Is It Ever Acceptable To Discipline Other People's Children?

You don’t want to make things worse, but you also don’t want to act like that kid’s behaviour is okay.
cosmaa via Getty Images

If you spend a lot of time in the company of your children, you can get bored of the sound of your own voice saying things like, “No, sweetheart, put the drill down,” “That really hurt Daddy’s eyeball, precious, I’d rather you hadn’t done that,” and the occasional “STOP THAT, STOP THAT RIGHT NOW”.

But what if you’re out and about, and someone else’s child is misbehaving? What if, for instance, a kid runs up and shoves your child? What is the “right” way to respond?

Are you allowed to give them a stern talking-to? You don’t want to make things worse, but you also don’t want to act like that kid’s behaviour is okay.

Opinions, as they so often do, vary. There are parents who will happily tell off strangers, cafe owners who’ll tell loud children to be quiet, and plenty who would bark at anyone who dared to tell their child off.

We asked our HuffPost UK Parents community how they’d respond. Some things make it more cut-and-dried, many argued – namely, if they’re hurting or endangering themselves or others. At that point, intervening is the responsible thing to do.

It’s different if you’ve been placed in charge of the child, said others – if you’re acting as their de facto parent, you need to treat them as though they are your own, which might mean stepping in now and then.

But opinion seems split on stranger-child telling-offs. Some subscribe to the idea of it “taking a village to raise a child”, and it being everyone’s remit and responsibility to do their bit when it comes to keeping behaviour in check.

Others, though, opt for a middle ground of engaging with the misbehaving child (and, potentially, their parents) and discussing their behaviour without turning it into a “telling off” situation.

This is what behaviour experts say is the best strategy for discipline – “We never need to tell any children off in order to raise awesome adults,” says Bea Marshall, parenting coach and founder of Yes Parenting. “All behaviour is communication. When we understand this, we can begin to understand why the child behaved that way.”

That’s probably the solution least likely to upset anyone – including both the misbehaving child and their parents – and the one that will probably lead to improved behaviour.

But of course, it’s the one that requires the most patience, self-control and restraint. It’s hard, isn’t it, this parenting malarkey?