The debate: Do you discipline other people’s kids at the playground?

When it comes to other people's kids, do you lay down the law—or turn a blind eye? Two parents hash it out.

Photo: Olivia Mew

Photo: Olivia Mew

“Yes”
Jessica Thomson, mom of three

You’re sitting on a bench at the playground, watching the kids play (OK, half-watching the kids play, half-checking Facebook ), when you notice a pileup at the top of the slide. One kid keeps climbing up the wrong way and sliding down over and over, while the others are getting impatient at the top. Do you go over and say something to the climbing kid? I absolutely would—even if my kid is nowhere near the slide. I would also talk to that kid over there throwing rocks, and the one spinning that horrible spinning thing too fast for anyone else to get on, and even that group of older kids who aren’t being careful enough around the littler children.

While your kids are in your home, their discipline is 100 percent your responsibility. When you take them to a public space, though? Children need to learn how to share the world, and it’s up to the adults around them to teach those lessons. This includes coaches, teachers, lifeguards and, yes, sometimes even someone else’s mom or dad at the playground. If it were their kid on the receiving end of the rocks or getting spun off that spinny thing, I’m pretty sure any parent would want someone to intervene. How can we expect that from anyone if we’re going to get upset when someone steps in when our kid is the one throwing the rock? Intervening isn’t a judgment on anyone’s parenting or an insult to their kid. All children misbehave at some point or another, whether they mean to or not. And let’s face it, half the time they wait to do it when we’re not looking. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good thing if a person who isn’t their parent who is looking says something to them about it.

What it boils down to is this: I hope someone would step up and help if my children were feeling unsafe or unwelcome, so I don’t have a problem with another parent getting involved when my kids are the ones being jerks. And if it’s someone else’s kid being the jerk? I certainly won’t feel bad about telling them to stop. It takes a village, people.

“No”
Derek Malcolm, dad of one

Ah, the park. It’s a jungle gym out there, rife with conflict over Tonka trucks, who’s next in line for the swings and whether that last pitch was a ball or a strike. It’s a powder keg, and kids can go off—sand is thrown, someone gets pushed, tears fall.

We’ve all seen our kids committing or being subject to playground atrocities. My five-year-old, for example, is still mastering the nuances of monkey-bar etiquette and occasionally, in her excitement, butts past other kids for another go. I think children should learn to work out their issues on their own, but ultimately, it’s on us to remind our kid to wait her turn and be respectful of others, and we do.

Did I say that it’s on us? OK, good. Because if and when our daughter is acting like a jackass at the park, I’d personally prefer to be the one doling out the discipline should the situation require it, not a stranger.

Don’t get me wrong—I get the “it takes a village” philosophy. But I reserve the right to decide who makes up that village. My wife and I are fortunate to be part of a great community of parents, teachers, friends and family who know and care for many of the kids in our neighbourhood. We discuss parenting together and share a lot of the same values, and on several occasions one of them has delivered swift playground justice to our little girl. And I’m good with that.

But laying down the law on a stranger’s child? That’s not for me. It’s not my place to infringe on other parents’ values or disciplinary methods. I know how sensitive my kid can be when I correct her behaviour, and I don’t want to risk going about it the wrong way with a child I don’t know.

Politely asking a child to share the slide or not to throw sand is one thing, and I can always take my daughter to play somewhere else to diffuse a situation, but that’s where I draw the line. Barring those tactics, if a kid is still unruly, it’s time to locate their parent and let the adult take it from there—before the whole playground goes up in a mushroom cloud.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2016 issue with the headline “Do you discipline other people’s kids at the playground?” p. 96.

Read More:
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6 discipline fallbacks… and how to fix them!
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