Angie was at the park with her three children when it happened. Her three-year-old, Clay, was attempting to climb a spider web type of structure on the playground, but another slightly older boy was blocking the way. Clay asked the boy to move. The boy responded by kicking Clay in the chest, sending him tumbling down the web.
“I hopped up and ran over and corrected the other boy in a way I thought was pretty neutral,” Angie tells Parentology. “Something to the effect of, ‘whoa dude, that’s not cool, he’s a little guy and you could’ve hurt him.’”
The next thing Angie knew, the boy’s mother appeared out of nowhere and charged at her like a bat out of hell. “How dare you talk to my kid!” the mother screamed. “You NEVER talk to my kid! Stay the f—k away from him!”
The incident left Angie wondering — did she handle the situation appropriately? And, what’s the best way to go about disciplining someone else’s child?
To find out, Parentology spoke with renowned parenting expert Betsy Brown Braun, the bestselling author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents. Brown has over 40 years of experience in public and private early childhood and elementary education, and she’s appeared on television programs like Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, The Early Show, Good Morning America and many more.
When is disciplining someone else’s child okay?
Betsy Brown Braun: We’re in dangerous territory when you go to correct a child who’s
[In Angie’s situation], I would have said to the other parent, “You know, I looked around, I didn’t see a parent anywhere, I had to stop him. It was a safety issue. I’m sorry if I stepped on your toes.”
What if the other parent is there, but ignores what their child has done?
Betsy Brown Braun: If the parent is around, you always ask the parent for help. I would probably play the naïve role and say, “Gosh, did you see what just happened? Would you mind saying something?” or “Are you planning on saying something to your [child]?” If the parent says no, you can say “Gosh, I’m surprised” or something. I would let [the other parent] know in a gentle way.
I believe you can say things in ways that aren’t so awful. So, [you can say to the other parent], “You know, I’m trying to teach my kid how to speak up. I’m trying to teach my kid that everybody has to obey the rules.” If the parent is your friend, you can say, “Do you want me to step in?”
But there are going to be those crazy parents. There are those parents who are so overly protective they don’t stop and think this is really such a good thing, that someone is helping them out here.
How are you helping the other parent by correcting their child?
Betsy Brown Braun: I’ve always believed somebody else correcting, admonishing or stepping in with your child is way more effective than you doing it. When one of my kids was approximately four, we were at the grocery store. This particular child of mine always touched everything in the store. So, there we are in the apple section, and he touches the apples, and I said to a man, a perfect stranger, “Do me a favor and tell my kid not to touch the apples.”
And this stranger looked at my son, put up his index finger and said, “Little boy, don’t you touch those apples.” For weeks after, when we would go to the market, [my son] would say “Is the Apple Man gonna be there?” It was very effective.
What can you do, aside from speaking with the offending child or that child’s parent?
Betsy Brown Braun: You can do something by saying to your own child, “That little boy has not learned how to play at the park. That little boy hasn’t learned how to use his hands.” It can be fully within earshot of the other parent. That’s what I like to do. You don’t go to the aggressor, you go to the victim. It’s almost more effective than coming down on the aggressor.
“I’m gonna stand with you to make sure no one kicks you,” you could say to your own child. And the other kid is hearing it, even if the parent isn’t. You say everything you’d be saying to [the other kid], but you say it to your own child. And this works for all ages. So, what ends up happening is you’re giving [the other child] the message anyway.
Any other advice for parents on this topic?
Betsy Brown Braun: When you’re correcting another child, [ask yourself] what are you hoping to accomplish? Are you wanting to put a stop to something right then and there? Or are you trying to [change the other child’s behavior?] Because you’re not going to. Don’t think you’re going to change that child. So, you have to think, what do I hope to accomplish by doing this? If the answer is that you want to model for your child what to do when something happens, that’s a good reason.