I believe that interacting with a variety of other children at social functions is an important part of childhood development. However, there seem to be a lot of children who are... how shall I phrase it? Undisciplined.

Undisciplined behavior in other children can have direct impact on your child, no matter how well behaved. Poor behavior in other children can serve as a bad example, or it can result in upset, or even injury, for your child (think chronic hitters, biters, and bullies).

Even normally well-behaved children can have bad moments, too, especially when in a group environment where situations can escalate much more quickly than normal.

However, disciplining other people's children is a potentially touchy subject, especially given the wide range of opinions of child raising "best practices". I know some schools of thought advocate "never saying no" to a child, and many advocate very different approaches to setting boundaries.

So, how do you handle poor behavior in other people's children?

How do you respond when the child has a parent present who does not respond in a way that you are comfortable with?

How do you respond when you are the chaperone, and there are no other parents present?

  • I have never had a problem telling others' kids "stop that." If they ever try to pull the "you're not my parent" (and they never do, but I have a deep, strong, authoritative voice and presence), the "I'll be happy to go get them. Do you really want that?" usually ends that discussion. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 17:19

3 Answers 3


As a general rule of thumb, if there is a parent / baby sitter / caregiver present I try and let them take care of matters, using the lower end of my interpretation of generally accepted behavior as the yard stick for when to interfere.

If I do think I have to interfere I'll address the child, not the parent. This usually helps. If that rubs the parent the wrong way they'll let me know and I can let them know they really should have done something about it before I interfered. (Although, usually, if they don't care about their children's behavior, typically they don't seem to care about me correcting it).

The above is assuming the behavior is not endangering any one. If that's the case I'll jump straight in and deal with any sensitive parents later.

If the behavior does not get better, we'll up and leave.

When it comes to play dates (i.e. no other parent present), the presiding parent should determine what's acceptable and what's not. I'm stricter than some of my son's friend's parents and easier than others. Kids will quickly learn to adjust to whatever parent is calling the shots (it's either that or no more play dates). For a while we had to stop play dates with one particular friend who'd get consistently out of control. He's grown out of it and now he listens and all is well. We never had to call the other parent to cut a play date short, but that's always an option. Also the threat of no more play dates EVER unless behavior gets better right this minute usually helps as well.

I've found that over time you end up hanging out with like minded parents / kids and so it becomes less and less of an issue. Also the older kids get (my son is 8 now) the more they seem to be able to gauge what is acceptable behavior and what isn't and to self correct (and stay away from kids that don't exhibit similar ideas as to what's acceptable).

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    Well, crap, you said pretty much everything I was going to say. And probably said it better than I would have. +1 The only thing I might add would be addressing/discussing the behavior with your own child afterwards.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 19:15
  • @kevin Thanks :) And, good point, it definitively helps to discuss the bad behavior (be it others or his) afterwards in establishing what's acceptable and what not. Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 20:35

First of all, as a former teacher, in regard to the chaperoning situation I would say, When you are the chaperone your rule rules. Before going, everyone should be clear about what the rules and expectations are, but "when in Rome" applies here. If you use corporal punishment (which, based on other postings here I doubt, but if you do, make sure other parents know it before they agree to send their child with you). Then, deal with it how you deal with it.

In regard to other situations My daughter has two older cousins that are, shall we say "undisciplined" so it was especially tricky. The cousins are by-way of an in-law and her parenting style at family functions at least is pretty much "leave well enough alone." She let her two year old slap the newborn all the time when the second one was an infant and said, "Well she is expressing her frustration about the disturbance the baby has made in her life." Obviously, talking to the parent wasn't a real option for me.

This is how I dealt with it I personally try to model the idea that everyone is different and does things differently. "Well that mommy has a different rule than I do." Period. I might privately discuss it later with my child so she understands what I value that makes the rules for me different (at six, she definitely gets this, at three it was a little tougher, but not as much as one might think). Obviously, with the cousins, I have to be careful to explain without getting critical.

You CAN help your child learn how to care for themselves somewhat

Right off the bat, I taught Alice "I messages" so she could stick up for herself (to some extent). She could YELL LOUDLY, "I don't like that! Stop. I don't want to. . . " This is just a good safety device in general for kids to use with "tricky people" formerly known as strangers that want them to go somewhere without guardian AND with schoolyard bullies because it draws attention. When Alice said something like this, I could intervene with it being incredibly obvious why I was intervening to everyone around.

First, if I hadn't seen what happened, I asked. I let both kids tell me their side of the story. This gave me great information to use with my daughter later if we needed a follow up discussion - either about different choices she could make to help herself out of a situation sooner, or about different choices she could make altogether (like sharing nicely).

If it was bullying or some other kind of behavior like that and a parent wasn't around (or responding) to the negative behavior, I simply repeated my daughter's statements to the child in question if the behavior wasn't already stopping, "Hey, She said she doesn't like that. You need to stop." If I needed to, I removed my daughter from the situation and found something else that was fun for her to do in another space.

Dealing with "Its not Fair"

In terms of the "its not fairs" in life that crop up as a related issue, I simply respond with "fair is a place we go to see farm animals, ride rides and eat cotton candy." What is "fair" is not always what is equal and "fair" doesn't generally exist in life most of the time anyway. I listen to Alice's feelings about something first, empathize and if there is an area where a compromise can be made, I'll make it, but, at different ages I have also offered up different examples of how "fair" doesn't really matter and isn't realistic to attain.

An example I used recently went something like this, "well, Will it be fair for them when they move out of their house and don't know how to do chores to keep it clean and cared for? - Ok, now go pick up your toys. and then come back and you'll need to do one household chore with me. That one was critical of the other, but it is really the truth.

Finally, I'm going to add this, because I originally forgot to address the question of Other kids being a poor example:

My attitude with Alice (and with my former students) was - "The wrong others do doesn't make your wrongs less wrong." Alice knows she expected to stand out in the crowd as the leader who makes the right choice and sets the example for good behavior. I simply won't tolerate less. She also knows that she can come to me and ask for help, advice, feedback etc. without me being angry with her or judgemental about her not knowing what to do.

  • +1 for "when in Rome" and especially the "I messages"... The practicality of the latter for dealing with a much wider range of issues is wonderful. Thanks!
    – user420
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 13:55
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    +1 for "fair is not equal" Even with all my granola hippie attitudes, I am quite clear on this. Fair is respecting the needs of every child, and knowing that those needs are different from child to child. :) Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 14:34

I agree with Korneel and Kevin. I would tell my child privately that that behavior was not OK in our family. I do think kids can accept that there are different rules in different envrionments. I would also, depending on the age of the child, speak to some extent as to WHY that behavior is not OK. And I completely agree with the safety line that Korneel draws. Bad behavior correction can be left to the attending parent unless there is a safety issue.

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