Dear Dr. Rene,
Recently I asked my husband’s best friend’s three-and-a-half-year-old daughter to stop pushing our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, her mother got upset. Her response was that the children have to learn to resolve the matter themselves. Is it okay to discipline your friend’s children if the parents don’t react to their kids aggressive behaviors towards your own child?
Katya, Mother of One
You did the first thing I would suggest. If another child is aggressive towards your child, and the parent is present, I would ask them for their help. When you do this, be sure to avoid blame language. Stay away from saying things like, “your child is being bad,” or, “don’t you teach her any better?” If there is blame in your language, the other parent is less likely to listen or help. Instead blame yourself or the situation. Say something like, “I am at a bit of a loss here, could you help?” or, “I’m not sure how to best handle this, have you dealt with this before?” You will find some parents are readily helpful. Others, like your friend, aren’t so helpful.
If the other parent isn’t around or is not helpful, I think you are always within reason to speak for your own. This means to address the situation by speaking for your own child rather than disciplining the other. You might say, “ouch, that hurt her! I can’t let her get hurt.” or, “she wasn’t finished with her turn. She’d like that back.” Here, you are modeling the language you want your child to be using in the future. It would be good for her to say, “ouch, that hurt! Stop it.” or, “I wasn’t done with that. I’d like it back.” You are erring on the side of speaking for your own without disciplining the other.
I do understand your friend’s idea that children need to learn to work it out on their own and you want to give them some space to develop social skills, BUT when they start hurting each other they are stating very clearly that they don’t yet have the social skills necessary to work this out. When it starts to go poorly, it is still up to parents and teachers to step in, teach the needed social skills and to guide the children through the problem solving process. For sure, this is the case at one and three years old and continues to be the case as children continue to struggle.
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