We have friend who is living with us and he has a 5-year old boy. The child has been disrespectful and distructive. He tore a ceiling fan down, and has been breaking stuff and writing on the walls.
Today, he didn't want to clean up a mess and he said "James (my husband) had made the mess." He even said it to my husband's face and maintained that James was lying (his word). His father does nothing - I do mean nothing about his behaviour. So, how much can we do about discipline?

  • 17
    " He tore a ceiling fan down"...uh...you don't discipline that kid. You kick him and his parent our of your house.
    – DA01
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 0:11
  • 8
    UNLESS the parent has a good reason for not being able to take care of the kid. But in that case you need to treat the child as your own, as you are then the effective caregiver. Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 10:17
  • 1
    how long are the two already living in your household and how long will they stay?
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 20:14
  • Agree with the first comment, guests like that don't stay long nor are they ever invited to return.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 13:09

7 Answers 7


You don't. Your issue is with the parent, not the child. If the parent is not willing to step in and do their job, then why would you put up with either of them? Unfortunately, disciplining an adult is rather more difficult.

  • 5
    +1 for seeing the child as merely the symptom while the actual problem seems to be the adult. Good luck Cheryl! Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 6:17
  • Sure, the lack of discipline of the child is quite probably caused by his father's lack of "authority". However, a friend of ours is a day nanny and I see, how children behave differently in the presence of different people (In many situations she seems to have more "authority" than the parents.). So I think that the direct intervention of Cheryl and James could also help to make the child behave better in their house. Thus, IMHO, as important as it is to pull the dad on their side first, they can and also should speak to the child directly (as Lauren proposes in her answer).
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 20:21
  • 2
    @BBM - Possibly, but a nanny has been given authority by the child's parents to care for and discipline that child. I would avoid overstepping boundaries without explicit authorisation from the parents otherwise you can get in weird situations. Even asking of that authorisation may be considered a slap in the face for the parents. We lost a long term friend last year when she decided to interject herself into a school yard disagreement between my 9yo and her friend. Dealing with others' offspring is fraught with danger.
    – dave
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 21:09
  • @dave: I agree with you that this is a very difficult issue which can break friendships etc. I did not want to say, that one should try to parent kids of others on its own account! I thought to have read between the lines of your answer that the one and only way should be to make the dad "do his job" rather than talking to the child (or acting) directly and wanted to emphasize that the intervention of others might help the helpless (or maybe just ignorant or resigned) dad.
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 22:51

There are two problems here: the adult who doesn't discipline, and the child who needs discipline.

You must react to both.

  1. Discuss with the adult alone (after the kid's bedtime) about disciplining the child. Provide some reference material if you think it would help (perhaps the dad doesn't know how??). Otherwise, state: "We need to get on the same page re: Little Johnny's behavior. I recommend that we all agree on house rules and then figure out our approach to discipline."

  2. The child: ALL adults should be present. As a UNITED front, they should present the house rules; I would recommend you do this, as it is your house. "Johnny, we're so glad you are able to stay with us, and we want everyone to always feel welcome in our home. However, we have some rules that everyone must follow. I don't think we have told you them. Let's do this now." Also have the rules printed and posted (on the fridge). This helps cement the consistency and minimize on-the-fly rule making-up.

Secondly, be consistent in discipline. We follow a "3 strikes, you're out" approach. 1st strike= warning with explanation if needed. 2nd strike= timeout (one minute per years of age; 5yo= 5 minute time out) 3rd strike= loss of toy/ loss of activity/ loss of privilege (no computer, no movie, no dessert- but to be effective, the treat must be pretty soon)

Thirdly, set up a reward system. Be very spefic in praising the behaviors you want ("Johnny, I noticed how you sat all through dinner! That takes a lot of focus. Excellent!"). Couple short term praise with long term goals (ex: earn a sticker for specific behavior X, Y, Z, then trade in 20 stickers for a trip to the ice cream store). At the beginning you need to train the child to look towards positive reinforcement and away from negative reinforcement (at this point, attention is attention). So reward/ praise frequently. Give verbal praise every 5-10 minutes and a sticker each hour.

Good luck!

  • 3
    +1 for addressing the parent AND the child. It surely is important to have or get the parent on your side, but IMHO if the child is misbehaving in Cheryl's house, she and her husband can also directly explain their rules to the child (while the child's dad is present, if he supports them - if he is not able or willing, to support them, it will be difficult.)
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 5, 2011 at 20:28
  • 2
    Rewarding expected behavior is counterproductive. "You didn't punch a hole in the wall, little Jonny? Have a cookie!"
    – user808
    Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 16:48
  • I love the general idea here, but I don't think the father has to agree to your rules. "We need to get on the same page re: Little Johnny's behavior. I recommend that we all agree on house rules and then figure out our approach to discipline." If he doesn't like your rules or how you start interacting with the son in your own home he can choose to leave and take his son with him. I also disagree that the punishment/reward system is likely to work. Natural consequences - like now he has to work to pay you back for the ceiling fan makes a lot more sense. Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 17:10

I do the same with other kids as I would mine. If they make a mess they clean it up. If they write on something they shouldn't then the crayons, markers, etc get taken away and put up high. If they use disrespectful language I don't acknowledge that they are talking to me. I may just say something a couple minutes later about how I am a worthy person due respect and acknowledge those that use respect with me. You have to have standards in your home for everyone.

  • 4
    Yes, you need to command your own respect.
    – a_hardin
    Commented Jul 13, 2011 at 2:11

Obviously the child knows he can be destructive and disrespectful and his father won't do anything about it. From your question, it sounds like he may know you won't do anything about it either. I think you need to be the adult and affirm you and your husband's roles as the owners of your residence.

There is no reason you should not be able to take a firm voice with the child. You don't need to yell or scream, just assert your control over the situation.

If that doesn't work, do not be afraid to institute a timeout (we like having our son stand in the corner). You have every right to create a calm, safe environment in your home.

I can't go so far to recommend physical punishment for someone else's child. Not that I'm against it, but unfortunately there are those that believe authorities should get involved with spanking.

As far as how to deal with the father, I think you need to take the same attitude as with the child and assert your control in your home.


If his father is going to be a father, and you can't kick them out, then the child is going to have to learn to live by your rules.

If the father doesn't accept that, then the father can choose to leave. Treat the child with the SAME LOVE AND DISCIPLINE as you would treat your own. If you lack the love for the child, then you shouldn't be disciplining him, but if you care for the well-being of your house, home and his life, then you need to discipline him at whatever level he dishes out.


Well, the problem here is the parent, and not the child; the childs behaviour is because of the parents attitude towards discipline.

We have one particular friend, who's kids are, let's keep it neat by just saying 'unruly'. I have made it very clear, that we only look after the children, if we can treat them as our own i.e. we discipline them as we do our own. This seems to work, the kids operate by our rules when in our house, or under our supervision.

I do warn you, however, that there is an 'adjustment' period where things are all a bit tense, but this does work, and work well.

As for talking to the parent. One thing I have learned, and learn more and more each passing day, is that as parents, we all have different ways that we bring our kids up, and I have long avoided saying our way is better, for it may not be; our way is best for us, and someone else's may not be for us, as much as our way for others; with obvious exceptions, there is no right or wrong, only our way and other ways.

This also works both ways; I detest violence, and no child of mine wil be physically punished. I make it clear to whoever looks after my kids that this rule is inviolate. They may punish them and make sure they behave, but never physically.

  • +1 particularly for the point, that there is no general right and wrong.
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 15:00
  • 2
    -1 particularly for the point, that there is no general right and wrong.
    – user808
    Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 16:49
  • I am bit shocked there @j.rightly, are you stating that generally there is a right and wrong way? if so, please, I am all ears...
    – Hairy
    Commented Jul 14, 2011 at 7:14
  • I believe the quote, also, was: with obvious exceptions, there is no right or wrong [in parenting]. For me, different ways work for different kids, and for different families; I'd never be that arrogant I believed I knew the right and wrong way to bring upa parent, as I don't believe there actualy is; if there's a perfect set of parents, who've ever walked the face of this earth, I'd lovve to see who they were. Utter madness.
    – Hairy
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 7:18
  • @Hairy, there may not be one "right way" to parent but there are definitely a few wrong ways. Ignoring the child and never doing anything to address the situation would not be called parenting at all - it is neglect. It may not be physical neglect warranting of the state becoming involved, but it is neglect none-the-less. I'm not down voting over it - the gist of the message is agreeable, but I wouldn't say j.rightly is crazy either. Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 17:15

Best story I heard in this regard was of a guest visiting his adult friend at the friend's home. Friend's children were all over the place misbehaving etc. Friend just let it go on. Guest made it clear to the children that he would not let it go on, first with verbal warning, secondly by moving to the edge of his seat. In short, he was clear and credible that he would follow through. And it wasn't even his own house. Surely you can do similar in your own home.

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