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Disciplining Other People's Kids

Your second grader is ecstatic as you pick him and his best buddy up after school. At dinner, you notice his friend's mouth is a little fresh, but you don't say anything -- you don't want to spoil their fun. Then you hear him say to your son's little sister; "What a jerk," because she won't give up her seat at the computer fast enough for his needs. Your son is a little startled, as are you. What to do? He's not your kid.

Disciplining one's own children is hard enough, but taking on other people's kids is like running through a thorny thicket in shorts. It varies in complexity, depending on the nature of your relationship with the child's parents, not to mention the age of the child.

Suggestions

Here are some protocols I'd suggest regarding disciplining other's kids:

  • When it comes to safety (seatbelts, bike helmets, weapon play, traffic vigilance, etc.), your authority as a non-parent is highest. You would expect no less of the parent of any child your kids would visit, ride, or sleep over with. Being authoritarian is acceptable at this level.
  • Behavioral aggression, especially physical, that the kids can't manage themselves (give them a chance -- most can with their friends and that IS the long-term goal) involves the next level of authority. Distract by suggesting other activities unless you feel there must be justice (this should be a last resort since you'll be wrong 50 percent of the time).
  • Behavioral provocations, not physical, usually do not grant you the right to use your authority. Again, give them a chance to manage it (swearing, rudeness, cruel teasing, etc.), and if they can't, a brief sit-down with discussion about hurt feelings and invited solutions can assist them in problem-solving.
If things get out of hand physically during a play date, sleep-over, or other joint activity, follow the same physical separation criteria you would apply to your own kids. But do this with as much cool as you can muster. Ask the offending visitor what would happen to him at his house if this scene had occurred there. If you feel you still need some latitude, offer to call his home to seek advice, or if all else fails, terminate the visit. Kids who provoke this much trouble are probably feeling extremely uncomfortable for whatever reason and need to get home. You will do them and yourself a great favor.

Of course, most of the time, kids play wonderfully together and you don't have to raise a finger or voice. But when you do, your kids will watch and learn volumes about your caring for them and their friends.

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