What are some good strategies for dealing with misbehaving children who are not my own?

The children in my son's kindergarten class

  • do things to me or to my son which they should not do like throwing things, etc.,


  • do not stop when I tell them, so they don't respect my authority as an adult.

One example for such a situation is described in this question: How should I react if another child "attacks" my son by doing something he does not like (but not especially dangerous)

There are some boys in 'smy son kindergarten class who are quite "wild" and seem to enjoy doing things they're not allowed to do. Often it's also difficult for the kindergarten teachers to stop them from misbehaving; it seems it's not enough to tell them to stop, but they have to be taken by the hand and lead away, etc. Even then they are not always obedient.

This is a general question, however in my current situation this is especially about pre-schoolers, and I think the possible answers might be different for different age groups.

  • it sounds to me that this example is a school problem, the school must know that this child a problem and should be monitoring him more. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 17:13

4 Answers 4


I'm sorry. My son (2 years) is one of the wild ones. He's rough, aggressive, has a high tolerance for pain, and is nearly fearless. What's more, he loves to break things, tackle people, wrestle, and test his limits (over and over).

I am sorry that he is jumping up and down on your son. I'm sorry that he just head butted your daughter in the face. I am not excusing his behavior; I'm apologizing.

Please don't be angry with him. I don't think it will help anything. Feel free to intervene. I don't want him to hurt your child. And he really doesn't either. He'll probably say that he's sorry if you give him a chance.

Here's a good strategy to deal with him. Approach the situation with his best interests at heart. Approach him with loving-kindness. Physically stop or prevent the wild or bad behavior. Don't display anger. Just separate him from your child and stand between them. He may think that you are joining in the rough-housing game he just invented. He might try to push you back (presumably you just pushed him to move him away from your child). Don't let that provoke you. Just expect it. You are doing exactly what he thinks is the funnest kind of play. Make it clear that you are not playing. Tell him, concretely, not to do the thing that concerns you. If you are not concrete he will not be able to follow your direction (even if he wanted to). He will likely cry for being admonished, for being prevented from playing the way he wants to, for being embarrassed in front of everyone. That's fine. That's part of the feedback loop he needs to learn not to do certain things. He may throw himself on the floor in a tantrum. Please try to catch him and prevent him from hitting his head on the ground.

You're going to have to do this over and over. I do this about 30-40 times an hour while I'm around him. Every day. Whenever he's awake.

Don't ever hurt him. Don't scream at him. Don't intimidate or scare him.

Another thing to consider is, some of the times, letting him be wild with your child. There will be bumps and bruises, crying and fits. But there is a lot of evidence that both of these approaches are needed to let children develop the skills they need to thrive when they grow up.

  • 2
    @Paul: thank you very much for this great insight into the other perspective!
    – BBM
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 19:49
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    "You're going to have to do this over and over. I do this about 30-40 times an hour while I'm around him. Every day. Whenever he's awake." I must have been venting a bit here. That's an exaggeration.
    – Paul Cline
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 22:52
  • Paul, thanks for the answer. This is a good way to approach a wild child
    – kiev
    Commented Mar 26, 2012 at 0:48
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    I honor the courage you have to give the other perspective as well as a valuable answer all in one. Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 0:34
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    @PaulCline - Come back! Come back! We want to hear more of your thoughts! Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 8:59

If they are in kindergarten, the responsibility should be on the staff there - if you step in and do something you could end up in trouble.

In a wider context, these days in the UK or US there is very little you can do without falling foul of some nanny-state regulation. When I was young if I did something wrong I would expect any adult nearby to give me a skelp round the lug, or to tell my parents (who would then ground me) but those days are gone. If a child hits you and you retaliate in anyway you are likely to be the one punished, so my advice would be to just ignore it and move on.

This counts for all age groups, as far as I can tell :-(

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    IMHO it is very sad if I am forbidden by law from interfering in such conflicts - presupposing all adults to be potential child-harmers is just as devastating for a society as assuming them all to be fully conscious, sensible and caring persons fully capable of dealing with children. Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 11:03
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    -1 There is some sort of assumption here that the correct way is to "retaliate". You shouldn't retaliate, illegal or not; that's not the right way to deal with the situation. I do agree that in the kindergarten you should discuss the situation with the staff. Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 8:30
  • -1 "little you can do without falling foul of some nanny-state regulation" is also incorrect. Supervising adults have a duty of care over those in their charge, removing the aggressor from the situation to protect or prevent further harm to others would be perfectly reasonable, as would placing those who misbehave in time-out. Hitting children is not ok whatever you call it as (a) the evidence shows it doesn't work and (b) despite being hit yourself you do not seem to have learned the lesson that it's wrong. Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 11:08
  • James - the question is not referring to those in your charge. They are in the charge of the kindergarten.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 12:56

My understanding and feeling is that

  • These children are not intentionally wild or disobedient to be "bad" - they usually crave something: attention, time, love, clear guidance/rules from others.
  • These others are very often their own parents first of all. Almost always when the child is wild / disobedient, it is advised to look at the parents. It is probably not possible to achieve a long term solution without them.
  • In the short term, just to stop the child from misbehaving, I would try the following, depending on the situation:
    • firmly (but not painfully) hold him (or her) by the arms, look straight into the eyes and state in a calm, but firm voice that this and this is not allowed to do (may need to be repeated several times if the child doesn't listen)
    • or if I feel that the child is more like craving for attention, or that he would freak out if I used the first method, I would try starting a conversation, asking what's up, or posing some totally unrelated but funny or playful question, to put him off of the current rut and bring him into a more friendly, cooperative mood.

However, as @Rory points out, being on "foreign territory", it is advisable to discuss the issue with the teachers first. They might have different ideas / strategies to resolve the situation, and/or may object to me interrupting in such situations.

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    Restraining someone else's child, no matter how much they deserve it, seems to run a very high risk of the other parents becoming offended or worse.
    – user420
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 21:44
  • very good points - thank you! With "wild" I did not want to say those children are "bad" - you're absolutely right that at least some of the reasons for such misbehavior will most probably be found at their parents (e. g. I once saw this same boy doing something forbidden with another child and his mother was standing very close and seemed to ignore it which is not okay IMHO). For the reasons pointed out by Rory Alsop I would not dare holding another child by the arm if it would not really risk to injure someone with its misbehaviour.
    – BBM
    Commented Jan 28, 2012 at 23:25
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    @BBM, I did not specifically understand your post as saying that such children are "bad", just wanted to make this point clear in general, also with other future readers in mind. Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 17:11
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    @Beofett, good point indeed - I forgot to emphasize that it is always best to discuss the issue with the parent first. If we see that their ideas of "proper" behaviour are very far from ours, we are in a difficult situation indeed, where I would not directly conflict (neither with child, nor parent) indeed. Commented Jan 29, 2012 at 17:17

My answer for overactive and slightly aggressive children when with my daughter and others is to invent an energetic game and channel some of that energy. This is great when you have a largish open space and room to run about without restriction - I try to balance keeping my daughter under control (she is generally quite well behaved) and giving her opportunities to run free and have fun somewhere where ti wont bug anybody.

I think that children need to have an outlet, somewhere to run wild, otherwise they will always in many subtle little ways, be trying to find such a release, and are likely to be like a bull in a china shop where it comes out and isn't appropriate or safe.

We know that if my kid doesn't get out a bit every day - to her nursery, to the park, to somewhere bigger than our home, she will get increasingly cranky and hard to control. Give her some place to run it off and make a load of noise and movement, and she is as sweet as pie.

Kids generally look forward to playing with us - me and my daughter that is, because when I am doing the quality time thing - I make sure they get to have bags of energetic fun. Perhaps even Paul Clines kid can be redirected this way, and not be head butting or wrestling.

One simple game for under 4's - find a set of picture flash cards, dominoes, lego bricks or any other toy that is bright, flashy and there are many of them, ask the child to take one, run to the other end of the room, touch the wall with it and leave it there, and then try to come back and tell you what it was - they then get to have another - they can do this for hours, and be quite competitive about it. ANd yes - you will have to collect the small pile of cards/bricks/dominoes at the end of the game, unless you can make a game of them bringing it back (my daughter will sometimes play along with that too!).

  • This answer addresses the matter if it's your own kid. But the question asks what to do about others' kids. Can you edit your answer to address that? Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 16:41
  • I do say "with my daughter and others". Finding an energetic game for children to play together will entertain them, and perhaps distract them from inventing their own games which me be more aggressive. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 17:48
  • Granted. I think I thought of the linked question where the situation does not allow time-consuming interaction. I withdraw my previous comment! :-) Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 18:35

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