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Column Would you correct another person’s child?

Is it ever ok to discipline someone else’s child? Martina Newe looks at when you should intervene – and when you absolutely shouldn’t.

DO YOU THINK it’s acceptable to discipline another person’s child or, indeed, for another person to discipline your child? I believe that it is ok under certain circumstances and not ok under other circumstances. These days, parents are quite protective of their children and have their own ideas on how their child should be brought up; if another adult disciplines their child, they feel that this is wrong and as their rules and accepted behaviour for their child is for them to decide and not someone else. Gone are the days when any adult would feel free to give a child a telling off or, even more, a ‘clip on the ear’ for misbehaving.

So is it ever ok to correct another person’s child? I feel that there are circumstances when it is acceptable. Firstly, if the child is doing something that is dangerous to themselves or others, it is absolutely correct for an adult to intervene. For example, if a child is pushing another child into a roadway, it is absolutely correct for a passing adult to ask them to stop and explain that it is dangerous. As a parent, I would be grateful to the adult who intervened. Intervention is acceptable in terms of stopping the behaviour and preventing a possible accident, but it stops there. I wouldn’t be happy if the adult disciplined my child or went on to criticise them for their behaviour – that’s my job!

How to intervene

Another situation where it is acceptable for an adult to intervene is where the child is damaging private property. For example, if I saw a child climbing on the bonnet of a car and jumping on it I would certainly ask them to stop and explain that they are damaging the car. I would also explain that they could hurt themselves if they fell off. Again, I would be happier if an adult stopped one of my children doing something similar and thus avoiding damaging, and possibly causing me to have to pay for repairs for, another person’s property.

The subject of an adult intervening when children are having disagreements among themselves is a very difficult subject. Children will have their little disagreements and periods where they ‘fall out’ with another child. As adults, we should not intervene and take sides. Children have to learn from these experiences about how to stand up for themselves, how to handle disagreements and (hopefully) how to work things out and agree a better way of getting on with their siblings or friends.

Parents interfering can cause the child that they are defending to become dependant on the adult to sort out their problems rather than learning how to do it themselves. Similarly, the child being ‘blamed’ can feel very isolated and hurt by the adult’s interference and, rather than trying to work out the disagreement, may not bother because they feel ‘picked on’ or embarrassed by the adult’s intervention.

Children being bullied or endangered

However, if you see a situation where a child is being severely bullied or endangered by another child or children, then it is right to intervene. This is similar to the situation where a child is endangering themselves or another child by their behaviour. If you saw a group of children hitting or hurting another child it is ok to tell them to stop and to tell the child who is the victim to go back to their parent/childminder so that they are safe. This is not correcting other people’s children, it is rescuing a child from a situation where they could be hurt.

Balance is very important in parent-child relationships; getting a good balance between positive parenting and positive discipline is vital. ‘Positive parenting’ includes noticing and encouraging good behaviour, and this can be applied with other people’s children. As an adult, in the same way that you could intervene if a child is misbehaving, you can also seize the opportunity to praise a child when they are behaving well. So if you notice good behaviour in another child, why not comment on this and encourage the child?

For example, if you see a child picking up litter and placing in a litter bin, why not say something like ‘Wow, good girl – aren’t you very good to pick up that litter!”. I was walking through my estate one day and a little boy was sitting on the grass with his dog looking a little anxious. When I asked him if he was ok, he explained that his dog had ‘pooped’ and he was waiting for his friend to bring him back a bag to pick it up. I went to my house and got him a bag and then praised his good behaviour saying “you are a very good boy for making sure you cleaned up after your dog. Your parents should be very proud of you!”. He was delighted and encouraged by the praise, when he told his mum, she was also proud of him and thanked me for encouraging his good behaviour.

So to summarise, it is okay to intervene when:

  • A child is placing themselves or another child in danger,
  • A child is damaging private property,
  • A child is being bullied or threatened by other children.

Remember, too, to try to notice when children behave well and comment and encourage them when you can.

Martina Newe is director of who provide parenting courses and support for every step of parenting. Classes range from antenatal and newborn care, parenting all age groups, parenting after separation or divorce, self-development for teenagers and in-school and community services.  Help Me To Parent use the award winning Parents Plus Programmes for courses. Martina also offers private coaching and is a fully trained family mediator.

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