A short time ago, I wrote an article titled “Friends: It’s Okay to Discipline My Kids.” In it, I explained why I needed my friends’ help with disciplining my kids sometimes and I encouraged them to do it (even if I was around, if I wasn’t stepping up to the plate). I’m determined to raise my children to be empathetic, kind, and thoughtful (AKA, to not be little jerks) and since I literally cannot be around them 24/7, I’ll need others to help solidify my teachings, sometimes.
Disciplining someone else’s kid is a touchy subject. It’s a line that is all too easy to cross; stepping into no-man’s land where Momma Bear Landmines litter the field you’re delicately navigating. How does someone discipline their friend’s kids without ruffling any feathers or overstepping boundaries?
I’ll give you my 5 tips on how to do it:
Remember who you are to the child. Don’t forget that you are not his actual mom. You’re an adult and in my mind, that means my kids should show some respect to you regardless, but understanding you aren’t the child’s mother goes a long way in not coming off too entitled or overstepping boundaries. I learned this important tip the hard way!
If mom is around, get her attention first, if possible. Not every situation will lend to this step but if possible, get mom’s attention about the matter before taking it into your own hands. Maybe she truly didn’t see her kid punch yours. No need to fly off the handle at the offender right away—let his mom do that herself.
Ask your friend how she prefers to discipline ahead of time. All this takes is a simple question asked when the parents drop their kids off to you. “Just in case something did happen and I need to discipline your kids, what method do you use or think would be the best way to get through to them?” If you know I heartily disapprove of spanking, you won’t even try that on my kid. If I give you a heads up that time outs are what I think is the best way to discipline my kid, you can try that first. Of course, you have your own relationship with my kids and might find something more effective than my time-outs, in which case use it and report back so I can try it on my kid, too!
Be honest. Look, if you lose your cool while you’re babysitting my kids and end up spanking one of them, I’d much rather you just straight up told me it happened than to learn about it from my kid later. If you just explain the situation, 9 times out 10, it’ll be no big deal and I’ll support your actions or I’ll ask you politely to try something else next time. But then we can move on and stay friends!
Don’t ignore a situation because you’re too worried or afraid of how mom will react. If I’ve left my kids in your care or have chosen to come to a play date with you, I’ve already chosen to trust you around my kids. I’ve enlarged my circle to include you and yours, already hoping that the “it takes a village” mentality will be the expected. So if you have to discipline my kids for whatever reason, chances are, I’ll be on your side. I’m mature enough to recognize that my 4 year old can be a little turd sometimes and you’re the adult. If she talks back to you so you put her in time out, I’ll actually thank you for doing something about it. I know parents these days are too quick to defend, to jump to conclusions and shield their kids to the point of overprotection, but have a little faith in me that I’ll see your side and appreciate what you were trying to do.
And what if you discipline someone else’s kids and it doesn’t go smoothly? What if their mom freaks out at you? Well, be adults about it, talk through your disagreements, and learn from the situation. Maybe the answer is you won’t babysit for her anymore? Maybe she just needs some time to cool down? But ultimately, you’re both adults who can (hopefully) resolve your own issues and by doing so, model to your kids how to effectively work through conflicts and find resolutions. No need to make it awkward or to lose a friend over it, if possible.
Do you ask your friends to step in and discipline your kids when you can’t? What other tips or suggestions would you add?