When is it okay to discipline someone else's kid? In my opinion, any time the kid is in need of a well-earned consequence.
Look, I'm exhausted. I'm overwhelmed. There's a possibility I'm slightly buzzed. Maybe I didn't see it, or possibly I managed to tune it out. Regardless of the circumstances, if you saw my kid being an a-hole, would you do me a solid and let him know?
Funny, our parents never had to utter anything even vaguely resembling that statement. Back when we were kids—when a payphone call cost a quarter and Val Kilmer was still kind of hot—any card-carrying parent could reprimand, scold, or even spank you, and woe to the child who deemed this unfair.
You: "Johnny's mom made me wash my mouth out with soap for calling Johnny a stupid butthole!"
Your parent: "You're lucky I wasn't there. I'd have made you gargle with gasoline*!"
(*No joke, I'm pretty sure my parents said this.)
Don't get me wrong: Lay a finger on any one of my beloved spawn, the fruits of my womb, and you're hobbling out of here if you're lucky. (The NBC miniseries The Slap centered around this very concept. Spoiler: After a dad gets physical with a kid who's not his, two families go from cozy to courtroom faster than you can say but the little twit deserved it.) And if you don't even know her and you smack her for an innocent accident, I hope your affairs are in order. But when you step in with a stern but respectful word or well-earned consequence, the margaritas are on me. In exchange for your promise of reacting swiftly and appropriately if you see my kid being a little creep, I solemnly vow to return the favor.
In this utopia we'll create, nobody will dream of threatening to sue anyone else for saying, "Harper, we don't use words like that in this house. Please apologize to Noah or you'll have to go home." No mom will declare social media war on another mom for scolding her son, "Jackson, I'm going to have to take away your Jedi Master Lightsaber until you understand it's not for hitting." And warnings like, "Bella, your 10 minutes on the swing were up 10 minutes ago. If you don't give Henry his turn, you won't be allowed to use it anymore," will be met with fist pumps and declarations of lifelong loyalty.
According to a TODAY poll on the subject, I'm in the very slight majority on this one. Of the more than 8,300 respondents, 52 percent agree with me that it's okay to discipline a child that's not yours, while 48 percent prefer to handle that thankless job all on their own.
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Here's the way I see it: When you've got my back, you're showing my kids that demanding kindness and compliance isn't just some weird quirk of mine; it's a universal expectation. You're helping them see that their parents' watchful eyes aren't the only ones they have to worry about—a lesson that will serve them well in school and in life. Best of all, when my kids see that I'm not the only adult who refuses to tolerate misbehavior, they're that much more likely to knock it off.
So thanks in advance. I owe you one.