The Challenges In Disciplining Other People’s Children

The age-old question: is it ever acceptable to discipline another person’s child? And if so, what means of discipline are considered okay?

Disciplining somebody else’s child is an uncomfortable situation for even the most confident of parents, let alone for someone who may not even have children of their own. Despite this, there are certain circumstances where adult intervention is important and, if you are the only adult present or no other adult seems to be interested in involving themselves, you should know how to intervene in an appropriate manner.

Of course, there are many challenges with disciplining other people’s children – it can be a tricky road to navigate, as no two situations, children, or parenting styles are exactly the same.

While there is no inherently correct way to approach such a task, there are a few general considerations that can help you better determine if, when, and how your intervention is required.

Luckily for you, we have put together a little guide to help you out the next time you are in a situation where you feel your referee skills are needed.

Before Disciplining Someone Else’s Child…

Assess the Situation

The “If”

There are an infinite amount of potential situations where a child’s behaviour demands an adult’s intervention – but not all of those situations will necessarily need your intervention.

Often if you see a child misbehaving, your first instinct is typically to speak up – but we suggest that you assess the situation, and ask yourself a few of the following questions, before involving yourself.

Do you know the child or are currently responsible for the child misbehaving? Are you in your own home or out in public? Are the child’s own parents around? Is the child’s behaviour putting themselves or others at risk?

These are all details that you should take into consideration before inserting yourself into the situation, as they will help you determine whether or not your involvement is really necessary and, if so, to what degree.

For example, perhaps you are hosting your child’s birthday party at your home and one of the children there as a guest is acting out. In this situation, you have the right to step in and say something (your house, your rules – right?), but the act of discipline can depend on whether the child’s parents are present or not.

In a totally different type of situation, maybe you are out in public and see the child of a stranger acting out – this is more of a touchy situation, and, in this instance, the need for your involvement really depends on whether or not the child’s actions have potentially harmful consequences.

angry mom

The “When

It may not be a matter of if your involvement is necessary, but when.

For example, if a child is throwing a temper tantrum, sometimes the best thing to do is to wait it out. They will either tire themselves out, realize it will not get them what they want and give up, or simply lose interest or become distracted and move on.

If you feel, however, that the way a child is behaving, while currently harmless, has the potential to evolve into a more serious situation, early involvement is better. This is a type of preventative measure, as the earlier you involve yourself, the more likely you are to be able to diffuse the situation with discussion, before the need for actual discipline arises.

Of course, certain situations demand immediate intervention, such as if a child’s aggressive behaviour is hurting another child (physically or emotionally), if a child’s behaviour is putting themselves or another in danger, or if a child is acting destructively. In these cases, you should not hesitate to step in and should not feel guilty for doing so.

If You Must…

The “How”

This is where most of the challenges come into play. Disciplining someone else’s child is a thin line that can be very easily crossed, even if you have determined that your involvement is necessary and appropriate.

Once that has been determined, the question becomes how – what means of discipline are acceptable when it is not your child and will they work?

The main factor that makes disciplining someone else’s child tricky is that that child’s parents are very likely to have a different parenting style than you, meaning they will have different rules they expect their children to follow and use different disciplinary techniques when those rules are not followed.

This can make things complicated for two major reasons.

First: the child that is misbehaving may not respond to you because they are not used to the method you are using.

If a child is used to being disciplined in a certain manner, the way in which you approach the situation may not work as the child may not recognize your approach as disciplinary, and, even if they do, they may not take you seriously.

Second: it can be easy to cross the line of what the other child’s parent finds to be acceptable discipline.

Just because you use a certain disciplinary method with your children, that does not mean that another parent would be comfortable with you using that method with their children.

In fact, quite often your attempt to diffuse a situation may be seen by the child’s parents as unwanted interference or even as personal insult to their own parenting capabilities – especially if the child needing discipline is that of a relative or friend – but that does not mean you were wrong to involve yourself.

Disciplining our own children is never a fun, or easy, thing to do, so it only makes sense that disciplining another person’s child is even more difficult – but sometimes it is necessary.

Do you have any advice regarding disciplining other people’s children? Have you been in situations where you chose to stay quiet or interfere? We’d love to hear from you!



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