Disciplining Other People’s Children
By Jo Frost (The Nanny)
With the summer holidays here and with lots of nannies, grandparents and parents taking time off of work to schedule outings and playdates with their kids and friends, the one question I’ve been asked a lot over the last week is about disciplining other people’s children. So I thought why not talk about it? The reality is…whether we want to admit it or not we have all sat in that restaurant, in that park, in that cinema, in that music group and thought to ourselves “My word, I have certainly been through what that parent is going through right now. Why are they not actually doing anything about it?! Why are they actually not seizing this opportunity as a learning curve so their child can have fun, but respect others and the environment they are in?” This conversation is not about pointing fingers and shouting out YOU, this is me just being very frank about what’s really being spoken about amongst parents…and those without kids, too.
There will always be continual dialogue surrounding ‘to discipline or not to discipline…that is the question.’ And, there are many different rules, some that are unwritten and some that are shared knowingly within the family dynamic. The reality is, nobody wants to offend anybody’s child, but at the same time it is important as adults to be responsible, so we shouldn’t ignore it either. The right response to handling discipline is based on the company, circumstances, communication, and boundaries to be discussed with the adults regarding their children, so one may agree on what those consequences look like. Most parents want to know if their children have misbehaved (for example, at a play date), but may have told the parent that they will handle these circumstances and consequential matters once they are home. That doesn’t necessarily mean it stops the behavior of a child in the moment of an altercation. I always advise the adults in this situation to use my S. O. S. technique:
Step back, Observe, Step in.
Stepping back clearly allows us to see the whole picture. It’s taking that brief moment to access the situation and assess who is doing what so that you may respond adequately rather than react. When we observe, we’re able to look beyond the children themselves, the other people involved, and the surroundings to acutely give us a clearer vision. As we take that split second to think about how we will resolve this matter in the moment, we then step back in with an action plan we can follow through on.
Whether your children are younger or older, whether you are the co-carer, parent, or family member, we cannot expect that they will know how to play by the rules if they are very young. So, taking a moment to explain your expectations gives everybody clear boundaries. For example: ”don’t play with the soccer ball inside the house, the balls are for outdoor play.” Or for teenagers, “you can play your music at a reasonable volume, but not at a volume that I have to scream to get your attention.”
Be fair with what your house rules are. Some parents can be so rigid that their kids think they are at boot camp and not a friendly house visit. Not everything has to be polarizing, not every child is going to remember whether they need to take their shoes off or not, and not every child will say “thank you” after bringing out juices to them in the garden.
For toddlers, you might simply have to remove a toddler from a circumstance and distract him with something else to play with. Keep it short and sweet. Give the littles ones expectations of behavior and what they can and cannot do, so they know the rules. Praise every child for their kindness as you see this behavior. Listen to both sides and make fair decisions moving forward. Compromise. Don’t be too hasty to jump in, especially with toddlers who are 5 years old, as this is the age they are starting to work it out themselves. If one is being unfair to others, take this as a learning event to talk about empathy and take the child to the sidelines for a minute before inclusion again.
With your tween kids, they want the facts. So give it to them straight but polite. Remember tweens do not want to be patronized like 3 year olds. They are all about fairness, so most of the time they can work it out themselves. If not, then be a fair referee by listening to them both and then have them work it out themselves. Let them know if they misbehave, that you will have to mention it to their parents. Let them know equally the kindness they show one another.
As for teenagers, our mini-adults, they are a monopoly all on their own, “First Susan is coming around and now Susan isn’t coming around because she’s not talking to Gemma, and Gemma is now talking to you,” etc. Any parent with teenage daughters knows exactly what I’m talking about. Or, your teenage son has a mate over who is actually still in your house at midnight…didn’t tell his parents he wasn’t coming home for dinner. Or didn’t even tell his parents where he was! With teens, it’s really all about communication and them knowing what is respectful and trusting they will be able to deliver on that. Let them know how much that is appreciated.
However you choose to do it, the simple answer to this question is to be realistic about your own children and their behavior. For example, be the first to bring it up if your kid is being dropped off at a birthday party. The more these conversations happen, the less awkward we are all going to feel. Now of course we know that many parents have their own ideas of what consequence is appropriate for their own family and that’s why it’s important for us to communicate and respect that.
So parents, don’t be shy! Remember, this really is not about discipline at all. This is about making sure that your kids have fun experiences with their friends, bonding their relationships/friendships and coming back to have fun all over again.
Enjoy the summer!