Sunday, August 27, 2006

Disciplining Other Parent's Children
(when the other parent is present)

The ifs and hows of disciplining other parent's children is a touchy subject. And, as any experienced or even semi-experienced parent knows, it is bound to come up. . . numerous times. This post is dedicated mostly to disciplining other parent's children when that child's parent is present, as is apt to come up during a play date, at a shul function, at the park, etc. Of course, there are many more scenarios that could be dealt with where the other child's parent(s) is not present--but that is what the comments are for. After all, I want to keep this particular post brief!

(Just a note: when I speak about discipline in this post, I am not speaking about punishment, but rather correcting actions through either words, diversion, or another non-physical technique).

I have noted, mostly through looks thrown my direction when I "dare" correct another parent's child (usually one that has just bopped my kid on the head), that I am in the minority when I say to other adults (aka as authority figures): please feel free to correct my children.

I am a disciplinarian. But, I am not superhuman. I do not have eyes on the back of my head. And, believe it or not, sometimes the eyes on the front of my head miss moments that call for discipline, especially immediate discipline. So, if I did not react to an incident that calls for discipline, chances are that I missed that moment, and I have no problem if another adult corrects my child.

If fact, I even believe it is healthy for children to receive discipline from other adults besides their own parents (and caregivers or teachers). But, like I said, I believe that my position on the issue is a minority position. (Also, if you are not comfortable correcting my children, you can feel free to point out the wrongdoing to me before you get upset that I am not doing anything about it. Like I said, chances are I missed the moment).

Sure, it can hurt when another parent ends up disciplining my "baby," but ultimately my goal is to raise children that become "mentchen." And one of the things that I believes separates the "mentchen" from the "vilde chayas" is their ability to recognize an authority figure when they see one, grant that authority figure the respect that they deserve, and accept deserved discipline.

So, feel free to discipline (i.e. correct) my children, if I haven't already beat you to the punch. They are not malachim. They are unfinished products that need direction to become "mentchen." And, if I missed a moment that should not be overlooked and you provide that direction, I thank you. The last thing I ever want to hear my own children say to another adult is "I don't have to listen to you. You are not my Mommy (or Ima, Daddy, Abba, Tatty, or Teacher.)" And, I've heard that phrase all too often.

So, what do you think? Am I in the minority? Or, does anyone in the peanut gallery think like me?


Anonymous said...

I agree, its difficult. I usually try to stay out of it unless I see something that is either harmful to the child or another child nearby. If there's anything thats potentially harmful or dangerous, I jump right in and discpline the child. (At least I try)

JJ said...

I agree with you 100%. It takes a village, after all :-)

mother in israel said...

When a two-year-old shoved my one-year-old on to the floor and I told the 2yo it was not nice, I was attacked publicly by his mother. She told me that because my daughter was so little she, the mother, would not expect my daughter to defend herself against her son until she was older. And I should have approached her. Some people think they get to make all the rules.

Orthonomics said...

Like some of you, the specific examples that spring to mind where I have jumped in involve potential injury.

Somehow, I don't believe I need to sit there smiling while your child beats up my child so that you can discipline first.

But, I could tell about other situations involving shul functions and more, where I have had to jump in. Sometimes the job just needs done(!).

Pragmatician said...

I don't disagree with your view per se, however disciplining with love and/or care is an art.
Beside there’s no formula and for each child something might work better than something else.
A stranger does not know your child, at all.
He does not know whether there's a motivation behind a child's misconduct, he doesn’t recognize the act as either an accident or with purpose as the child's parent can.
Therefore my opinion is that, except when the child is hurting another one, others should try to draw the parent's attention but no more.

DAG said...

I will discipline another person's child, ONLY if the behavior the child is engaged in is extremly dangerous to himsel or others. All other issues I leav to the parent's concern...

Orthonomics said...

My incidences of disciplining have either been for either
1) physical protection of a child-most common scenario, as I said in my post the most often time I end up correcting a kid is when they are hitting my kid.
2) asking a child to speak politely to me-I have asked children who run into me to say excuse me. I expect my children's friends to say please won't serve them without it.
3) a child grabs food during a kiddush or seudah shlishit before it has been served and I'm manning the kiddush--this usually just involves a short "all children must wait until the Rabbi makes kiddush to take." Often, after the rule is stated, if a parent is present they will grab for their child.
4) Preventing property damage-self-explanatory, but not too common.

Neil Harris said...

No time to comment now, I'll read the post later, but this is an awesome topic!!

Neil Harris said...

Sorry, my son was being bitten by a kids during a play date at our house.

Just joking! lol
The examples that come to my mind are very similar to the 4 you listed, Sephardylady.
The technique that we use when our kids end up modeling bad behavior at school or the park is that we say to the kids, "In our family we don't...bite, run in shul, take with out asking, jump on furniture, bang on the table before kiddush with forks, etc. You get the idea. We have close friends who's kids behave nicely, but at time wild, and when I use the, "In our family.." line, the parents also have started deciplining their kids by say, "So-and-So we don't do that in our family either."

Another thing that I do is tell my kids that they are a "mensch yisrael". My wife and I never say, "Act like a mensch, or act like a bas Torah", only because my wife thinks taht we don't want kids to "act" or pretend, but to internalize their on greatness and connecting to being children of the King of Kings.

The old, "please don't let your child hit my son" (directed toward the parent who is present, yet not parenting) is more direct, but also works. Great post.

Orthonomics said...

Thanks for joining in Neil. Fairly recently I disciplined a friend's kid who had either kicked or bit my kid (can't remember which, unfortunately a common unilateral occurance). It was in the "heat of the moment."

She wasn't too thrilled and told me that her discipline would be more effective.

In a way I agree with Pragmatician that discipline from the person who knows the child best is the most effective. But, usually discipline in these moments is "off the cuff" and there is no time for negotiation.

In addition, I really believe that kids need to know that there are standards and that they are universal.

While I certainly understand using the lines "in our family," certain behaviors should be across the board and I'd rather that my own kids believe that proper behavior is expected of them by all adults.

While it is true, as Neil pointed out, that usually the "in our family" is followed up by agreement from the other family, I can say from personal experience that that is not always the case.

Maybe I will have to tell some more stories.

Anyways, I like this topic and it provides a nice change of pace. So, hoping that more readers will participate.

Orthonomics said...

One more note: obviously when I am referring to certain behaviors, they are behaviors that would (hopefully) be deemed improper universally (hitting, bitting, kicking, throwing food, demanding, damaging property, etc), , rather than certain things that are not particularily universal.

In the latter case, I see no problem at all using the phrase "in our home we don't jump on the couch." But for the former, I see no need to say "in our home we don't [xyz]" vs. "stop [xyz] now."

Hard to put the thoughts into words, so I just wanted to clarity.

mother in israel said...

I have to say that I would be annoyed if a friend refused to serve my child unless the child said please. How far would you take this? It would be one thing to give a gentle reminder. If that wasn't enough anything you do isn't going to help. Is that what you meant?

Orthonomics said...

I don't know how far I would take this, but I have gently reminded a child to say speak nicely to me when asking for a piece of food (my child, younger than him had already said please and thank you) and he started yelling at me: "I hate you." "Give it to me NOW." Etc.

In this case, his mother was not there and I was in charge. Needless to say, I was anything but impressed.

Usually a gentle reminder does the job, and besides the terrible incident above, I've never got anything than a "please" and "thank you" after a reminder.

Anonymous said...

And now for a little halacha.
See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayyim siman 343 and the Mishna Brurah there se'if katan 7- when it come to Biblical prohibitions everyone is obligated to stop any child from violating them. When it comes to rabbinic prohibitions only a father (and according to most the mother also) is obligated to stop his own child. For example, if you see your own child climbing a tree on shabbos, which is rabbinically prohibited you must stop them. However, if you see someone else's kid climbing a tree you are under no obligation to stop them. However, if you see a child trying to rip off a branch from the tree, which is Biblically prohibited, you must stop them, whether they are your child or someone else's.
Now if it seems obvious to me and see the Mishna Brura ibid. se'if katan 2, that hitting, name calling, lashon hara, and almost any behavior relating to bad middot is prohibited Biblically and as such any adult in the vicinity must stop the child in question.
Now this all applies to a child who is "higi'a le-chinuch" which means they are of an age that they can comprehend the concept of "no." Under that age there is really no obligation of chinuch. So to bring this all home, if a two year old his pushing your kid, you should protect your kid, but you are not obliged to give the kids a lesson because they are probably too young to really understand the implications. However, if you see a 6 year old hitting another child or hurting their feelings- you are obligated to step in.
(one caveat- Sfardim may have different standards in this area). In any case, next time another parent gives you a hard time, tell them it's the halacha and if they don't believe you tell them to ask their rabbi.
One more caveat (wisdom is the neccessary corrolary of all chinuch questions. so regardless of any formal halachik obligations or lack thereof, one must consult the 5th chelek of the shulchan aruch).

Orthonomics said...

Thanks Rabbi Dr.,

I think I may use your comments for my next post since they add new incite.

It seems that my style and the halacha aren't too far off. :) It seems that I only step in when there is physical danger, possibility of property damage, or middot issues that are more serious.

Thanks for contributing. Hope to see more contributions in the futur.

mother in israel said...

That doesn't sit well with me. It's not so easy to decide on the spot whether a particular action is asur medeoraita, regarding hilchot shabbat maybe but middot? I'm not a rabbi --could you give me the source that every instance of name-calling is assur deoraita? I don't think this is a simple matter at all, and there are many factors to consider: the age of the children, how well the adult knows the child, what the child's reaction is likely to be, whether he will be embarrassed etc. There is a halacha of rebuking an adult and we know that we must apply it very carefully. To apply this halacha of chinuch strictly could be very tricky.

Orthonomics said...

Aaakk-My last comment should read "add some new insight [not incite]."

Like Mom in Israel, I'm not sure that I can decide what is d'oreita or d'rabbanan on the spot. But, how many situations where discipline is needed involve those situations?

However, the halacha obviously allows for disciplining other people's children. I've found danger, property damage, basic respect, and respecting the rules of an institution are the most common scenarios where I have felt the need to step in.

Of course, when I step in, I try to do so in a non-embarrassing sort of way. But, I don't believe that kids are so fragile that they can't take reprimand, nor do I believe that I need to guard their feelings extensively when they are destroying property, e.g.

Hard subject to put into words. I'm sure most reasonable people would agree that discipline from adult figures is necessary. But, as my husband said tonight, the disagreements on how to administer it have made everyone afraid to discipline period.

mother in israel said...

I'm not disagreeing with you regarding property destruction or physical violence. Any adult who sees such things should most definitely step in. But when it comes to bad manners and other unpleasant behavior I think we can set limits in our own house--if I find a child's behavior really annoying I am going to let the child know, or send him home if possible. But in most cases we are really not going to do any chinuch by reprimanding a child. In rare cases if we have a close relationship with a child we might be able to bring up some issues.

It's tough because the "It takes a village" idea rings true. In theory I want other parents to look out for my kids. In fact recently a friend called me when she saw my teenage son doing something he shouldn't, and I really appreciated it. I was able to raise the issue with him and his school. He doesn't know how I found out so he thinks I have ruach hakodesh, as I have told him :-). But most times when people step in I just resent it, probably because I don't feel they have my child's best interest at heart or they have different expectations of my children than I do. Or because, justifiably or not, it is used as a way to criticize me. So it all depends on the circumstances and the relationship my child and I have with the one reprimanding.

Orthonomics said...

Many parents seem to be very, very sensitive to any negative feedback about their child. I understand the sensitivity, but I think ultimately it is better to be open to accepting reports than not open to them. As our children get older, I guess I'd rather be in the know about their activities, whereabouts, etc, than close myself off from reports and miss information that I need to help them should they need it. I guess I would rather sort the information out and risk a blow to my own ego, than not have the information I may need (ch"v).

mother in israel said...

That's exactly what I said--I was happy that the woman told me what my son was doing. But sometimes comments about people's children are intended to take them down a notch, and even if there is some truth in the criticism it is hard to take it well. When I see other children's bad behavior, it may be hard to separate a legitimate desire to intervene and negative feelings I may have about the parents' style.

Scraps said...

I agree with everything you posted, sephardilady.

Moshe David Tokayer said...

Regarding Rabbi Dr's comment there is a difference in the halacha between reprimanding or disciplining a child and stopping a child who is in the middle of a prohibited action. The first relates to the mitzvah of chinuch. Parents are required to educate their children. The second relates to the requirement to stop a child from doing something which is prohibited. These are two separate categories and they are dealt with separately in the halacha.

The halacha quoted addresses the latter only. If I see a 7 year old doing something that is prohibited, I am required to stop him. If he's already done it, the halacha quoted does not require me to reprimand or discipline the child. That is for his parents.

Orthonomics said...

Just read a non-Jewish chat board where a lady saw children throwing merchandise on the floor. She approached them and said, "I assume you will be picking that up." The kids went back and picked up their mess.

It was after the fact and I can't see anything wrong with what she did, although it certainly wasn't obligated. I say good for her and wish there were more adults out there like this. :)