Telling off someone else’s child is a sensitive issue, but some parenting experts support intervening if a child is misbehaving and there are safety concerns.
In a Singapore-based study, parents were asked how they felt about disciplining a stranger’s child and the results were pretty one-sided: 77 percent said “yes” to stepping in if a child is being naughty, while 23 percent said “no”.
"Parents can see criticism of their child as criticism of themselves, so they quickly become defensive,” says Dr Justin Coulson of Happy Families, a parenting portal.
“If a child steps out of line, whether we know them or not, it’s appropriate for parents to sensitively guide any child.” Dr Julie Green, meanwhile, says setting boundaries gives a foundation for learning.
“Children will explore boundaries and may behave in ways they aren’t aware are unacceptable. As a society, we are bound by rules of behaviours and that’s no different for a child,” she explains.
While none of us want to be seen as an overt disciplinarian, here are some ideas to help guide you when dealing with other people’s children.
1. Be inclusive
If children are being boisterous, leaving a child out of a game or not letting other children take a turn on the playground, take an inclusive approach. Ask the child if you can work something out where everyone can have a turn.
If you say ‘You’re not letting my child have a go’, that’s a red flag to another parent.
Even if you feel the other child is at fault, you should try to build a camaraderie to mutually sort it out.
2. Recruit and defuse
When a child is screaming or behaving inappropriately in a public space, approach the child’s parents to help defuse the behaviour. Ask the parents if there is anything you can do to help or approach the child and say ‘You seem to be having a hard time, would you like me to help?’
3. Speak to someone in authority
If parents won’t take responsibility for their badly-behaved child, ask someone in authority to intervene.
We don’t recommend getting involved with someone else’s child in a highly-charged situation but a person in authority could show some leadership.
It may lead to upset, but if they do it in the best interests of the child and are helpful, rather than hurtful, most parents will understand.
4. Give choice and guidelines
Children need autonomy and choice within appropriate limits and guidelines. So if children are not playing well, you could say ‘Kids, when you stay at the top of the slide, what do you notice about how everyone else feels?’
Allow them to make a choice while saying their behaviour isn’t quite right and what can they do instead.
5. Help them get perspective
If a child on a play date is swearing or being mean, ask them some questions to help them have empathy. You could say ‘How do you think other people feel when you swear?’
The best teaching occurs when children begin to understand how their behaviour is affecting other people.
6. Set ground rules
When children visit your home – whether they’re family or simply school friends of your kids – set ground rules.
If kids are running around eating or slouching at the dinner table, let them know it’s unacceptable. If it’s your home, you can say ‘In our home, we have a rule that everyone sits when we eat.’
7. Take care of family and friends
You should always be respectful of other people’s parenting styles but when a child needs correction or direction, whether you know that child and their parents well or not, give them that.
It’s about teaching that child ways to act and to help them problem solve so that they can get through this challenging situation in an appropriate way.
By Singapore Women's Weekly, September 2016
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