Is it ok to discipline other people's children?

It’s important for our kids to have friends. At a technical level, having friends teaches our kids their first lessons of interaction and socializing. But mainly, it feels good to have friends. Their first friends are usually their parents’ friends’ babies – and dubbed their first boyfriend or girlfriend. They are friends with their brothers and sisters, their cousins, and whichever small child is brought along for a playdate so that the adults can get in some coffee and chat time. But it isn’t until they hit preschool that they get to choose their own friends. And this is when your child will be drawn to other children without someone else telling them they have to be friends and play nicely with each other. For the first time in their life, they get to like someone because, well, they like them.

We want our kids to have friends. Many of us will go out of our way to open up our home for playdates, or to organize birthday parties for our children’s friends to attend. We will learn the names of our children’s friends’ parents, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – our children are choosing our friends for us. But it’s welcomed, an easy way to meet new people and also stay involved in our children’s lives as they near that road of independence.

But sometimes friends aren’t welcome. Little Timmy comes over to play with your son, and lets himself into your home as soon as you open the door. And even though he came over to play with your son, suddenly your child is playing by himself in the living room while Timmy rifles through his things upstairs. He invites himself on your family outings. He opens your refrigerator to see what you have to eat. Maybe he lies repeatedly. Maybe he makes a mess of your home and then leaves before cleaning it up. He might use language that doesn’t fly in your home. He might be a hitter, or a biter, or use some other form of brutality to get his way. He might even steal your child’s belongings, maybe even yours. Whatever he’s doing wrong, the kid gets under your skin. Little Timmy has no sense of boundaries whatsoever, fails to follow the house rules even though you have reminded him of them repeatedly, and you have noticed that your child’s behavior has gone downhill dramatically ever since Timmy made his first appearance. And yet your child insists he wants to be friends with him.

So what do you do?

Do you do nothing, since this isn’t your child and have no place telling him what to do? Do you hope that maybe the positive energy of your home will have some effect on this troubled child? Do you discipline the child, coming down harsher than the gentle reminders about how the household works? If spanking is a part of your own family’s discipline, do you spank your child’s friend if they cross the limits?  Or would you give them a time-out, or any other form of punishment?  Do you go to his parents and talk to them about Timmy’s behavior? Do you forbid your child from playing with Timmy?  How far is acceptable when it comes to other people’s children?

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9 thoughts on “Is it ok to discipline other people's children?”

  1. I think that physical discipline is definitely not permitted with someone else’s child. Not only do you not know what the child’s parents think of this form of punishment, but you are opening yourself up to abuse charges and lawsuits. Any form of punishment, other than speaking to the child about their behavior, or speaking with the parents isn’t likely to work, since this child obviously does not view you as an authority figure, and will not listen when told he is on a time out, or that certain privileges have been taken away. In this case, I think it would be best to prohibit this child from coming over for a period of time. Your child may be upset, but perhaps both kids will learn that certain behaviors will not be tolerated, and the consequences result in the inability to continue those behaviors under your roof at all.

  2. It’s not an easy topic to address. I concur with heather that spanking is definitely not an option. I would have my child and the other sit on the sofa and explain to them both the house rules. Failure to abide by them will mean that little Timmy won’t be welcome in the house for a time. I would also say that until he can show some respect that they are not allowed to play together. After a time you could five it another chance and acknowledge the good behavior. If the riles are broken then enforcent of the consequences should be immediate. A talk with the parents may also be in order. I’ve had to flat out tell my son that he can’t play with certain kids because they are disrespectful. Period. End of story.

  3. First of all it seems like parent and son need to have a talk about what a friend is. Is a “friend” someone who comes over and then doesn’t even play with you? Choosing friends is a huge step in a child’s life, but proximity and availability influence that decision. Encourage releationships with children who make your child happy and play well with him, and discourage realtionships with children who don’t. Forbiding a relationship only makes it more attractive and gives your child an opportunity for rebellion against you. As a parent, I’ve alwyas tried to minimize those opportunities for my children, especially as they get older. Depending on the childrens’ age, intervention and redirection can be the best solution. Disciplining Timmy isn’t your job, but if he can’t be redirected so that both children are enjoying playing together, play time might have to be over.

  4. Rather than separate the ‘bad’ child from your own child, if it’s possible to instill some proper behavior in the ‘bad’ one, why not? I’m not in favor at all of physical discipline of any kind, but I can recall my mother sternly lecturing some of my more delinquent-type friends about their behavior and what not to do. It may not have turned them from their delinquent ways, but it had a lasting impact on me. It was reinforcement that certain behavior is wrong.

  5. In a restaurant we were seated at a table with 2 children sitting behind me, ages about 4 and 7. After about 10 minutes of not being able to hear my friends across the table because these children were screeching I turned to the older child and put my finger to my lip as to say “quieter”… it is amazing how oblivious parents are sometimes to the noise their kids make, like they never taught them “inside” vs “outside” noise levels. They did quiet down, and we continued with our meal in relative quiet. I didn’t expect them to be completely quiet but yelling and screeching in public should not be allowed by parents, well, maybe unless it’s a kids movie.

  6. In this day and age, meeting out anything that could be considered as ‘discipline’ to other parents’ children is a sticky matter. Some parents stand behind their children receiving reasonable punishments from friends’ parents, but others turn into shrieking banshees at the merest request for a more respectful attitude. Unfortunately, the latter type is also the group most likely to have children who WON’T respect boundaries and rules from an authority figure other than their own parent — either because they know that their parent will come down like a house of bricks on anyone else who tries to discipline their child, or because their parent is one who falls into the mindset that ‘discipline strangles a child’s natural creativity’ (or whatever) — sadly, a point of view that is especially prevalent in the Sonoma County area.

    I think that both Heather and Shawn had excellent points in their comments. The best thing a parent can do with a disrespectful friend is speak to the child, and if that fails, speak to the parent. If there is no improvement in the friend’s behavior, they simply can not be allowed to come over until they learn better. Along with keeping a bad-natured child out of your home, this also reinforces to your own child the importance of proper and respectful behavior, in their own home or in others, and it sets a foundation for their own standards regarding who they hang out with.

  7. I’m all for asking a child’s parent to discipline their own child, but sometimes you have to intervene by being an adult. I would never physically discipline someone’s kid, but I’m also not afraid to speak up if that child is doing something blatantly wrong.
    One instance that always comes to mind happened at my daughter’s 5th birthday party. Her best friend couldn’t come to her little party without the elder brother (age 9). And even though the father was sitting close by (the mother had to work that Saturday), when the son picked up a chair and was about to throw it down on the kids’ table set up with birthday decorations, the father did nothing to stop his (disturbed) son. I happened to be walking out of our house and into the back yard when I saw what he was doing (and believe me…this kid wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with destroying my daughter’s special table or day). I ran out, yelled across the yard for him to stop and to put the chair down.
    When his dad made no move from his chair, I walked over to the boy and quietly, yet sternly, told him not to ruin my daughter’s birthday party (I had already seen what he did to his own sister’s birthday party). The remainder of the afternoon, the boy sat stewing in a chair, refusing to eat or participate in any way.
    Was I wrong? I say no. I wouldn’t have minded a little help from his dad.
    If your kid is doing something wrong, step up and be a parent!

  8. If someone lets their kid come to my house, kid will be good or get punished. I have many chores they can do. For instance, kid talks back to me = scrubs my toilet. This works out well for me because I would not have to get a 2nd job to hire that maid that i wanted. (see previous comment on your “10 steps to a cleaner house” post)

    Yes. This is a great plan. Excuse me a moment, I need to call up some of Kaitlyn’s friends parents to invite them over now.

  9. I was wondering. I did read the thing but i was still wondering what if your parents took a kid in. One of there kids friends because they got kicked out of their house. Can they punish her for all the stuff she does (like skip school, not doing choices)?
    because my friend is living with use and all her school stuff and mail comes to are house, and she thinks its okay to do whatever she wants because shes not the kids of my parents. So would it be okay for them to punish her?
    Shes been living here since Dec. 2009.

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