Is It Ever Okay for a Stranger to Discipline Your Child?
You’ll be surprised what these experts say.
It’s happened to so many of us: You’re at the supermarket or a restaurant, your kid is having a meltdown, and a stranger comes over and starts trying to tell her how to be a good girl. Or you look away for a moment at the playground, and another mom is discipling your child.
Your first response may be to jump to your child’s defense, or tell the other person to mind her own darn business (perhaps in much more colorful terms.) But child psychologist Sheryl Ziegler, PsyD, author of Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process, says we owe it to ourselves to let other parents in when it comes to raising and disciplining our kids.
“We say, it takes a village, but we seem to only want that village for the positives,” Ziegler says. “We’re no longer as open to the old school way of parenting, where multiple generations and families throughout the community parented each kid, and not a second thought was given to reprimanding someone else’s child. We’re social beings; we’re meant to be raised that way.”
Parenting expert Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Girls: A New Path for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Successful Women, is on board, too. “I’ve always been okay with other parents parenting my children, as long as those parents are not being abusive,” he says. “That said, we should check in with our children on what was told to them—and what discipline provided to them—by the other parent in order to decide if we agree.”
For instance, if your child is pushing another child in an aggressive way, you might be fine with that other child’s parents stepping in and gently correcting the behavior. But if your child is exhausted and throwing a fit on the checkout line at Costco and the stranger behind you on line says, “If you keep whining like that, I don’t think your Mommy should buy you any toys,” you have every right to stare down the stranger and say, “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’m her parent, and I’ve got it covered,” says Lindsey Perper Davanzo, a Chicago-area therapist specializing in parenting and families and author of The Feelings Friends.
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Davanzo adds that context and environment are especially important. “If somebody is in imminent physical danger,” like a child being harassed on a playground, “and the kid’s parent isn’t paying attention, then I think it’s okay for someone else to step in.”
Bottom line: most strangers—especially other parents—are only trying to help, and we should appreciate the sense of community. But if someone’s “discipline” or “advice” feels wrong to you and goes against your family values, you can always say thank you, grab your child, and simply walk away.