Disciplining Someone Else's Kid Is Never a Good Idea

sandboxPop quiz! Let's say your toddler is playing happily in the sandbox at your local playground with other generally well-behaved children when another kid comes along. That kid, whose parent or caretaker is nowhere in sight, starts flinging sand, grabbing toys, and generally disrupting everyone else's fun.

What do you do?


Do you:

A. Start yelling, "Hey, whose insane kid is this?" at the top of your lungs?
B. Grab the sand toys out of the misbehaving kid's hand and dramatically chuck them across the playground?
C. Gently tell the kid, as you might your own child, that throwing sand isn't allowed in the sandbox, that it could hurt other children, and that grabbing toys isn't good sharing?
D. Remove your own kid from the sandbox and go find a free swing on the swing-set instead?

A lot of people would probably answer C.

It takes a village to raise a child, some (including, recently, Huffington Post blogger JD Roberto) would argue. If that child's parent is falling down on the manners-teaching job, we may as well step in and pick up the slack -- if only for our own children's safety.

I salute the bravery of those interventionist parents, but somewhere along the line during my almost nine years of parenting, I came to the conclusion that it's pretty much never a good idea to reprimand someone else's kid.

While kids themselves sometimes respond well to firm guidance from other parents, those kids' parents almost never do. Stepping in to discipline or chide can lead to bad scenes and bad feelings on everyone's part. And who needs that in the middle of an outing that's supposed to be spent having fun with your kid?

(Playdates where the other parent is not around are a different thing -- in part because of the clear understanding that you are in charge of the other parent's kid -- but even then it's dicey and a careful approach is advisable.)

So if not C, what's my answer to that pop quiz?

D, all the way. I would totally whisk my child out of a situation I saw as dangerous (either physically or emotionally). Yes, even at the cost of my kid's own sandbox fun. The sandbox is public; you never know who you're going to get in there, and you can't change other people's behavior nearly as easily as you can change your own circumstances and limit your exposure. It's best to protect yourself, and try to avoid people who aren't acting nicely. I don't think that's a bad message for a kid to learn. (At the very least it will set them on a nice safe course for when they ride the subway.)

Is avoidance a cowardly choice? What about the other kids in the sandbox? Well, presumably their parents can make the same decision and move their kids along to another activity. (They might want to do it swiftly: It can get crowded on those swings.)

And if that misbehaving kid soon finds himself all alone in the sandbox, with no one to grab toys from or fling sand at, well, pretty soon he's likely to grow bored and move on himself. With or without a stern (or gentle) word from you, he'll learn that his actions have consequences soon enough.

Do you think it's better to avoid or reprimand other people's children when they misbehave?


Image via naama/Flickr

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