It used to be said that it took a village to raise a child.  But, not every parent shares that village view anymore, particularly when it involves disciplining other people’s children.  Whether you’re dealing with a playdate-gone-bad or a step-child who is crossing the line, remember, it’s OK to set limits and ask others to abide by them.

I know, I know, it’s easier said than done.  I’m terrible at this myself.  Take last weekend: My nine-year-old son was having a playdate with the child of a family friend.  During a heated game of monopoly, the friend told my little four-year-old, “You’re dumber than dumb.”

I looked at my four-year-old, who was fighting back tears and then at the friend, who was looking down to avoid eye contact.  Instead of saying something, I froze.

We have a “no putdown” rule in our house. When my children break that rule, there are consequences.  But what happens when someone else’s child breaks that rule? I called Empowering Parents’ Coach Becky Staples to ask her advice on the Dos and Don’ts of setting and following through on limits with other people’s children. She had some great tips:

  • Don’t send mixed messages to your own children.  If a child—any child–breaks an important family rule in your house, say something. Keep your tone neutral, your words specific to the incident, and keep it simple, as in: “We have a rule in this house, ‘No Name Calling.’”
  • Don’t make it personal, as in: “Are you allowed to do this in your house?”
  • Do mention it to the child’s parents if it’s something serious, so they understand what happened and how you addressed it. But don’t have this conversation in front of the kids. Be open to the parents’ feedback and do ask them how they would like you to handle it in the future. 
  • Do end the playdate if it’s spiraling out of control.  You can say something like, “This isn’t working today. I can see you’re having a hard time following rules. Let’s find another day to give it another try.”

Becky left me with a wonderful piece of advice, a new way of looking at these tricky situations:  “Think of those stepping-over-the-line moments as an opportunity to model for your children how to set limits when someone says or does something that crosses the line.”  She’s right.  With these Dos and Don’ts in my back pocket, I don’t think I’ll freeze again.

What do you think? Have you ever had to discipline someone else’s child?

Related Content:
Challenging Parenting Issues: 5 of the Hardest Things Parents Face
“Parents Aren’t the Problem—They’re the Solution”


Jennifer is freelance writer for The Wall Street Journal and several national magazines. Earlier in her career, she was a journalist for “60 Minutes.” She lives in New York with her husband and their three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. You can read her other work at www.JenniferBWallace.com.

Comments (4)
  • Elizabeth Garcia
    My children live with thier father I also have joint custody but the father lives with his other kids mother but thier not married. I don't understand how my kids father gives her the authority to set limits on my kids when my kids father is at home with them.More That's his responsibility, now when his at work that's different! Then she has to control all the 4 kids including my own
  • ramerian

    Your home, your rules.  We hardly bother correcting them in middle school any longer ( I'm a sixth grade teacher ) because  the students are so defiant and deceitful. As for disciplining another parent's child, never!!!

    Didn't you watch " The Slap"?

  • I recently watched my friend's children and had an incident of lying.  The little girl (about 8) snuck a piece of candy after she was told by her mother and myself that she couldn't have any (maybe later in the day).  I heard her unwrap it and I knew whatMore she was doing.  After calling her into the room with me and sitting down, I calmly asked her if she had candy in her mouth.  She didn't reply.  I told her that in my house we tell the truth even when it was hard, and that there were consequences for not doing so.  She admitted to the candy.  I gave her a napkin and told her to spit it out. I also reminded her that her mom told her "no sweets," and that I had to follow that rule, just like she did.  The consequence was she was not able to ask her parents if she could possibly take home a piece of candy at the end of the day.  I have 2 teenagers whose friends understand that there are rules in my house and I will tell you to leave if they aren't followed.  I also have 2 younger boys (10 and 7) who know that mommy expects respect in and out of her home.  I grew up this way, and I don't understand what is happening in today's society where the parents have lost their power.  Their right to expect respect from not only their children, but everyone else's.  I was a young mom and still am at only 36, so that is no excuse.  I am truly confused at what I am seeing, and even more confused at the parents that think this is alright.  I respect my children as individuals, but that came with them respecting me as their parent FIRST!

  • My son has a neighborhood playmate who comes over often to play in my son's room. During one play date I saw him jumping on my son's bed. I told him "jumping on the bed was not safe and we don't do that here. If you can't be safe thenMore you will have to go home." I had to walk him home about an hour later. He has come over since then, but hasn't jumped on the bed anymore!

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