Should You Discipline Your Neighbor's Child?

What to do when you're forced to discipline a neighbor's child.

Q: I do a lot of carpooling and drop-off play dates with the families in my neighborhood, all of whom send their kids to the same nursery school. The other day I had to give a time-out to one boy who's been misbehaving a lot lately, screaming in the car and starting fights at my house. Afterward I felt guilty, and I'm afraid to tell the boy's mom what happened for fear that she'd disapprove of my disciplining her child. Do I have the right?

I don't envy you. You dance a fine line when you discipline someone else's child, given that parents so often have varying discipline styles and tolerance levels for rowdy behavior. And we're all so sensitive about our own children. But if I were in your driver's seat, I'd have done the same thing.

You're the boss in your car and home, and it's up to you to keep things safe and civil for all the kids in your care. If you let one child get away with acting up, you're telling all the tots "Go wild! No big deal!" -- a message I doubt any mom delivers at her own home.

But you have to tell the boy's mother what happened. She needs to know what's going on with her child, and you need to give your side of the story in case the boy has mentioned "that mean mommy who yelled at me." (Wouldn't you want to be clued in if your kid was wreaking havoc?)

Relate the facts, without passing judgment, and his mom should be okay. The two of you may need to come up with a plan in case the child's behavior continues. Perhaps she could reiterate what's expected of him when he's in someone else's car or home, and this team effort can help solve the problem. But if not, or there's a disagreement over your disciplining her child, then your carpool may have to run out of gas.

Julie Mazer, a mother of three, lives in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2004.