Initially my question was, how do I discipline other people's children but I am not sure that is the right question, nor is it something I actually want to do. More over, I need to understand better how to deal with other people's kids when the children lack any discipline.

My 2 friend's children like me because I give them a lot of attention when I am around. My friend tells me they see me as a big kid. I'm 30 & these kids are 7/8. I usually don't have too much problem talking to their mothers and playing with them at the same time and often I'll be in a situation where their mothers are talking in their native language at which point I just switch off from them.

I believe both kids are quite poorly behaved - they are not terrible but just some situations they don't have down. They do not listen very easily to their mothers. I don't think the mothers see how bad their children can be but I am comparing to the kids in my family who's parent disciplined them well from a young age and knew very well the consequences of misbehaving - One of them hit me several times today which would have been surprising if I hadn't seen her hit her mother before. These kids habitually get away with behaviour that is completely unheard of in my very large family.

Today I was invited to an event. Adults downstairs and these 2 kids were playing upstairs. Once they realised I was there, I made the mistake of interacting with them for a bit but from that point onwards the kids would not leave me alone. They were physically trying to stop me from going downstairs, pulling me, holding onto my legs etc. Which I didn't mind at first. In my family, this wouldn't have been a problem:- The problem I have with these children is that they don't know the meaning of stop - and there is nothing I can say to them that says, I am not playing anymore. There was a point where I tried to do this and one of them said to me - or what. How do I answer that? I have no power over these children and in a situation where they won't leave me alone the easiest thing for me to do is leave (which would be ridiculous). I considered that when I was a child - someone saying they would inform my parents would have been enough to make me rethink my actions but for these children it wouldn't matter (mother hasn't implemented good techniques for discipline, she now sees them as ineffective which leads me to believe she did something incorrect or age inappropriate).

I know with me, the one thing these children care about is whether or not I like them but I don't think it would be reasonable/good their psychological health to tell them that their behaviour is making me dislike them. Its obvious that they crave attention but I cannot ignore children who are physically holding on to me when I have no way of getting them to stop.

I feel like the thing I must do is withdraw completely, reset and rebuild my relationship with the children with clear boundaries but it isn't clear to me how to make that work

1 Answer 1


Generally, I find that most children, or indeed most people, are quite capable of adopting different sets of behaviors with different individuals. What I more frequently see is that children are superficially more well behaved with non-immediate family (or less comfortable expressing their true feelings, depending on how you want to look at it). So I find it heartening that you seem to have crossed that bridge with them, and I'll also argue you needn't view this as an issue of how to discipline them, but rather of how to establish a relationship with them that is working for you. I assume they'll be able to learn that when you say stop it's really time to stop, regardless of whether they'll ever have that relationship with their parents. I furthermore believe that an authoritative approach to this begets resistance and power contests, and that boundaries set with love are more effectively established.

Look, children are people. They're not adults, they don't have adult reasoning, impulse control, foresight, etc, and the responsibility of adults is often to accommodate that fact, but these differences from what you may expect of an adult-to-adult relationship are much smaller than the similarities. I doubt "withdraw completely, reset and rebuild" would be your strategy if you and your partner had different views on boundaries, and I argue it shouldn't be here either. It sounds more like how you might train a pet. While not adult, children are more like adults than like pets. With relationships, a complete rewrite is emotionally very disruptive. Patching what you have is often the more humane route.

The "or what" may be a more blunt confrontation than you would encounter from an adult, but if you consider that there's an honest question in there, albeit with a rather bullying messaging, I think you could probably come up with an honest answer. If it were me, that answer would be something like: "Look, I enjoy hanging out with you guys. But I also want to spend time with your parents. Today, that's what I came here for, so I don't appreciate you holding me back. If I can't trust that I can stop playing when I want to, that means in the future I'll have to avoid starting play in the first place. That would be sad to me, and I don't think that's what you want either."

While the exact situation is not applicable to me, I find that that kind of language resonates well with my three year old and with adults alike. It's how I would approach these kids as well. You've said yourself they like you, and it seems clear to me too. So while they may not be able to manage that in a way that's working out for you, the prospect of making you sad or of having you disengage should both be strong disincentives.

You might also be interested in reading this question and its answers, which is approaching a related situation from another perspective: How to tell my 4-year-old son not to get hyper with his uncle or anyone except parents? I get that there are aspects to that question that may have you think it completely inapplicable to your situation, but I hope you'll take away from it that as the only adult in that relationship, it is your responsibility to communicate boundaries in a timely fashion accommodating the child's perhaps limited capabilities to pick up on subtle cues or inhibit their own impulses. We don't expect the child to be equally equipped to come up with a good solution.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .