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?


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

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