How to Deal with Other People's Kids
It can be complicated. Their parents' rules or yours? Can you discipline them? And what about posting photos on Facebook? Some practical dos and don'ts.
Rules are rules, as far as Kristi Breathour is concerned. In her Chesterfield home, which doubles as a daycare, and when she's out with her 8- and 16-year-old daughters, Breathour believes consistency and consequences are the name of the game, no matter what.
In her daycare, Breathour gives parents a printed discipline policy to review before signing on to have her watch their kids. Still, there are many times when parents come to pick up their children and the kids choose that time to act in a way that isn't allowed.
"I let it go for a few seconds, and if the parent doesn't say anything, I do a gentle reminder. I will say the child's name and say, 'Hey, the rules are the same when mom and dad are here.'"
When it comes to her own kids, Breathour tries not to discipline their friends. But when a girl relentlessly teased her younger daughter at a birthday party, and the girl's mother didn't step up, Breathour finally took action. "I said to the child, 'Words hurt. I would appreciate it if you would stop.' It was again, reminding her. Her mommy's there and it was really inappropriate behavior. After that, they all played nice."
Parents walk a fine line when it comes to dealing with other people's kids. Whether it's stepping in to correct bad behavior, setting the tone for how things are handled in your home or respecting other parent's rules and privacy concerns, parents walk a fine line with it comes to dealing with other people's kids. And yet, part of being a parent is that dealing with so many kids that aren't ours is unavoidable.
How can you stay true to your feelings and needs and yet respect other people's rules, wishes and boundaries?
Most parents subscribe to the belief that they absolutely do not correct or discipline another child unless the child's behavior is particularly egregious.
"You have to be so careful," says Carla Wheeler of Harrison Township. "People are very sensitive about their kids. They take it really personally if you say anything to their kids that could come off as critical. We all know this. I'm even like that myself."
That's why parents choose to focus only on their own children unless there is something going on that reaches emergency-status. But there are times when that's just not possible.
"Rule No. 1 is have fun, and 'fun' means fun for everyone," says Laurie Gray, an Indiana attorney and the founder of Socratic Parenting. "Any bullying, exclusion, destruction of property is easily characterized as 'not fun' for the person being bullied, excluded or otherwise disrespected, and it's more effective to redirect the kids to something that is fun for everyone than to just keep saying, 'Don't do that' or 'Stop it.'
"Rule No. 1 empowers kids to stand up for themselves and others. And it's a rule they can take with them and use at school and other activities," she adds.
"I'm never one to step over a parent's boundaries," says Richie Frieman, the Modern Manners Guy for Macmillan Publishing's QuickandDirtyTips.com and a Baltimore dad. He believes in the power of suggestion. When another person's child misbehaves, gets wild or does something that Frieman deems "inappropriate," he doesn't step in – unless it negatively influences his daughter. He reminds his daughter what is expected of her. If that isn't enough, he'll "suggest" to the other child that he act in another way – but he can't enforce it.
"If a child is acting out so bad it's making a scene and the parent doesn't do anything, I figure how close I am with them as to the comment I make," Frieman says. "If it's a friend, I can make a joking but poignant comment like, 'Hey bud, I don't think the restaurant would like your kid tossing trash at other people.'" (That actually happened.)
If it's an acquaintance or play date-only friend, Frieman takes a step back and mentions that the other child is doing something wrong and it might inspire his daughter to do the same, "then we'll all be in trouble." When in doubt, laugh it off.
If it's a relative or best friend, he believes honesty is paramount.
"If I know them well, then the conversation is quick and direct. 'Buddy, your child just threw a plate across the room. You have to do something,'" Frieman says. "There is no room for error when it's someone close. They'll forgive you if you upset them, but they need to be told."
There is a decided gray area, however.
Sterling Heights mom of three Amy Pierce experienced that at a bounce-house birthday party where a little boy wouldn't leave the top of the slide. He pushed and bumped into other kids and prevented many from taking a turn. Pierce was frustrated, so she went to the host-mom and mentioned the problem casually.
That's when she learned the boy's mother had confided before the party to the hostess that her son was on the autism spectrum and did not handle crowded, loud, chaotic party environments well. The mom was right there but wasn't sure how to handle her son's behavior because she knew about his discomfort.
"That really opened my eyes – again, perfect reason why we shouldn't discipline other people's kids," says Pierce. "I didn't know his situation. I would feel terrible."
Wheeler says it comes down to some simple dos and don'ts: "Don't be reactive. Don't jump to conclusions. Do protect other children. Do make calm corrections."
It's one thing to speak up when you're in a public place or on a play date, but it's another thing when a child is a guest in your home. Then, Deborah Gilboa, MD, a Pittsburgh mom of four and founder of interactive parenting website, AskDoctorG.com, holds fast to the rule, "When a child is in our home, we hold them to the same standards as our own kids."
That means rules – no standing on furniture, no insults, let the younger kids join in half the time – and it also means chores.
"This surprises a lot of parents," she says, "especially parents who don't require this of their own kids. The kids don't seem to mind. When we're cleaning up or setting the table or even taking out the trash and starting laundry, I've never had a kiddo refuse to do what I've asked. They see my kids doing work and they help without fuss."
Gilboa once took a guest's electronics away from him because of inappropriate behavior. The kid instantly called his parents to tell them what happened. His mother came "to pick him up in a huff. I handed her the video game player and she handed it right to him and apologized for our behavior. He doesn't come play anymore – his choice!"
Chava Docks, an Oak Park mom of three, believes "every parent should speak up and not be afraid. I know I don't want my child picking up bad habits."
She even insists that any child in her care exhibits good manners – "please" and "thank you" and proper respect for adults. "Teaching any child good manners is an act of kindness," she says.
On the other side of the "home rules" issue with dealing with other people's kids is when those kids come with a long list of rules of their own.
"We have certain rules in our house, like we don't watch TV until after dinner," says Wheeler. "But I don't expect other parents to enforce that rule for their families just because my son is there. I don't think that's fair or realistic."
Others don't share her flexibility, though.
Some parents expect many of the rules of their home to be enforced when their child is staying with you. What do you do then?
"I think it really depends on what it is," says Alicia Dunlap of Ann Arbor. "If it's something related to the child's health, like a peanut allergy, then, yes, of course, I'll make concessions in my home to accommodate that. But if they are wanting me to duplicate their exact living situation, forget it."
Wheeler says that a friend of her 12-year-old son, Brandon, came with an instruction book so long that she dreaded his visits.
"At first I tried to honor as much as I could. No television. Brushing his teeth after ever morsel of food. No books or media with guns or violence. It was just hard to keep track of and exhausting, so I ended up telling his mom that her son would have to police himself when it came to these issues."
But Dunlap says that's not always easy when it comes to parents' rules for younger kids since they're not self-governing.
"In the end, I think you have to just be honest with the parents about what you can and will do, and what you won't, and if they aren't OK with it, then perhaps they'll have to limit the ways your child spends time at your house, or they won't come over," Dunlap says. "It's a shame, but you can only do so much."
In this technological era, it's not just disciplining another child when a scuffle or bullying scenario breaks out. Parents today also have to think about whether to post photos of their children alongside their friends online.
Given the perennial nature of the Internet, where everything out there remains out there forever, many parents are prone to posting pictures of school parades, birthday parties even play dates. Should they? Or do other parents deserve to weigh in before a photo of their kid goes viral?
Absolutely, ask first, sources say.
"If the child is not old enough to have his or her own account, I would call and ask the mom's permission," says Pierce.
Gray agrees. It's a legal issue, really, about sharing pictures of a minor in the public domain. And especially given the "ick" factor of Internet predators, parents today should beware the dangers of sharing content, names and images online without permission.
"I recommend not posting photos of other people's children without permission and especially not connecting the child's full name to a photograph without express permission," Gray says.
"There is nothing on Facebook that you MUST have," echoes Frieman. "This includes a photo of someone else."
Wheeler says this one of the most difficult things she's had to deal with as a modern parent.
"I'm fairly active on Facebook and like to upload photos from my kids' birthday parties or weekend outings online, so my family and friends can see, but a lot of these photos include other children," she says, "and I know some parents don't want any photos of their children posted online, even if they are not identified or tagged, and I respect that."
Her general rules are that she never "tags" or identifies a child in a photo. If she knows the parents and is Facebook friends with them, she will often "tag" the parent instead.
"Most really like that. I've just shared a photo of their child they hadn't seen, and it's sort of the way we share photos now," she says.
However, one of her daughter's friends has parents who don't want their child's photo posted online in any capacity, even without identification.
"You know, I appreciate that, too, and I've learned to work around it," Wheeler says. "Most of the time I just don't pick photos that she's in, but if it's a great shot and she's visible, I basically crop her out."
"Snacks, discipline, posting pictures online – isn't good communication the solution to pretty much everything?" Pierce says. "It pretty much is! Communication 101 – which we all need a crash course in – because how many of these situations could've been solved ahead of time? We're all mother bears when it comes to our kids."