. I feel it when I do it; know it's not the best thing to do, and know it's probably highly annoying to the mother, but sometimes I'm not perfect. There you have that. At what point, if any, do the other adults in your kids' lives have rights to a certain atmosphere? Do they have any rights to assert their own needs? That's a genuine question. Sometimes a disciplinarian
I saw your question and the responses. I have been in a similar situation, only in this case, I was the person who told both my kid and my friends' kid not to jump on my friends couch. My friend clarified that it was ok in their house for their kid to jump on the couch, and that they understood that that would not be ok in my house. In turn I acknowledged their house rule but did add that since my daughter tends to need consistent messages about behavior, that I was not going to let her jump on their couch, even that they would be ok with it.

Problem settled. No gritting our teeth, no passive aggressive fall-out, no big tense confrontation, no loss of friendship. It all worked out. (FWIW, they later amended their rule and stopped letting their kid jump on their living room furniture- but that was after there were a couple of almost big time bad falls). not passive agressive


Tricky issue. Maybe your friend gets stressed by kids jumping on the furniture around her, but is less afraid to talk to the kid than to ask you to not let it happen. She may seem rude in your mind, but perhaps you could do more to be a polite host; try to make sure your adult guests' comfort comes before the comfort of the kids.

I don't think it's always inapproriate for adults to discipline someone else's kid, but one must be careful. 2 suggestions: 1) with the other mom and all the kids, have a pre-play meeting and say, ''OK, kids, you all know that different houses have different rules and they must be respected.In our house, you may jump on the sofa, and in their house you may not.In their house you may play with toy guns, but not in our house, etc. 2) If you know there are many differences between you and the other mom, then maybe plan playdates on neutral ground - playgrounds or parks, where there's a more accepted etiquette.

I've the same deal with some friends,only I'm the ''stricter'' one. I've decided that when we hang with them, my kids can eat more junk food, play with more tv-show-related toys, watch Barbie movies, etc.-the stuff I try to keep them away from at home. I still make them mind their manners tho, including not jumping on people's furniture, not using bad language, saying please/thank you, and keeping the rough play/noise as far away from us grown ups as possible.(If they are jumping on the furniture out of sight,it's also out of mind.;-)And they know that at our house we'll serve veggies and send 'em outside.

IMO,our local communities seem rife with a form of ''parenting imperialism,'' where our perceived ''needs'' of our own children are placed above almost everything else: other parent's feelings, the needs of schools, teachers, coaches, etc. I fear that this culture of ''My Kids, My Parenting, Above All Else,'' is steeping our kids in a sense of entitlement, and setting them up for a hard time later on,when they have to get along with others but have no diplomacy or compromise skills to do so. Throwback Mom


I feel compelled to add my 2 cents because I would be very uncomfortable trying to visit a friend whose child was bouncing around on the furniture. Whether or not it is ''allowed'' by the parents, couldn't you be courteous to your guests and disallow this disruptive behavior while guests are visiting? Maybe I'm uptight, but I have had friends whose children are allowed to be disruptive (i.e. jumping on furniture, loudly demanding their parent's attention), and it frankly forced me to refrain from visiting them. Permanently. I know, those are your rules, but if your friend is telling your child to refrain from jumping on the sofa, it is correct etiquette to tell your child to stop doing that. Your guest is the one you should be trying making comfortable in your home, and your child needs to learn that there are boundaries to behavior. Sometimes it's okay to jump on the sofa, but at other times (as in when you have guests), it is not. If you can't do this, don't invite other people to your home. It's just rude, and you are not being a good hostess. FYI, I feel that you are giving your child a serious disservice by vocalizing to your guest that they are out of bounds, while also telling your child to ignore another adult's edict. However you may see it, your child will be under the care of other authoritarians for the rest of their juvenile life, and if you teach your child that your rules are always right, you will have a child who has problems with teachers and other adults in authority. Take it from me, I had a free hand from my parents, and It cost me. At the very least it cost me a high school graduation. Yeah, I know that's a long way from where you are now, but what you teach your children now is what they will use as they get older. Get wise, teach your children boundaries. Anon

Disciplining my nieces & nephews

April 2006

I have 5 nieces and nephews aged between 1 and 9. We often visit together as a family, and though I love their energy, I am increasingly upset by the kids' disrespect for their grandparents' house and for others. I realize that they're bound to get rowdier than usual when they're away from home, all together, and when their parents are relaxing (instead of actively disciplining them.) I have so far limited my reprimands to dangerous activities (throwing things) and disrespectful or irresponsible ones (hitting, leaving the house a mess,) but I find myself choking back life lessons, especially to the older two who 'know better.'

As an aunt and not a parent, how much am I allowed to say? I am sensitive of overstepping the bounds by disciplining someone else's child, of not being the 'mean' aunt, and of avoiding the implication that my siblings are poor or inattentive parents (they're not.) I'd appreciate some sound advice. Loving Aunt


It really depends on your relationship with your niece's and nephew's parents. It is interesting that you didn't even mention your sibling at all in your post. Certainly the default setting for such a situation should be that aunts and uncles would have a part in the raising. ''It takes a village'' is a cliche for a reason. The only thing that would possibly make that uncomfortable is if there was tension between you and the kids mom or dad (things of the ''my whole life you've been telling me what to do, and now your bossing my kids around'' or ''you've always been judgemental'' variety.) And even then it shouldn't really stop you from helping guide the kids. I grew up with copious aunts and uncles, all of whom had no shame in breaking it down to us kids about this or that behavioral lesson. In many ways we took their advice more seriously than our own parent's simply because they were not our parents. I can certainly say that I am a better adult for their involvement.

It is important to remember that discipline is not something you choose based on how the kid will view you. Instead it is an act of love. You go out of your way to teach children what you know because you want them to have happy succesful lives and it means enough to you that you risk being temporarily unpopular. In all but the most extreme examples, your intervetion will be remembered by your neices and nephews as a sign that you cared for them and considered them one of your own.

if you're concerned about your relationship with their parents, you should talk to your brother or sister about it. But know that regardless of what happens there, those kids are your family and you should treat them as such.

one more thing: I don't know if you have kids, but I have to say, the best part about getting together with the family is that for once I get to take a break while someone else tells my kid to stop being a jerk. Maybe your niece's and nephew's parents feel the same way. anonymous


Hi, auntie! I was an aunt for 11 nieces and nephews before I became a mom late in life, and have a lot of sympathy for your dilemma. My siblings are wonderful parents, but they do have different ideas about what constitutes an enjoyable family time together! Here's what I ended up doing (and what I use with my own son when others feel the need to discipline him): I explained to my nieces and nephews that different people have different rules and that I would appreciate it if they helped me with my rules so that I could enjoy my time with them. When I didn't have kids, I would say, ''I don't live with kids all the time and you can help me have a better time if you take better care of grandma's stuff. I worry about it and it's not so much fun for me.'' When they were helping ME worry less by acting calmer or more respectfully, I always thanked them. One of my sisters was (is) occassionally annoyed with me, and annoyed me sometimes by being condescending about my limited capacity to deal with the chaos of kids. But mostly, everyone was willing to help me out. I remain (I think!) a favorite aunt who gets visits now from my older nieces and nephews who act with lovely respect and affection toward me and their grandparents. And privately, my parents thanked me later. Enjoy! -- Another aunt who's been there
I totally sympathize with your perspective. Nowadays, it is very perilous to correct other people's children. It is generally the parents who need to be corrected.

The way I would approach this is to let the parents and children know that they need to adhere to two simple rules whenever in your house or around you and your parents: 1) Be nice 2) Respect others' property

Then every misbehaviour can be tied back to one of these rules. A child should always use nice language, not hit or seem threatening, not exclude other children, etc. An occasional infraction should only warrant a warning, but regular infractions and the children and parents should be dismissed from the house and not invited back. End of story.

Good luck & take care, Tiffany


I think doing as you said you are already doing--intervening only when something dangerous or very, very disrespectful is going on, and leaving the rest up to their parents. Remember that this is a holiday for them, not just you, and that means relaxing what their everyday duties are that seem natural to you (i.e. not having to keep things perfectly tidy, being a bit lax on stricter manners, being a bit more rambunctious than usual, etc.). Especially the older two, but perhaps all of them, can feel very violated if someone who they know is not their disciplinarian is punishing or yelling at them. They know that it is not your job, and they will resent you for it. You only need to do something when the situation is dangerous, or permnent harm will be done. Otherwise, it is their parents' decision, not yours! Laurie
I think that in America we tend to be overly sensitive about weighing in when it isn't ''our'' children. My husband is from India and I see the exceptionally strong extended families there and part of that is taking responsibility for good and bad behavior in nieces and nephews. Of course this needs to be done with finesse so that it creates a positive situation not a negative one. For example not just barking out corrections and rules, but providing alternatives for that energy (hey kids lets go outside and play catch), praising positive behavior (that was so nice they way you helped your cousin draw that picture) and making expectations clear in advance. Your siblings should also step up too with their own kids if things are out of hand and help you identify what and how to address the situation. I think kids in the end know someone who helps them act appropriately is someone who really loves them. I say be actively involved! Auntie and Mom
It sounds like your nieces and nephews' behavior is bothering you more than it is your parents, whose house is being turned upside-down. Maybe your parents accept that when all the kids get together it is designated ''crazy time,'' and they are okay with that. Is it possible for you to cultivate the same attitude, and turn your attention to having fun with your siblings? Or if the truth is that the racket and rowdiness stresses you out after a while (I can certainly relate), maybe you could work with your sibs to organize some ''quiet time'' activities, like art projects or video-watching, or designate a ''kid zone'' away from the adult conversational area. Or maybe you could all go to a park, where the kids could work their ya-yas out...
I freely discipline other children when they are in my home or otherwise given over to my care. I'm the adult, it's my rules when I'm around. In another person's home, I try to watch that my own child conforms to my rules and be respectful of their rules too... in your case, if the grandparents want to be lenient in their home, let them... My folks let my child tear up paper into tiny bits in their home and then they cheerfully clean it up themselves; that's not allowed here. And I wasn't allowed such as a child, but grandparents rule differently than parents! auntie and parent

Dealing with our 5-year-old nephew's bad behavior

Nov 2005

How do we deal with our undisciplined 5-yr old nephew? The bad behavior is due to several factors including: parents who argue in front of him; no consistent discipline (if he receives any at all); a mother who is overworked & permissive, & an absentee father. Our nephew is extremely bright & does not have A.D.D. In the past, we have left the “discipline” up to his mom, but the boy’s behavior is getting worse. Only in kindergarten for 2 weeks, a note has been sent home for spitting & his parents have already been called in for a parent/teacher conference for behavior problems. His mom doesn’t properly use timeouts & routinely makes “threats” that are never carried out. Our nephew's bad behavior has been discussed amongst the family & close friends for 3 years now. We’re very concerned that our 2.5-yr old & 1-yr old kids will pick up his disrespectful behavior & nasty language. Also, we dread spending time with him even though we know we’re his best family influence. Holidays are not enjoyable & something we actually dread. We’d like to start disciplining him when he’s in OUR home – meaning we’d give him up to 3 timeouts before asking his mom to take him home. Having him leave our home & not play with his cousins seems to be the only punishment that he might respond to that WE can impose. What do people think of this idea? Caring But Desperate Auntie


When he's at your house, it is completely reasonable to tell him that he needs to follow your rules, and it is completely reasonable to tell him that if he can't do that, he will have to leave. It would be a good idea to tell his mother first, maybe over the phone while arranging the visit, so she also knows what to expect. Believe me, after you do it once, it is unlikely to have to happen again.
After reading your message, I felt sad for the mother of this little boy. You seem to be so sure of your own parenting techniques (even though your own children are both under three). You even describe yourselves as this child's ''best'' family influence, and yet the tone of your message suggests otherwise. You don't say exactly what this boy is doing, but having witnessed other intelligent boys (the most difficult to manipulate with handy techniques) and their reactions to family stress, especially an absent father, nothing would surprise me. If this child's behavior is truly outrageous it might be a mental health issue, which is more likely to be caused by trauma or some internal factor than his mother's refusal to use ''proper discipline''. If he really has issues like this, his ''over- worked'' mother is probably baring the brunt of it, especially if his dad is not around, and would probably benefit more from compassionate understanding than the smug tsk-tsking of family and ''friends''.

And to the mother in question, if you've been reading all of this, my heart goes out to you. There are people out there (therapists, teachers, other experienced parents) who will be much more understanding than your family has been. I suggest you seek them out. anonymous


Grandparents interfering with discipline

Feb 2004

We recently had an episode at my parent's house (3 hrs away in the Sierra foothills) where my father angrily snapped at our 6- yr old in our presence for climbing on the furniture. My dad, who has always had a short fuse, had already been arguing with my mother. My son, who already had been warned about not climbing on the furniture but ''forgot'', stood up on the living room chair. I was in the process of dealing with his behavior by reminding him that climbing on the furniture was unacceptable when my dad yelled over me at my 6-yr. My wife then asked my dad to leave disciplining our son to us and my father responded by implying that we couldn't control our kids and reminding us that in his house he has the right to ''discipline'' his grandkids in our presence.

Now, I don't have a problem with his not wanting my kids to climb on the furniture, but undercutting my authority with my son was more than I could handle and I layed into him telling him that we were all aware of his opinion and I wished he could keep it to himself. He stormed out never to be seen for the rest of the weekend (this happened on Saturday). The whole irony is, my son and daughter are the best behaved of all my parents' grandchildren. I told my mother over the phone that I will not be driving 3 hrs each way only to subject my kids to what I had to endure growing up.. that we would not be visiting until my father can control his temper. It's upsetting to all of us because my kids adore their grandparents and don't really understand why my dad disappeared as he did. How should I approach this going forward? Did I overreact to his overreaction? Rob


Rob - You need to rememebr, it is your father's home. I think his being rude to your wife was uncalled for, but as far as setting and maintaining the rules in the house, he definitley has the final say. If you are worried about you childrens' safety, then forego future visits to your folks house or have a long talk with your dad explaining that although you respect him as your father, you absolutley will not allow him to strike your children. But after your son repeatedly broke the rules in his house and you and your wife failed to address it, I think he was in his right to tell your son to stop, even if it was louder and more forcefully than you are your wife were willing to do. Good luck reconciling with your parents. Dave
Your situation sounds like a difficult one. It sounds to me like everyone reacted strongly, with nothing really getting worked out.

While you may disagree, here is my opinion. 1) I believe that the people whose house children are visiting have the right and responsibility to set the limits on children's behavior. It is best, of course, if these limits can be set firmly and clearly, without emotional outbursts. 2) It sounds to me like there is a *lot* of ''old business'' from your childhood that is surfacing in your family. It really needs to be resolved. If you don't think you can (or want to) work it out with your father, then work it out for yourself. 3) Until these things get worked out, I'd have you and your children spend time with their grandparents in a neutral location, with you staying in a nearby hotel and making only brief forays to their home with the children.

When my son was 6 (20 years ago now), I took him to my parent's home in Texas as part of the celebration of a younger sister's wedding. My son behaved in ways I had never, ever seen him behave before. For example, prior to the outdoor rehearsal dinner barbecue, he took several cans of pop out of the tin tubs where they were cooling and threw them against the trees as ''bombs,'' making a terrible mess. I realized later that my son was reacting to the negative energy that was in and around my parents and their home. It was as if the energy that was there ''exploded'' inside of him and he had to release it in some way. It helped me to see what I had been up against when I was growing up. The minute we left, he returned to his well-behaved self. My parents forever thought I was bringing up a monster! My best to you in this. I think taking a stand is better than not taking one, but having the situation where your children are deprived of grandparents because of the grandfather's immaturity and the fact that you have not worked out your own feelings about him, is sad. I hope you can work things out, soon. Ilene


I imagine that many of the people on this list had parents who were ''stricter'' disciplinarians than they are -- I know I did. When we go home I am always conscious that our way of dealing with our son's behavior may very well strike my parents as permissive, and I have to remind myself pretty constantly not to worry about this. At the same time, I try (as it seems you do) to respect the rules they have at their house. Your posting struck a chord with me because my Dad, like yours, was and is a yeller. I hated being yelled at and to this day I'll jump a foot if someone in the vicinity yells (I don't like it when my husband shouts at my child or, of course, at me). When we go home, I find myself trying to protect my son from my Dad's anger. It's usually not directed at my son, really, but just a function of how tired or irritated my father happens to feel. I have told my son that Grandpa has a bad temper, that he sometimes shouts, and that it's not a sign that he doesn't care about him. (I am assuming that there's no real abuse in the form of cursing or name-calling or denigrating in your father's words?) So far there has not been any incident that led my son to pull back from his grandfather. He has however observed my Dad's anger in action and is rather careful around him. You may have been overreacting be! cause of your own experience with your father's anger. Your son will not be seeing his grandfather often enough for your father's anger to impinge much on his world. It's not like your experience, where you had to walk on tiptoe (if you're like me and my siblings) most of the time. Your son, with your help, should be able to obey his grandfather and shrug off the difference in style.

While it was not good that your father interrupted you in the process of disciplining your child and then argued with you and stormed off, all of these things are further indicators of his bad temper, of which you are aware. Probably it is true that your father should be able to discipline your children in his house (within reasonable limits -- you actually agreed that your children shouldn't be playing on the furniture), and probably it is true that he should be able to correct them even in your presence, as long as you are on the same page (you agree on the rules and he is not abusive). Probably it is not good that you suggested that he keep his opinions to himself. He does have a right to express his opinions in his own home, and in fact you essentially agreed with him in this case.

It sounds to me as if the real issue is not the specific instance of having your authority undermined (in your Dad's mind, you undermined his), but your Dad's bad temper and the possible impact it will have on your kids (and the continued impact it has on you). There also may be (as there is in my case) some residual anger at your mother for not standing up for you when you were young. Thus your conversation with her (not your Dad) about how you will be withdrawing from the family until/unless things improve. Is that what you really want? It seems you will have to weigh whether a flawed relationship with grandparents will be better for your kids than no relationship at all. I think that as long as the grandparent is not abusive, a controlled kind of contact (short visits, with patience exercised) might be fine. For your kids. You may be the one who wants to stay out of the mix... another ch! ild of Old Yeller


Sounds like everyone was having a bad day. Your father shouldn't have yelled at the 6 yr old -- your wife shouldn't have criticized him in front of anyone else. He certainly shouldn't have said what he did in response.

For you to then yell at him for ''undercutting your authority'' and being rude to your wife, while you were a guest in his house... yes, that was out of line. In some sense, his leaving for the duration of the weekend was the most sensible thing anyone did that day.

The appropriate response would actually have been for you and your family to pack up and go after his outburst -- not for YOU to yell and HIM to go. Its his house. If you don't like it, get out. If you're lucky, voting with your feet will encourage him to control himself and maybe get some help with his temper.

That said, in your position I'm pretty sure I would have said nothing, stayed, and defiinitely kept the 6 year-old in another room for the rest of the wkd, so it didn't happen again -- but that's cuz I'm a chicken.... not because its the right thing to do. Heather


Well, my personal opinion is that your father has a problem handling anger and frustration appropriately, and is humiliated and offended when he is told by others that they'd appreciate him exercising better control. That said, you certainly have the right to refuse to expose your child to this. It's true, you will not be able to see the grandparents as often under these circumstances, but that's the choice you face. I don't think you overreacted, it's simply a choice you've made based upon how much this behavior has historically bothered you and how harmful it's been to you and, ! by extension, how harmful you think it will be for your son.

Since your father would only have ''the right'' to behave poorly in his own house, perhaps you could suggest outings on more neutral ground? Suggest taking your son on a fun outing somewhere else -- fruit picking, a train ride, a park, etc. -- somewhere in the middle. Or invite them to your house. You don't need to highlight why -- you can address it if another situation arises or if they ask. There's the possibility that one or both of them won't want to do this, but then they are making the choice not to see their grandchildren.

The way I see it, everyone involved just needs to closely examine their priorities here -- does your father's behavior bother you enough to avoid visiting him in his home, even if it means less contact with your parents? Are your parents willing to sacrifice time with their family for the sake of pride or shame? You need to do what's best for your children and for you, whether that means visiting the grandparents or not. In the end, you can't control what your parents do, but you can control your own choices. I suspect that simply continuing to visit your parents without anything changing will not work well for you in the long run. Good luck. been there


I don't think you overreacted, you reacted appropriately. I also don't think it's relevant which of the grandchildren's behavior is best/worst because the problem is your father's reaction and ways of dealing with misbehavior or any behavior that annoys him, which all children will have at one time or another. There is no way to force him to go to therapy or ''get it,but anon
No, you are not overreacting! While, yes it was wrong of your son to climb on furniture it is typical behavior of a six-year-old and you were aproching it just the right way. If your children's grandfather can't control himself then you shouldn't see him until he can! Lauren
There's one part of your weekend fiasco that I may be able to shed some light on, since I have discovered th! is in myself. When my mother is visiting at my house, or I have taken my kids over to her house, I become ultra-sensitized to their behavior and over react to little things they do. I've realized that this is not about their behavior, but rather that she sees me, her son as successful as a parent, and if they misbehave, that it's a reflection on me. Your husband may be feeling the same things, and doesn't realize it yet. Give him this insight...it might help. Tim in Berkeley
If I had to take a guess, your dad was probably less upset with your son and more upset about the fight he was having with his wife. He probably lashed out at you and your son because of that. I don't say that to excuse his behavior, but if you are taking the comments on your parenting personally, I'd suggest that they were probably made in the heat of the moment, and prob! ably did not reflect his real thoughts. It sounds like you have alot of feelings about the whole situation, that some of your own childhood experiences are influencing your reactions now, and a counselor might be able to help with that. You might decide that kind of behavior isn't acceptable to you, or you might find a way to respond that feels more comfortable to you. I doubt there is a right answer to how we handle our parents and their interactions with our children, but I have found it helpful to work on my own issues with how I was parented in mmaking decisions regarding how I deal with the present. Good luck. been there
Phew! I just re-read your post and the archives, and having just returned from Arizona visiting my in-laws, had to reply anyhow. In our case, when invoking ''our doctor says...'', my MIL says ''I would get ! another doctor in a heartbeat!'' And, my in-laws have suggested we ''smack'' our kids because they don't pay attention to our limit-setting. So, before this trip my husband and I agreed if there was any physical ''limit setting'' on their part that we would politely say ''we do not believe in that kind of discipline'' and pack up and leave. Married the Family Also
I think that parents make the rules whenever they are around. Now that's not to say that if you allow jumping on the couch at your house the children should be allowed to do it at the grandparents house even if it is against their rules. But when it comes to discpline, my rule of thumb for the last 7 years has been, if I'm there, I'm in charge (or my husband). If I'm not, then grandparents can alter the rules as long as SAFETY is considered. I have very few rules when my kids sleep at either of their grandparents. basically it comes down to don't go near the pool without an adult, and listen to Grandma and Grandpa. If my Dad wants to let my kids stay up late watching a movie and eat candy all night, I don't really care. I think the value of the Grandparent/grandchild relationship needs tobe valued in that way. ilana

Correcting other peoples' kids in a public space

April 2006

To a ''Dear Abby'' out there: I was just wondering how other parents handle ''toy fights'' at a public space -- an example: your child has just become fascinated by a toy or book at a park, library or other sort of public space. Your child starts playing with it, and suddenly another child comes to grab it as well -a pretty natural thing to happen-. Your child looks at you with worry, and ends up giving up the toy to the other child -- and the other parent does nothing about it.

I always feel really reluctant to intervene, other than by telling my child that it's ok to share. But I'd never tell the other child to yield.

Is the other parent being rude by not intervening at all and allowing his or her child take away the toy or book that my child had chosen first? It even seems to me at times like the parent is actually encouraging such behavior in the child, sending him or her the message that it's ok to be ''the bully''.

I don't feel comfortable asking the other parent to talk to his or her child, and I don't feel it's ok to correct anybody else's children. But at the same time, it seems terribly wrong that my child has to pay for other people's lack of courtesy and manners. Thanks for any help or opinions on how to handle this, anon


A by-product of participating in a co-op preschool is that I now have no reservations about intervening in such a situation. The trick is to work the feelings of both children as best you can, but still protect the child who is holding the toy first (it won't always be yours!). In the best of all possible worlds, you intervene before the grabbing happens - when you start to see the coveting looks from the other child, you can say something like, ''Would you like a turn with the train next? Jen's really good about sharing. If you tell her 'my turn next, please', I bet she'd give it to you when she's done''. Then I'd make sure my child's turn doesn't last indefinitely, which it generally won't once they realize they're getting to choose the handoff point. If the grabbing has already occurred, you can say ''Gosh, I don't think Jen was finished yet. Let's work this out so you can both have turns''. In most situations the parent/caregiver looks greatful, and most preschoolers respond well to intervention from outside their own family as long as it's done graciously.

As the parent of one fairly meek child (and one not) it was important for my daughter to hear that she (and I) could stick up for her if need be. Very quickly she learned to say ''I'm not finished yet''. She sought adult assistance only until she was ready to handle it on her own. a co-op fan


Alas, this is fairly common. Different parents have different ideas of what's fair on the playground. And some parents keep a closer eye on their kids. And some parents believe in less intervention with kids. When my son was younger and another child came up to him and took a toy or book that he was looking at, I would say hello to the child and ask them if they liked that book too? Then I would say that my son was looking at it first, and that it's not really okay with us to take things out of his hand, but that we would pass it on to the other child when my son was finished. If the other parent was watching, i'd explain the same thing to the parent. As my son grew older, I did less of the talking directly and encouraged my son to stand up for himself this way. The need to do this goes on, and I hope that these early lessons set a good foundation. fair player
As a parent I have a responsibility to model the correct behavior for my children.

And, I think it is incorrect behavior to allow someone to snatch something out of my hand. Defending and protecting your child from poor behavior is perfectly fine. It is perfectly correct to help your children to know what to say in difficult situations.

Responses I would recommend for preverbal (parent says it) or verbal children:

-- When Tom is finished playing with that toy, you may have a turn /// When I am done, you are next

-- It is Tom's turn with that toy right now, when he is finished you may have a turn /// It is my turn right now

-- For older children, you can also help them broker a sharing arrangement. I will play with it for XX minutes and then it will be your turn.

BTW... In my experience judging other parents will probably come back to bite you. It is rare to encounter a parent who is negligent, mean or unfair. It is much more common to encounter parents who are distracted (lack of sleep, a sibling who requires attention or perhaps an engrossing conversation with another parent.) Think of what you would like another parent to do and think when your back is turned and your child grabs the car! Almost all children are capable of both sharing and stealing.... Robin Good.... (There must be a joke here...)


Boy, without even thinking I usually say something like ''No, sweetie, we don't grab, we are going to share the X.'' I'm not mean, just firm.

If the thing belongs to the other kid and my kid gets upset, I might soften and ask the other kid to say please and tell my son to say thank you. But I definitely speak up. Who cares if the other parent's there and saying nothing. They might not have seen what happened, or maybe they jsut don't care. But I don't want to model that sort of bad behavior (the kid's and the parent's) for my son.

Same goes for hitting, by the way. Some 2ish kid poked my 18 mo in the eye the other day and looked surprised when I told him ''No! We don't poke people in the eye.'' I probably should have thrown in a ''It hurts them,'' too, but there's also no way I'm going to let my already pretty gentle son think it's okay to be pushed and poked around by other kids! Happy to speak up


Alas, this is fairly common. Different parents have different ideas of what's fair on the playground. And some parents keep a closer eye on their kids. And some parents believe in less intervention with kids. When my son was younger and another child came up to him and took a toy or book that he was looking at, I would say hello to the child and ask them if they liked that book too? I'd try not to make the other child feel bad, but would try to model good behavior. Then I would say that my son was looking at it first, and that it's not really okay with us to take things out of his hand, but that we would pass it on to the other child when my son was finished. If the other parent was watching, i'd explain the same thing to the parent. As my son grew older, I did less of the talking directly and encouraged my son to stand up for himself this way. The need to do this goes on, and I hope that these early lessons set a good foundation. fair player
I am distressed by these same situations. When another child wants the toy my daughter has (in a social, toy sharing situation) I have always felt it is my responsibilty to teach my daughter to share with the other child. Now that she is 3, I realize how passive and timid she is of other children. Other children continue to take toys out of her hands, or cut infront of her at the slide. Her face goes sad when this happens and she shyly backs away, either complaining to me or telling me she doesn't want to play. And I also realize that while some parents think that taking toys from eachother is typical behavior, not all children do it. It is a behavior that can be expected of young toddlers, but I feel that they should be edcuated about respect and sharing when it occurs. My new approach to help my daughter be more assertive AND respectful of others is to teach her to say something like, ''I am still playing with this, can you find another toy please.'' And then I tell her that she can play with the object of desire a while longer, but then should give someone else a turn. Ideally, the other parent would engage in the situation at that point and help their child find another toy. But, that does not often happen. I only wish that I had taught my daughter from an earlier age to advocate for herself. I think I was afraid she would become one of the ''bullies.'' I too, would feel uncomfortable correcting someone else's chid. But I have to wonder, by letting children take toys from her when she was younger, did I model social timidness? Maybe, maybe not. I will say that I am very proud of my daughter because she is tolerant and respectful of her peers. And I am sure her assertiveness will continue to blossom. proud mama
When the children were really little, I would somewhat stick up for my child by firmly telling the other child, ''Suzie isn't finished with it yet. You can have the next turn.'' while putting my hand firmly on the toy until they let go. Then tell my child, ''You can play with it for two more minutes, then this little girl would like a turn. Remember, this toy is for everyone to play with.'' I think it's important for my child to know she didn't do anything wrong and I support her and at the same time let the other child know that they will get a turn and when.

Of course, my child may not be done in two minutes, but I make sure that the other child gets it. I ''help'' my child by counting down the time which also helps the other one wait. I've never had a problem with other parents. In fact, most other parents appreciate it when another parent gently and kindly helps out in a playground altercation. I know I do. It's hard to be 100% aware of what your child is doing at all times (especially when you have more than one.) I think it's also great when another parent reinforces cooperative behavior. As long as the other parent isn't yelling at my child or scaring them, but being kind and firm. Diana


I wanted to answer your post because I identified myself in what you were saying when my first child was a toddler. I have always been taught to have manners, extend courtesies, be polite, share, etc. When my child was a toddler and we were out in public at the park or library we found ourselves in the situation that you are experiencing. My child would be enjoying something to have it taken away by another child..be it a plastic shovel, book, etc. For more than a year I never said anything to the other child or parent and mine would often be upset. Many times we would have to leave and my line would be ''it's o.k., we're sharing.'' Well, grabbing something away from your child is not sharing. It took me a second child and hundreds of outings before I realized my mistake here. Do not think that other parents are going to correct this behavior.

They may or may not see their child grabbing an item away. And it doesn't matter if they do. It is your duty as a mother to stand up for your toddler by saying firmly but very sweetly when another child starts to grab,'Oh, no no my friend, my little boy/girl is looking at that right now. You can look at it when we are done. See, here is another (book, shovel...etc. for you right now). My child was so delighted when I learned to do this with confidence and it really strengthened our bond and enjoyment of our outings. I still think that manners count, but I made the mistake of valuing being polite to strangers at the expense of my son's security. a miss manners who cheerfully wards off grabbers


If other parents are not disciplining their own kids, you should not hesitate to step in and say something yourself. Ask the child who is misbehaving his/her name, and talk to the child. Introduce yourself and the children to each other. Explain what the problem is and suggest a solution or compromise. This toy is your child's and he was playing nicely with it and it is not nice to take it away. Suggest to the other child that he try asking for the toy instead of taking. Don't hesitate to gently take away your child's toy, talking through what you are doing helps. Usually the other parent will begin to participate once you start talking to their child. anon
If someone was grabbing from my child and the parent was for some reason not intervening, I think I would say something to the child like, ''I think (your child's name) was not quite done with that (toy name). Would you like a turn when she's done?'' and hope that helps. I wouldn't grab it back or launch into a speech, but wouldn't just watch either. If it became a real problem for your kid, I think it would be appropriate to politely ask the other parent for some support. Good Luck!
I also don't correct other people's children unless they are very close friends/family or the kids are really out of hand. I've been in the same situation you described with my son and I'm trying to teach him not to grab, I know they take ques from other kids so I say something like, ''it wasn't very nice of him to grab that toy'' (if he seems upset). I also make sure to tell him how nice it is of him to take turns and that he can have another turn when that child is done then I try to distract him with another toy. baby steps
There are some important factors that you didn't mention that enter into my thoughts. If the children that you are talking about are under three then they are not being rude or being bullies. They are unaware that there is any ownership. Also, if your child does not protest in any way other than a look that you recognize the other parent probably is not aware that your child was not done with the book/toy, etc. My friend has a great way to deal with those situations. When a child takes something away that her child is not done with she gently takes it back and lets the other child know that her child was not done and in five minutes (or whatever length of time) your child will share. That conveys the message that you can stick up for yourself and share.

As a parent of three I have to tell you that all children take toys away from others. The way to tell that something is worth having is to see it in someone else's hands. If one of my children took something from your child I would not mind if you said something to my child. I am trying to teach my children about sharing, but don't always catch them when they are not sharing.

As a rule I try to give other parents the benefit of the doubt and treat their children they way I want them to treat my children. Joan


We don't have many rules and I generally stay out of the kids interacting unless they're hurting each other, but we do have a no grabbing rule. And if my son grabbed something from someone, I would have no problems with someone else telling him not to, even if it wasn't our rule. I feel our kids and ourselves need to learn to respect other peoples ways and wishes even if we don't agree with them. If it bothers you, it bothers you and I'd like to know it, even if I don't like it or agree.

I don't believe the other parent is being rude at all if they don't intervene under that particular circumstance. I would rather see the kids work it out. If things do get out of hand, I would intervene and talk to the children, but I wouldn't correct or expect the parent to handle it if it didn't bother them.

About worrying your child is having to pay for other people's lack of courtesy and manners. I look at it as the sooner and more they are exposed to that, the more they will learn how to deal with it in their own way. I don't feel sorry for my son, I look forward to him figuring out how to deal with it and be ok with it, because it's going to happen. my 2 cents


I don't think other toddlers are being a bully when they take a toy from another child. They simply want the toy, so they take it. If a child took a toy from my kid, and my kid was okay with it, I'd let it slide. If not, might say to them, ''He's (my child) is still using that. Let's take turns. When he's (my child) done, you'll get a turn, too.'' Then they can practice taking turns with toys. It's possible that my child will end his turn quickly and pass it on to the other kid to try out the taking turns thing.

I think many adults get hung up on children's behavior because we see it with all of our adult baggage. Very young children (even some adults!) have a hard time understanding the concept of sharing. I try to give the benefit of the doubt and offer to facilitate generosity and graciousness, instead of getting all defensive and angry. Chances are the instigator had no negative feelings towards anyone and was just showing normal toddler interst in the toy. laurel


i felt the same way when my dauhtgher started hanging out at playgrounds. she is a pretty mellow kid and would always be the one giving up the toy that she was playing with when a stronger kid would grab it out of her hands. eventually, after a few months of this, i decided that it wasn't fair and that i had to do something. i did not talk to the mother, who obviously had a much different approach to discipline than me -so why bother-, but i did explain to the other kid about sharing and taking turn. i got down to the kid's eye level to talk to him/her.that generally gets the other mom's attention and if she overhears my comment, maybe -hopefully- she will learn from it and be more 'on top' of her kid next time she takes him/her to the playgroung. it has never caused a scene and the other kid has generally been cooperative. also, i felt like my daughter could feel that i was standing up for her and i felt real good about it. once you do it a couple of times, it becomes really easy. good luck. anon
You might try telling your own child ''It's OK to keep the toy and say you don't want to share right now.'' That MAY prompt the other mama to point a different toy out to her child and say, ''it's not your turn, that child is playing with that toy, here have this one.'' Of course that mama might also think you're now the rude one sticking up for your own child :) It's a delicate balance, teaching our kids to stand up for themselves and to give/share. learning to teach too
Initially I just used such incidents as an opportunity to encourage my daughter (2 1/2 y/o) to share, but I soon realized that she was being a doormat and needed to learn to stand up for herself a bit. Now I sweetly tell the other child that it's my daughter's turn right now, and that as soon as she's finished playing then other child can have a turn. And I tell my daughter that it's OK to keep playing with the object because it's her turn, but that when she's finished she should give it to the other child. I figure any parent who has a problem with that is kind of loopy -- it's never happened yet. When parents have multiple kids with them they can't hover over every one of them. And if they're just ignoring their child's misbehavior, well, it takes a village. If without my knowledge my daughter were acting up, I would appreciate her being gently reminded of good behavior from an adult who saw what happened. Kate
Three things that I think you need to mindful of when correcting your child or other people's children are: 1) Your child and other children are not born with a set of ''manners.'' 2) Your child is looking to you as to what to do in this situation. 3) What do want to teach your child?

What I have done in the past is to tell the other child that he or she can have a turn after your child is done. (Depending on the age) I have also invited the child to play together. Or, I invited the child in my care to play with something different. I have almost always intervened with some type of resolution that I felt was fair. If the parent or caregiver came over I would explain what was going on.

We might end up in an interesting conversation, they might take the child away or do whatever. Good luck! Nanny in the know


If my child had a toy first, really wanted to continue to play with it, didn't have the language skills to speak up for him/herself and I felt like getting involved, I'd tell the other child ''Right now it's (my child's name)'s turn but your turn can be next.'' Then I'd make sure to get the toy to the other child when my kid lost interest in it. On the other hand when my daughter was a toddler, she used to give up toys, turns, whatever to the point that I worried that she was a wimp and would never stick up for herself. Then she grew up a bit and turned into an assertive kid who only deferred to others if she felt like it. Lynn
Hi, I think that it is the other child's parent that should intervene in these cases, but they don't always see or may be too occupied. In which case, I do what the teachers at my childrens' preschool do and say ''Joe, tell him that you had that book and you want it back.'' Their teachers work on the kids that let their classmates take from them or ''bully'' them just as much as the taker/bully b/c it's important that your child learns to standup for herself.

Maybe if you approach it this way, the other parent will hear you and help out, and not be offended since it is more like you're teaching your kid how to act in this situation instead of theirs. By the way, my kids' teachers would say to the taker/bully ''Lisa, ask Joe if you can have it when he's done.'' A few times I have said to another child ''Joe is still looking at that, but he would be glad to tell you when he's done with it'' but I think this isn't always the best thing to do for my kid. mom of 2


I always correct other people's children if the parent (or nanny) doesn't intervene first. If a child tries to grab or take away a toy from my child, I approach the other child and tell him/her something like ''my son was playing with this toy. You may have it when he is done with it. Please give the toy back to my son.'' I say it with a pleasant but firm tone of voice and I may repeat this several times and if the child doesn't give the toy back, I try to gently take it saying ''my son was playing with that and it's not nice to take toys away from others without asking for it first.'' If the child won't reliquish the toy, I won't force it from him as I don't want to teach him (or my child) that you can take things from people by force. I then tell the child that that wasn't nice and he should give the toy back, and then I let it go. I tell my child that I'm sorry the other kid took his toy (within ear shot of the other kid) and I help my child find something else to play with. Never feel bad about intervening with other kids. How else will they learn? And your child too? By intervening, you teach your child to be assertive and to not let people walk all over him, without being aggressive or being a bully. You can show your child that it is fair to ask the other kid for his toy back, but not to be too forceful about it and to drop a situation if it becomes too difficult or physical. The parent or nanny of the other kid should intervene and give back a toy that was taken from your kid, but sometimes they are tired, are unaware of what happened, or are rude and don't care, so you must intervene. Andi
When I run into situations like these, I try to help both kids take turns. I think it is just fine to help other people's kids whose parents/caregivers are not right there maneuver through these types of encounters. If my son had something & another child came over & grabbed it from him, I would tell the other child that my son was playing with that & that when he is finished he (other kid) can have a turn. If the kid put up a big stink & the caregiver still neglected to come over to help, I guess I would probably tell the kid that the toy/book is for everyone to look at/play with & maybe we could all do it together. If that still didn't work, I would probably just remove my child & myself from the area & leave it to the caregiver to deal with. It rarely, if ever, gets to that point. Most times, the kid either loses interest or my son will.

I don't really think there is anything wrong with helping another kid through these things. Sometimes the caregiver didn't see the encounter & doesn't realize the issue is as big as you see it. Either way, it really does take a village & as long as we are respectful of each kid in the situation, there shouldn't be a problem. Also, your child needs to learn how to deal with those situations too. As s/he gets older, you won't always be around to protect him, so by modeling behavior as to how to handle these types of encounters you are showing him how to try to work through it. One more thing, I don't really think it's fair to label a kid a bully for wanting the same toy as your kid. I don't know the details, but please try to remember that that behavior is, as you stated, pretty normal for small children. Working for a better community for all of our children


if my child was playing with a toy first and another grabs it, i generally (but not always) use my ''words'' and say, ''my little one was playing with that first, please give it back.'' with time the grabbers usually do hand the toy over. i wouldn't ask for the toy back if it belonged to the child who took it. but i might add, ''please don't grab toys, please ask for them first'', then give the toy back to the child. such verbalizations help my child understand how things should be done in a perfect world, although they may not be happening as i would like them to happen. and be nice. we just all need to try to get along! asking a parent to intervene shouldn't be necessary, you can handle the children around your children, i'd think. just be nice and help them understand how to be good friends to one another in the park. Best to you!
I've had the same issues with my 16.5 month old, though he is often the one doing the taking. I always try to intervene with him, sometimes even picking him up and moving him to a different, but similar toy. I've also experienced another mom ''discipling'' my child when he was trying to take their child's toy (I was distracted talking to another mom). And while at first I felt offended, in the end I was ok that she stepped in (the child was older and bigger and could have hurt my son had a major conflict occurred). When I noticed what was happening I came over, and the mom was saying to my son that it was her daughter's turn, and after he was finished he could have his turn. He looked at me, and tried to take the toy again, so I re-directed him both physically and verbally ''let's go play with this truck over here, when she's finished with that truck we can have our turn'' etc. In the end, the girl brought the toy over to him when she was finished, and he played with it a bit, then took it back to her (very cute). I have also intervened when a child was trying to take a toy my son was using, with no negative responses from the parent, by offering another toy that was similar. I think most parents are understanding, I know at the park i try to give my son space to play and interact with the other children without being overbearing and sometimes I miss the interaction. I don't have any sage words of wisdom, I play it by ear, and sometimes I let the other kids win. My son just moves on to something else with relative ease, and a little re-direction. trying to navigate parental manners in public spaces too
I feel strongly that it's wrong to let a kid treat another badly. Not everyone sees it my way. My job is to guide my kid through the world with self-respect & a sense of fairness. If a kid grabs something mine is playing with, I want mine to know it's ok to object. If my kid grabs something from another, I tell her it's not okay, & I may remove her, tantrum or not. I expect other parents to do the same, but they may not.

If the other parent doesn't pay attention or doesn't care & my kid doesn't know how to respond, I help her. I tell the kid, I'm sorry, she was playing with it, you can have it when she's done. Then I ask mine to give it to the other kid when she's done. My child needs to know that I value her enough to help her negotiate w/ people who may not have the social skills we'd prefer, & she knows I'll protect her if needed. If a kid whacks my kid, I have NO problem telling the kid it's not okay. If the other parent isn't there or won't correct the kid, I will. No guilt. I try to do what seems best, but I'm not perfect. We were playing in a pool, &I nicely asked a bigger kid several times not to jump on top of us. I didn't see a parent. He got out of the pool, had a hacking cough & runny nose, & wiped his mouth & nose along 4ft of hand railing (really). So gross I almost threw up. I asked him nicely if he could use a tissue instead. I got out of the pool to clean it. Suddenly Mom appears & yells at me, tells me to come to her first. Maybe I should have, but I was so appalled & didn't even know who she was. Am I obligated to track down an uninvolved parent? I spoke to a parent nicely when her teenager splattered paint all over me and my kid, & was scolded for that too! I can't count on other people's behavior, so I take care of myself &establish firm boundaries. I want my kid to do this too. We teach our kids what we feel is important, & take the consequences. You can't avoid all confrontations. You may offend or be offended. So what if someone thinks I'm ridiculous?


Disciplining the neighbor's child

July 2005

Is is ever appropriate to teach some discipline to a neighbor's child? Our neighbor's child sits on our fence and blows her whistle to gain our son's attention. He then runs into the backyard to talk to her. She is 6 and he is 4. This is noisy and annoying. What should I do? Her parents have said nothing. I make gentle remarks like, ''Please be careful...Don't fall from the fence...Wow what a loud toy..'' Should I be more firm and say we need privacy and quiet? Or should I let kids be kids?? What do I teach my own son about our rules versus their rules? We have told him that is is not good manners to shout over the fence... Ava


I think kids shouting to each other over the fence is one of the most practiced communication methods that exists. I would honestly be happy to hear such an exchange, or rather, a beckoning from the neighbor child to mine. I think the focus would be on explaining to your child and the other child that while the invitations are appreciated, it is not always the right time to play, and momma has to be asked first, etc. The whistle will probably get outgrown. In the meantime, relish in the fact your child has a friend who wants to play with him all the time. anita
Are your kids good friends? If they are, and you're ok with them playing together then maybe you can foster their relationship. How great would be it be to have a good friend living right next door! Try this out - a version of the ''telephones'' we had growing up - give them walkie-talkies.

Explain the rules: use during play time, not meal times, homework time, and they are turned off at bed time. this way you have a little more control too, i.e. you can tell your son that he can't go out to play just yet because he has X, Y, or Z to do, you can talk to your neighbor's kid and tell her that right now is not a good time, etc., and you won't have a little kid sitting on top of your fence whistling (that could also be a liability issue since you are aware of the problem). Anyway, good luck with dealing with the problem without totally alienating your neighbors. anon


If you know what you consider to be appropriate behavior for your child, in your yard (or on your fence) I would urge you to be ''old fashioned'' and extend your expectations to the visiting child. Dropping hints and wishing for better behavior is a disservice to everyone involved. When we were kids it was easier, because there was a more uniform concept of what acceptable behavior was. Where I grew up any good parent could reinforce reasonable behavior for any good kid.

If you're worried about offending the neighbors by expecting reasonable behavior from their child.... initiate a discussion with the parents in which you agree to rules for each house that will be respected by both kids (noise, food, supervision, etc). If you're lucky you'll have the same family next door ten years from now, and have developed a positive relationship.

If you're not willing to have the discussion, or you think the neighbor's rules would be out of line, or hazardous to your child... well, that's a different, more serious problem. Heather


Yes, you should of course discipline your neighbors child when he is on your property and/or interacting with you or your child. I have always counted on friends and neighbors to help me teach my children how to respect others. And I respect their right to have rules that are different than ours.

When I first moved to Berkeley, the girl next door struck up a friendship with my daughter. The girl was a few years older, but had very poor behavior. After letting it drive me nuts for awhile, I decided that she wasn't going away and that I would have to discipline her in some basics. I explained the rules that we had ''at our house,'' and that she would have to abide by when she was with us. I kept a close eye on her (I had to anyway, since she could come up with the most amazing mischeif that my kids would never think of..) When she broke a rule, I walked her home immediately. This happend quite often at first, but I put a lot of energy into it and soon my daughter had a normally-behaved playmate. It was work, but worth it in that it brought a sense of normal control back to our environment when she was over. And I'm sure it did her good.

One time her oblivious parents commented to me, ''She is so well behaved at your house!'' anne


It sounds like you're really sensitive to what the neighbors might think about the whistling, but barring early morning or late night, I wouldn't think anyone would mind.

My son recently found out that our katty corner neighbor has a son of the same age and they went through a period when neighbor would whistle for our son. My son would yell or blow a whistle (he can't whistle) and it went on that way for about a week. Then they both moved on to other activities.

As someone who always dreamt of having a friend in the neighborhood, I thought it was great, but just so you know, no one complained or seemed to care. Don't forget, during the day, many of the neighbors are at work.

Now if it were honking, that would be another matter.... anon


I would speak with the child's parents. Tell them that you are concerned for the safety of both kids and that you find the whistle blowing very loud. Once you get the girl's parents to agree that her behavior is not ok, and they let her know this, then I think it's appropriate to reinforce the agreed upon rule by telling her to get off the fence. You also might suggest that the kids be given opportunities from time to time to get together on one side of the fence or the other. Burr
A nice rule of thumb is by examining who the behavior impacts and whose space is it in?

You have every right to erect boundaries for your space. A shared fence is partially yours, and if she is calling into YOUR backyard, you ahve every right to tell her to stop. Also address it with her parents, outta respect for them. Just let them know it's not okay with you that she yells into your yard and sits at the top, with the potential to fall onto your property. It's pretty cut and dry in this case. You don't have to put up with it.

If you were having lunch at their house, however, and she was yelling in the backyard, or climbing too high on things they own (but not climbing on YOU), it really is their choice what she's allowed to do. Best of luck! echinaceapepperfoot


Since the girl is only 6 years old, you should speak with the parents. Her parents might think you are okay with it because your son responds to the whistle. - anon

Other parent disciplining my kid

August 2003

I have a friend who has a child the same age as mine, and our kids play together alot. It's come to my attention that this other parent feels free to discipline my child while I'm standing right there, and NOT in a way I'm confortable with (a 3rd party asked if I was bothered by this). For example, my child ate some fruit and hasn't had his face washed, so this parent told my child in an abrupt way he couldn't play until his face was wiped clean. I dont' think it's place to make that call when I'm right there. Besides, I was getting a wipe out at the time to wipe his face... Or, my child might try to take a toy away from her child (I'm of the mindset that the kids can figure it out for themselves, as long as they seem like they want to-- especially since they're only 2 yrs old), so she'll jump in, grab it from my kid, and them reprimand him rather harshly. Her child does the same thing 50% of the time, and my approach in the past has been to point out that the other kid was using it first, they can take turns, and ''oh-- isn't that a nice toy over there that you can play with...''

What can I do about this? It's getting to be more and more frequent, and I don't want to end this friendship. I just don't want her disciplining my son while I'm right there. easy-going mama (trying to be!)


Your friend sounds like an insecure parent and it's causing her to compete with every other parent in the room. She also sounds like a bit of a bully.

Sadly, I don't think there's much you can do about this unless some of the other moms have noticed and would be willing to say something to her as well. I think most people who exhibit this kind of behavior are usually convinced that it's everyone else's kid whose the problem--not theirs.

I would think she'll react defensively if you speak with her directly about it but you could try. She'll probably tell you she's just trying to help, the implication being that you really need help because you aren't as competent as she is.

You could also try waiting until it comes up again and say something like, ''Don't worry, I've got this one'' but it might be hard find an opportunity for this. If it really drives you crazy, you may have to limit your interactions with her. Just be thankful she isn't a family member so you aren't stuck with forever.

Best of luck! Sharon


It sounds as if you and your friend have some fundamental differences in child rearing. Your friend probably doesn't think you jump in/guide enough and as it is most likely her philosophy she will do so not only to guide but also to protect her child. I was in the same position with a friend and we just ended up seeing each other without our children - dinner, movies, walks. This has preserved our friendship which we both value. Incidently, on the note of guiding vs letting them sort it out, I think it is important to show children guidance in the social graces. If you let them ''sort it out'' typically the more assertive/aggressive child will always win and both children learn less than positive messsages from that scenario. Think of going to another country - you have to be told the social customs/ policies, this not something you can just sort out for yourself without guidance. Left to yourself you make all sorts of faux pas unknowingly. My friends son was left to sort it out himself and now at 6 yrs old is aggressive, bossy, pocessive and generally anti social. This child boy is never asked for play dates and is shunned in the play ground because he just doesn't know how to act in a socially acceptable manner. He is confused, angry and sad. He is also now in a (expensive) social group learning how to act in the defined social code of this culture! good luck
Speaking to the toy-grabbing issue only, here's the perspective of a mom who has recently decided to cross-discipline in this area. You wrote that kids can ''figure it out for themselves^ especially since they're only 2.'' I believe that we can model good behavior for our toddlers, and that they are too young to ''figure it out for themselves.''

Occasionally, another child will grab a toy from my almost-2 year old. And she too, will occasionally calmly remove a toy from another child's hands. I have decided that when I see my daughter get that toy envy glint in her eye, I say ''No grabbing'', talk about turns, and try to distract her. This works really well with my little girl. Until recently, I was silent when another kid grabbed from my daughter, b/c I'd hope that the other mom would be vigilant like you are. Unfortunately, I was disappointed repeatedly. The other mom was either not there, not paying attention, or said nothing.

I also noticed that after another child grabbed from my child, later in the day, my daughter would grab from someone else. So now, when someone grabs from my girl, I say the same thing to the other child that I say to my daughter- ''no grabbing.'' Does it stop the other kid? No. But more importantly, my daughter is getting consistent messages from me.

If my friends didn't like my approach, I'd want to know. One would hope we could come up with some kind of compromise. Good luck


I'm not sure if my situation is the same as yours but here goes: There are about a dozen kids in our complex and we share a common play area. One of the kids does not play well with others. She crashes, snatches, and throws toys; hits, pushes and yells at the other kids. Eventually another kid will retaliate or will be reduced to tears. The girl's mother, other mothers, and teenage siblings are either right there with the little ones or are within earshot. I have tried to, not discipline, but redirect the girl's behavior many times. For example, after asking her nicely five times to return another kid's toy when the kid is having no luck getting it back himself, she'll slam the toy to the ground. And my shock at this response has caused me to be abrupt, not to ''discipline'' her but to protect the dynamics of the other kids' play and well as protect their property. The mother gets very upset if anyone, child or parent, says anything to or about the daughter. She seems to be convinced that everyone is ''out to get'' her daughter and explains her behavior by saying ''she is only 4.'' Well, the other kids (ages 2-8) play well together and do not purposely damage property on a regular basis. Sorry for being long-winded, and not really giving advice, but sometimes parents do get abrupt with other people's kids when the other parent is right there. LC
You signed your question with ''easy going mama (or trying to be)'', but I hope you don't confuse being easy going with avoiding conflict! I would encourage you to talk to your friend directly about this so you can find a way to work it out. You're unhappy with this situation, and from what you describe of her tone, I would guess that she is unhappy, too. Instead of waiting for the next time this happens, talk about it BEFORE it happens. Share with her you feelings (I'm guessing you might be feeling annoyed and confused, and perhaps protective?), and share with her what you need (I'm guessing respect and consideration for both children, gentleness and kindness toward both, and some understaning of what's going on for your friend?). Then ask her if she'd be willing to tell you what's going on for her. Now you might want to be ready to hear stuff that might be hard to hear.... Your friend MIGHT have some judgments - of you or your child. She might not, but when you open a conversation about parenting, there's always that possibility. If you can try to hear your friend's feelings and needs underneath whatever she tells you, it's more likely that you'll be able to connect with her. I would guess that she might feel concerned and want to protect her child? Perhaps she feels irritated because she wants more confidence that each parent is paying attention to and taking care of their children's needs? (You might be doing just that, but it might not be in the timeframe or in the way that are comfortable for your friend.) Getting clear on this can be an opportunity to deepen your friendship and trust, by looking at both your needs and trying to find ways to support one another without trying to change each other (not a likely proposition anyway).

On the grabbing issue specifically, you might want to check out the article I wrote about this subject for Neighborhood Parents Network. It's posted on the website of the Center for Nonviolent Communication, at www.cnvc.org, in the parenting resources page. I'm not sure it will fit your parenting style, but it just might help :-). Inbal


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