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Abigail Rayner Headshot

Discipline: Act Now, or Hide the Duct Tape

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A kid threw a truck at my head the other day.

I was in the playroom at the library with my two-year-old, let's call him Thing Two. He was playing quietly at the train table, when two mothers and their charges came in. One of the kids, I'd guess he was three and a half, began bashing a dinosaur on my little one's hand. Thing Two grasped his hand and whimpered a bit.

"Brandon!" the kid's mother said (or Justin, or Tyler, I don't quite remember)."You can't do that!" Then to me, "I'm sorry. He's very rough-he has an older brother."

While I rubbed Thing Two's hand, her Thing grabbed all the trains.

"No, Brandon!" the mother said, and gave them back.

WHACK! A toy truck flew into the side of my head.

The mother gasped, "Brandon! You can't do that! In fact...should we go home?"

She's asking him? I thought. Obviously, they were not going anywhere.

"Well, you just go do something else for a while," the mother said.

Shortly, Thing Two and I left the room.

"I'm so sorry," the mother said again.

I looked at her. She was sorry--but what about the kid? He wasn't even asked to say sorry, and he didn't care--he was busy torturing his (much younger) playmate. His mum had just taught him that he could get away with slamming trucks into peoples' heads. Life was good.

There are two possible reasons that the mother did not take appropriate action. Either she was worried that Brandon would kick-off and make a scene, or--and I think this is more likely--she was really enjoying her play date with the other mother and didn't want to break it off. Whatever the reason, it will come back to haunt her.

I can't help seeing a toddler's future when things like this happen. Will Brandon still be throwing trucks at people's heads when he's seven, or nine, or fourteen? In ten years time, will that be a beer bottle to the skull of his girlfriend? Will I see him on the news being led away in handcuffs after he's killed his mother because she moved the remote control?

I'm far from perfect when it comes to discipline. I question myself constantly--am I being too tough, or too soft? Should I set more limits, or is that stifling creativity, where is the line, where the hell is the line? I definitely have panicky moments when things feel out of control, and I don't know what to do. There are also times when the line is about as obvious as bright yellow police tape--like when a kid throws a truck at someone's head.

You tell them what they did was very wrong. You tell them that you are leaving. You leave.

The one redeeming factor about the episode with Brandon & Co is that I will probably never see them again. These things are much more tricky when they involve people you see all the time .

A good friend of mine spends the summer at the beach with her four best pals from childhood. They all have kids of around pre-school age, but one of them--let's call her Agrippina the Younger--does not know how to control her child, let's call him Nero.

Nero likes to throw rocks--the large kind that chip off bits of brain--at the heads of the other kids. What does Agrippina do? Nothing. It's not that she doesn't notice, or has different ideas about the effect of rocks on skulls. She seems embarrassed, but she does nothing. The other mums don't know what to do. They love Agrippina, but they are worried their kids will be maimed if they keep hanging out with her.

These things can ruin friendships. Personally, I find it really hard to tell someone else they are being a rubbish parent. I'd rather just do the mature thing and ignore their phone calls and emails, and hope that they eventually get the message. Besides, even if you do have the awkward conversation about parenting, the end result is the same: you never see each other again.

Can't we all just agree to teach our kids to behave? Seriously, they are getting bigger, stronger, and more clever, and they know where we keep the duct tape.

Don't worry about the fuss that little Nero will make when you bundle him under your arm and head back to the beach house. Pay no mind to the squealing claims that you are "squeezing me!"--you are not hurting him one bit, and ignore that tutting granny. You have our support: We, The Parents, salute you.

It's now, or Nero.