Let’s talk: Should a stranger ever discipline your grandchild? 1



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Should a stranger be able to discipline your grandchild? It’s a question that everybody has an answer for, but now two different psychologists have weighed in.

We’ve all seen those shopping centre meltdowns where a child has thrown a terrible tantrum, or been in a playground and watched someone else’s child shove another. Should we hold our tongue though, or could we step in?

According to clinical psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack, “unless there is some danger to the child, parents (or indeed grandparents) should be allowed the opportunity to discipline their own child”.

“Despite whom it may be, you do not know what has been going on… You don’t know the background, and it really is none of your business when it comes to disciplining the children of others”, Ms McCormack added.

There is always the chance that disciplining someone else’s grandchild could result in an altercation with other grandparents, parents and total strangers. This could leave you in a vulnerable and unpredictable situation too.

However, child psychologist Dr Lawrence Kutner has another take entirely. “Some situations are trickier, requiring careful thinking and diplomacy”, he says.

Dr Kutner suggests “stating a simple rule” as a reminder to someone else’s child, rather than actively disciplining them. For example say, “We always ask permission before we take something”, if you see one child snatch from another.

“Sometimes a parent will become angry or defensive if you reprimand her child (or grandchild), no matter how gently you do it. If that happens, stay calm… Mention that your own kid’s been known to do the same thing”, advises Dr Kutner.

“You could also say, ‘What do you do when this happens to your son (or grandson)? I’m never sure what to say!’ This is less likely to put the other parent (or grandparent) on the defensive, and focuses the discussion on solving a problem”.

“There are always consequences to any behaviour… Whether you do something or whether you choose not do to something”, added Ms McCormack.

She advises always deferring to the child’s grandparents first, and asking yourself how you’d feel if the situation was reversed. Today, Starts At Sixty wants to know your thoughts!

Would you ever discipline someone else’s grandchild? How would you react if a stranger disciplined your grandchild? How do you approach these awkward situations?

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  1. if the child is disturbing the peace in a public place and no parent figure seems to be interested in preventing it, I believe it is my right as a public citizen to point this out to the child – quietly, gently, firmly – e.g. squat down make eye level contact with them – ‘excuse me – do you know your loud noise is disturbing a lot of people here – and they might get very angry ?’

    simply addressing a child as a larger adult usually shuts them up – they don’t know what you’re going to do and you present typically 4-5 times their size – so no raised voices should be required – just a pleasant ‘excuse me – that noise is not OK – please stop’ – or something like that.

    Of course if your mere stopping and saying something to the child brings out crazy parent-figure from the bushes, then you can beat a hasty retreat – again polite words would be appropriate, e.g. ‘oh thank heavens – I was beginning to worry for this small child when I couldn’t see their parent around – but now you’re here that’s great – have a nice day now !’

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