What’s the rule for dealing with other people’s children?

On Thursday I took Ryan to our local Discovery Center where he got to run free and play. He probably spent half his time just staring at the older kids, learning what they do–and what he should do, too.

There was a huge tractor with a short flight of stairs leading up to the driver’s seat. Ryan was “driving” and pushing buttons when two kids (brother and sister, maybe 4-5 years old?) came running up the stairs. The girl had taken toys away from her younger brother and he was chasing after her to get them back. They ended up at the top of the stairs, fighting. The boy was screaming [something I didn’t want Ryan to learn!] and they eventually started hitting each other. I was standing only a few inches away (not much space at the top of the stairs) and I was honestly afraid one of them was going to fall down the stairs.

So I finally took action. Yes, I looked around for a mother that I thought would be watching them, but I saw no one. So I moved to the top step…. to block a possible fall.

Then I leaned forward and said something like, “Hey, let’s not hit.” That didn’t work at all, the girl kept hitting at her brother, so I gently put a hand on her arm and said, “Please don’t hit.” and then I said things like, “How about we share those toys?” or “Let’s go play!”

It seems I will have my work cut out for me when Ryan gets a little older. I have a lot to learn! These two children didn’t listen to a single word I said. I don’t blame them though, they don’t know me, I’m not their mom.

But I stood there, as they became violent (at the top of a staircase, remember), wondering what my role was supposed to be.

Am I supposed to parent them? Get in between them and stop the fight? What would I want another mother to do if that was my kid misbehaving and I wasn’t nearby? I have no.idea.

Since my meek and quiet comments did nothing to solve the situation, I decided I’d just continue standing guard at the top step (silently), at the very least making sure they didn’t fall down the stairs.

Finally (okay, this whole ordeal was only a few minutes), their mom came running over and apologized to me (to which I replied, “Oh, don’t worry about it! I just didn’t want them to fall!”) and she also disciplined her children for fighting.

So. Honestly–what would you have done? What would you expect another mom to do (or NOT do) to your own kids? I feel like many, many years ago it was the norm to “parent” other people’s children–to help out. But now? I’m afraid I’ll get my butt kicked for sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. What’s the rule??!


23 comments to What’s the rule for dealing with other people’s children?

  • Parents will always be very protective of their kids, but trying to prevent injury is always the right thing to do, even if another parent gets her feathers in a ruff.
    On a side note, my kiddo LOVES that tractor.

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    babydickey Reply:

    Haha, Ryan enjoyed it too! So many buttons and levers!

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  • I guess my view is my priorities are #1 protect my kid #2 prevent injuries in other kids if I can while still accomplishing #1

    I personally wouldn’t have told them not to hit or told them to share, I would’ve just tried to prevent injuries & keep them away from my own kid. I.e. I stood between a toddler and the parking lot recently at the library while the mom ran to catch up to him, but I didn’t tell some older kids at the park not to climb the exterior of the slide or not curse. I guess I try to respect other parents’ autonomy as much as I want mine respected, which is I welcome anyone ensuring my son’s physical safety but don’t want random people teaching him their morality.

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    babydickey Reply:

    I completely agree. I would never walk up to children just to tell them to stop hitting or swearing, etc. But in this situation–we were all standing on this tiny landing. I was seriously only inches from them… and I felt like, in this case, it would have been wrong for me to just stand and watch. Maybe I should have picked up Ryan and walked away? But he was busy inside the tractor playing and didn’t want to leave. I don’t know! So many rules!

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  • As a preschool teacher, I wholeheartedly agree. We spend a lot of time ‘parenting’ other people’s children. It does get dice-y when you need to do it while the parents are around, but you hit both priorities square on the head.

    My first instinct was to your son, worrying that he would get hit. You definitely did the right thing. And sometimes, you will meet the hostile, irrational parent, but wanting to keep someone’s other children from 1-hurting your child, and 2-hurting themselves, will continue to be the right thing to do. Dealing with the psycho parent? Apologise, be civil, take your child and back away quickly. Don’t give things a chance to escalate. Even if you’re clearly in the right, apologise and leave.

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  • Beth

    I think you did the right thing, Emily. You spoke to them quietly suggesting that they not hit…I would think no mom would be upset by that and if they did, well whatever! You were helping to protect them. I would have done the same..

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  • Bre

    Ooo tough question! I completely agree that it would have been really awkward for you to not have said anything since you were right there. I probably would have done the same thing as you did. Other kids (especially older!!) are my biggest pet peeve at parks and play places. I can’t stand parents who don’t monitor what their child is doing and whenever kids interfere with Cade’s play and get too rough, pushy, intimidating or don’t take turns, Mother Bear is released and I don’t hold back. (Okay, I still speak to them like they are children, not a rude adult, but I will put them in their place.) The one that stands out most is at the park last summer Cade was standing at the top of a pretty big slide, trying to get his courage up to go down but there were older kids running everywhere, going around him to go down, climbing back up the slide, etc. I understood that Cade couldn’t wait at the top forever, but they weren’t even giving him a minute to try. I stepped in and they went on to another part of the playground. The teacher in me is always trying to enforce these “rules” and I would not mind at all if another parent did the same to Cade. If he’s not taking turns or going up a slide or just playing too rough around other kids, I would want him to stop and another parent reminding him of this is completely okay in my book….as long and they are respectful. It’s definitely situational too. I’m not sure what I would do if a kid was acting up and their parent was right there watching it all unfold. I would want to confront the parent, but because I’m too shy I would probably take Cade and walk away.

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  • If the mother had been around, I would say not to parent them past the point of blocking them from falling (although that should also be their mother’s job and that situation would have annoyed me). If the mom was nowhere to be seen, I don’t think it is out of line to step in regarding no hitting. I think it is pretty universal that no parent allows hitting and fighting, especially in public.

    Before I had kids, I would have said it was no one’s business to parent another child whatsoever, but now that I have one, I feel like for the most part children should learn to listen to whatever adult is in charge – and if you’re the only one around, that’s YOU. If you don’t want someone else to tell your kid what to do, you should beat them to it, even if that is simply by being present.

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  • Beth

    In that situation I would have just walked away. I mean, if they were my kids and someone had told them not to hit you can bet my kids would be in deep trouble for first of all, hitting, and secondly not listening to a grownup telling them something their mother would. Our rule of thumb is if the child has nothing to do with my kid, then I don’t get involved. But if they are doing something to or with my child, I have no problem telling the kids what they should be doing. Like when a 3 yr old at the mall came over and smacked my 6 month old in the head. Her dad had seen and did NOTHING about it. So, I stood up, got next to the little girl and told her VERY loudly (so her father could also hear) that “WE DO NOT HIT!!” to which her father casually told her (from across the playground) “Yeah, don’t do that” I almost went over and smacked the Dad. Still gets me annoyed thinking about it.
    I do miss the days where kids knew to listen to grown ups, but with all the perverts, well, that’s gone.

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  • I find myself in the situation fairly frequently at parks and play centres and it causes me a dilemma every time. I happily parent my friends kids and expect them to do the same for mine as we’ve discussed it, however when I don’t know the kids or the parents… I suppose I haven’t really created any rules for myself in this but if my kids involved, ie gets hurt then I initially look around to see if the parent saw it and will deal, but if not then I remove my child and say to the other kid ‘its not nice to hit/bite/whatever, please don’t do it’. For me its about showing my own child that I respect the fact that they’ve been hurt and its not acceptable.

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  • Honestly, with so many people being lawsuit happy these days I probably would have removed my child from the situation and just walked away. OR I would have confronted the parent directly and pointed out the danger. I never speak to someone else’s children unless I know the parent well.

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  • I would have done exactly what you did-I have actually done the same thing. If my kid was acting up and I didn’t see it I would hope another mother would call them on it. I would also hope that my kids have enough respect for an adult to listen especially when they know they’re misbehaving. On the flip side though, we drill into our kids that they shouldn’t talk to strangers or go with a stranger or listen to a stranger….SOOOO maybe it’s confusing to them…

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  • After firmly telling the kids to stop, I probably would have took my child and left. Once we were at McDonalds and, while the parents were in line, one boy was literally kicking his brother on the ground (about 7 and 10 years old) all with a smile on his face. My mother-in-law told them to stop, they did. Then did more later – the parents were totally aloof which is why the kids are like that anyway.

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  • I think you did the right thing by stepping in. Even though I’m young in age, when it comes to parenting I’m old school about somethings. Whatever happen to the ‘It Takes a Village’ mentality? I know that some parents get upset about others requesting that their behavior but honestly if you’re incapable of controlling your child in public (and no I’m not talking about meltdowns) then yes, somebody does need to intervene.

    Remember, you are in a public place and nobody or their child should have to witness your child’s foolishness or even have their kid put in danger. I mean what if one them would have bumped into Ryan? I certainly would have to said something to those kids and after they would have continued despite my first warning, I would certainly have went off in search of a manager or employee and made a complaint. Those kids should not have been left unattended in the first place.

    It’s time we hold each other accountable. And no you don’t have to be rude about it. However, I think you handled the situation well. You did what you thought was right and made sure that they didn’t get hurt worst than what they were in inflicting on themselves.

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  • I think you did the right thing. It is a tricky situation but when safety is involved, I think that as moms we need to look out for each others’ children!

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  • Dee

    This is so hard for me. I am constantly watching my kids and playing with them to make sure they don’t do anything to anyone else, but what about those “other” kids. I have a story about the park yesterday that I was going to share tomorrow. Very similar situation. I mean, what do you do? If anyone is in danger, I don’t care about what is “socially acceptable” though.

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  • To keep kids safe, I think we all need to step in. As far as discipline goes, I have always left that to their own parents. If I was uncomfortable with behavior, I would remove my children from the situation.

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  • This is my biggest pet peeve. Mothers shouldn’t let their kids roam free if they can’t be trusted to be on best behavior. I have gotten used to being the bad guy. I’m a total mama grizzly lol and I don’t really care who I piss off anymore. To the point that I had one of my husbands family members say they don’t come over because their kids don’t like it there cuz I yell at them. Tough crap, if you won’t make your kids respect my house and our rules AND my kids, I WILL. Don’t like it, don’t come, I really don’t care. When we’re out in public, I will do just what you did to start. I will scan, then I’ll protect my own. Then I’ll make nice comments about being nice etc. Then if it doesn’t stop, my kids have simply gotten used to me yanking them out of the situation and saying something loudly about going somewhere where you don’t have to worry about being hit and coming back to that toy/area when the misbehaving kids have left. If I can identify parents I have at times confronted them, thus far only when their kids directly mistreat mine. But I’ve also reported problem families to the staff of places too.
    I think our society now frowns upon people taking matter into their own hands but I wish it would go back to that old school way. If I miss something my kids do wrong I have no problem with someone stepping in, appropriately or telling me about it but most parents seem to have serious issue with that these days. For some reason everyone seems to be convinced their children are perfect no matter how much naughtiness plays out right in front of them.

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  • Janette

    I used to be a substitute teacher at a daycare and dealt with a lot of children who would pick on other kids and get into fights. We used positive reinforcement as I called it. When we asked children to stop hitting. We would say, “Let’s use gentle hands” and showed them how to be gentle. If they kept it up they would have to stay with sa teacher until they understood “gentle hands” I know this is at daycare but I think it might work for other kids that you see who are not being nice.

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  • I’m not sure how I missed this post when you published it… but the only thing I would have done differently is I wouldn’t have touched someone else’s kid. Obviously I’m saying this as a mom of a 1.5 year old… a little boy who isn’t ever out of my sight… a little boy who isn’t given opportunities to get into any kind of trouble where another parent would need to discipline him – but that being said, if someone I didn’t know touched my kid and he wasn’t in immediate danger (actually starting to fall down the steps or something) or wasn’t endangering their child I’d be offended and angry.

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  • I think you did the right thing here. You tried to stop them from fighting and when that didn’t work you made sure they didn’t hurt themselves {other than hitting each other}. I think it’s a really tricky situation I encountered something like this over the holidays and after biting my tongue multiple times I said something and they {the parents} got the hint! In my situation it had more to do with Mason than with your situation. So basically if it doesn’t directly involve Ryan I would do exactly what you did because most Moms will get defensive it’s hard not too when it’s your kid even if your kid is wrong kwim? Anyway you did the right thing as always 😉

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  • You did the right thing…generally I stay out until danger is apparent.

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  • I think that it always depends on the situation. I think you may have been clear in this situation to be a little more firm. If you have to defend yourself to another parent then fine! In this instance, you were more concerned with the children hurting themselves than the actual fighting going on. I discipline my friend’s children and vice-versa. While at the park on Friday, I put a little boy in the toddler swing and pushed him because his mom was busy with his younger brother. She thanked me when she finally came over. Just keep doing what feels right and when the time comes that you have to defend yourself to another parent, let them know you just didn’t want their child to get hurt.

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