Some day you’re going to be on a playground or in your own house, and will find yourself ready to discipline a child who is not your own. As soon as kids are able to have playdates, you’ll get a close-up view of the behavior issues of other little kids. Whether their behavior is due to lax parenting, different expectations, or individual differences, the reaction will be the same: you’ll feel that you should step in to say something to the child.
There are some things you can do to prevent discipline issues from occurring.
1. Talk to the other parents to make sure you know hot buttons up front. Maybe their child is used to watching TV on playdates and you don’t allow that. Setting that expectation is sometime easier to do by the other parent.
2. Set down clear rules. Kids need boundaries. If you don’t want them playing on the piano, say so.
If you feel you are feeling you need to react, here are a few things you should consider before jumping into the fray.
1. First, are you reacting to a black and white situation? If your playdate guest is hitting another child, clearly you need to step in and stop the action.
2. Remember that everyone has different standards for correct behavior. Don’t correct another child for not saying “thank you” or “please.” That is not your role.
3. Don’t watch the kids interactions too closely and feel you need to step in constantly to monitor social values like sharing. You may not be allowing the kids enough leeway to develop these skills on their own.
4. Don’t embarrass your guests or your own kids. Kids are even more sensitive than adults about getting a dressing down in front of their peers. If you need to say something, say it to the group: “Let’s ALL stop kicking the ball in the house.” If it’s your own child, take a moment in private to mention something you think needs attention.
5. Never spank someone else’s child or yell at them. Focus on stopping dangerous behavior, not punishment.
Finally, if you do have to step in to discipline someone else’s child, make sure you take a moment away from the children, to explain the situation to the other parent. In almost all situations, the other parent will want to hear what happened and will trust your judgment, unless he or she finds out later when the child whines, “Mr. Smith was mean to me.” That will earn you a spot on the “do not call for playdates list.”