Is it OK to reprimand a stranger's child?

Sometimes a stranger's child could use some discipline. But should it come from you?
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Sometimes a stranger's child could use some discipline. But should it come from you?

It was a normal Sunday afternoon. The boys were undoing my housework as quickly as I was doing it. Repetitive fighting and general boredom had kicked, and we were ready for some much-needed fresh air. Cue a trip to the park.

We hadn't been there long when a Dad arrived with his two sons - one a baby and the other a boy who looked to be about three. It was the older boy that quickly caught my attention.

He repeatedly made a beeline for my 18-month-old to push him over, push him out the way or shout in his face "NO!".

Now I know that most toddlers do this at one time or another. I'm not naive enough to think that mine son won't soon do the same. But, when I saw that the Dad had his head in his phone, I felt a bit annoyed.

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Before everyone gets riled up about parent's right to look at their phones, I want to point out that this isn't an attack on that. I often have my head buried in my phone, and I'm guilty of missing my son's first attempt of 500 to go down the slide because of it.

What I had an issue with is him ignoring his son's aggressive and undeniably loud behaviour. On the one occasion he did look up briefly, he attempted a feeble "stop that now" before returning to his phone. He may well just have said "carry on" for all the good that it did.

I'm not a confrontational person – in fact, I avoid it like the plague. Yet, when it comes to my sons, I'm protective. I didn't want to reprimand this little boy because I it's not my right and I shouldn't have to. But, conversely, I couldn't just stand there and let him carry on.

The next time he pushed my son I told him "no" and said it wasn't kind. He looked at me and returned for another push. I repeated to him not to do it and that that it might be sinking in. However, on the third push I removed my son and walked away.

I was angry at the Dad, but knew that it wasn't fair to take that out on his child. The reality is his child is learning about the right and wrongs of life and needs guidance… but that shouldn't be from me.

We left the park 10 minutes later. The dad was still on his phone.

Parenting expert Dr Karen Philip says this is a touchy subject, but one that happens often. When it comes to dealing with it, she offers the following advice depending on the situation.

"It's never wise to reprimand a child personally when their parents are present. However, if the child is hitting, biting or throwing something at your child, then step in to raise attention to the situation and then, hopefully, their parent will address the behaviour."

In a situation where a parent isn't directly present or isn't paying attention, Philip advises speaking to the child clearly and "suggesting" that they stop their behaviour and the reason why.

For example, say, "please stop hitting my child, it is hurting them". Try to remain focused on the behaviour and not the child.

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Philip recommends getting down to the child's level, looking directly into their eyes with a smile and guiding them toward a better behaviour.

"Often a child is unaware of their actions or consequence. They're often in their own little world, which can be a great place," she says.

"We're also not aware of the child's life, if they live with conflict, have self-esteem issues, or are seeking attention. We place our own belief onto that child often inappropriately."

In terms of communicating with the parent of the child, Philip recommends speaking with empathy and remembering that parenting is a challenging job. And she's right.

Parenting is a challenging job and we all have our bad days, as well as our good. I hope that that little boy's dad guides him better in the future and, in hindsight, perhaps I should've just given him the benefit of the doubt.

 - essentialkids.com.au

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