A few months back, a friend asked me to write a blog about stealing, particularly when we catch our children’s friends stealing from us. Without getting many details, I got the impression that she was torn as to whether to address the issue directly, tell the parents, or turn a blind eye and hope it does not happen again. To make matters more complicated, my friend also happens to be friends with the child’s parents.
So what does one do?
I get this question a lot in my practice. Parents wondering how appropriate it is to discipline someone else’s child while in their care, within the confines of the law, of course. What are the appropriate boundaries? Do boundaries really matter when it comes to witnessing immoral behaviour?
Similar situations happen all the time within our homes and are all around us. We see children in the neighborhood misbehaving, screaming too loud, blaring their music, throwing balls toward other people’s property, or damaging other people’s property. Sometimes by accident, sometimes not. None of this behaviour is technically illegal, but annoying and inconsiderate, nonetheless. Do we tell the parents, or bite our tongues?
How important is it to us to keep the peace with our neighbors and therefore say nothing at all? What are our moral obligations as neighbours, friends, parents, and members of society?
This subject becomes far more complicated when these issues happen within our own home. Is it appropriate to discipline our children’s friends, or do parents feel obligated to report the behaviour to the child’s parents and have them deal with it? Or do we do nothing at all?
There are many schools of thought.
Here are my views:
1) We can choose to ignore the situation. After all, it is not our child, therefore not our problem.Many parents pick their battles, and voluntarily opt out of disciplining other people’s children. They turn the other cheek, so to speak. Some will say they do it because it is not their business. Others don’t want to get involved. And others feel that they have their own children’s behaviour to worry about and that they will leave the disciplining of other children to their own parents.
2) We can choose to not say anything to the children themselves, but then give a full report to parents at the end of the playdate. Disclosing to parents is always an option, but often makes for an awkward situation. How do we disclose nicely that their child was being rude or acting out? There is no easy way to have such a conversation. However, we can frame the report by keeping the information general while at the same time delivering the information.
For instance, a conversation can go as follows, “This was not an easy playdate. On more than one occasion, I needed to ask the children to stop jumping on the furniture. I also discussed the dangers involved in continuing to do so. It was very frustrating.”
Additionally, a conversation can sound as follows, “There were times when the children were getting overly silly, which was very sweet and all, but at times they needed reminders to use their manners. There was more than one occasion where I felt they were being disrespectful.”
Framing the information in these ways takes the onus off any one particular child, while at the same time conveys to parents that there were behavioral issues which needed to be addressed.
After all, how can we address an issue if we are kept oblivious to it?
3) We can take the view that when another person’s child is placed in our care, even if for only a few hours, we are entrusted to take care of them. Take care of them in its entirety. Not merely by feeding them and giving them shelter. Many believe that this applies to disciplining them as well.
This is often the stance that my husband and I take. When other children are in our home, we treat them as our own. They get love and respect and consideration, and hugs at night if they need it. But they also get appropriate discipline if the need arises.
So why do we feel so strongly about this?
For the most part, we feel that proper discipline is essential to good parenting. But more so, we would hate for our children to get mixed messages: That when they do something wrong, they are disciplined. But, if others in our home do something wrong, there are no consequences. Children need consistency and they thrive when they know what is expected of them. These are the rules, and they apply right across the board. No exceptions.
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