17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Public Discipline Quandry

What do you do when another kid hurts your kid? What do you do when the other kid’s mother is there? What do you do when the other kid’s mother is not there? What do you do when the other kid’s mother makes almost no effort to discipline her child or convey the idea that what he’s just done is not acceptable? I’m in a quandry; I don’t know what to do.

I find it happening a lot recently between my 15-month-old and the other toddlers she plays with regularly. Of course, she rarely gets seriously hurt. But there are kids who push and pull and hit and definitely upset her and are just kind of mean. I find the moment after she’s been hurt (so far, she hasn’t taken to hurting other kids yet, probably only because she’s the youngest and smallest of the group of kids we spend time with) to be very awkward.

There’s always some kind of reaction from the other kid’s mom. It sometimes includes an apology to me, perhaps with an explanation, “He’s tired; he’s hungry; she’s really into pulling hair right now; she gets that from her brother.” And I usually find myself immediately saying, “It’s ok,” just to smooth over the situation socially.

But is it ok? Is it ok for kids to hurt each other? Do we just let it pass? Perhaps it is ok. I mean this is what kids do; this is how they are. I can accept that to some extent playing with other kids is going to involve some aches and pains, some scratches and bruises, and maybe even the occasional blood. But I think what bothers me more than kids hurting other kids is mothers who don’t do anything about it, or mothers who make a weak attempt at disciplining.

But I’m not sure what I expect that “disciplining” to look like. I’m not really sure how I will handle it when my dd starts doing it (I assume she will). My first instinct tells me that there needs to be some kind of mildly but genuinely unpleasant consequence to the action: being removed from the play area and placed some place safe but perhaps isolated (in a playpen in a closed room? in her own room if we’re at home? in her stroller away from the playground if we’re outside?).

But is this too extreme? From what I have observed, just explaining to a kid this age (between one and two years old) that it’s not nice to hit or push doesn’t really seem to accomplish anything. On the contrary if the disciplined kid is looking for attention (so often the case), he or she seems more than likely to do the same thing again—almost immediately—just to remain in the spotlight a little longer.

I definitely don’t think any kind of physical punishment is the answer—perhaps, ever—but definitely not in this case where we’re trying to discourage hurting another person.

What have been your experiences? What do you do—that has worked—when your kids hurt others? Does anything work? Do kids grow out of this? Is it just a matter of waiting for them to mature? What do you do when your kid has been hurt by other kids? How do you respond to your child? To the other child? To the other child’s mother? If disciplining of some kind is in order and the mother makes no or little attempt at it, do you say something to her?

Here’s another quandry: I find myself feeling angry when the mother of a kid who has hurt my kid doesn’t do anything about it. But when mothers do discipline their children, it feels really awkward to stand by and “witness” it, especially if it involves yelling or something harsh.

Please, any ideas? Share them!


  • I think the age of the hitter is a key issue. My sense is that if they are 1 yos, they need a firm "No. No. We don't hit. That hurts. Owee." and then to be taken somewhere else to play.

    Once they are 2 (or older), the same speech is followed by "if you hit again, we are going home."

    I know it seems like they don't understand, but I think they understand more than you think.

    I will apologize to the other child and the mom.

    I think the excuses you are hearing translate into "please don't think I am a bad parent." I think the lack of action you are seeing means "I have no idea what to do."

    If the mother doesn't act, I would act as if the mother hadn't seen what happened (whether you think she did or not) and say, "X just hit Y--I guess you didn't see it?"

    I know this is all very touchy. I don't think my solutions are perfect and I'm curious to hear what others say. We're all just making this up as we go along . . .
    posted by Blogger Julie M. Smith at 6/20/2007 08:39:00 PM  

  • My thoughts are all over the place, so forgive the babble...

    When's it's my nephews hurting my kids, I tell them straight up to knock it off. If it's my kids hurting anyone else, no matter if the mom says "It was my kids' fault" and "it's okay", I tell the other mother "No. It's not okay. It's not okay for them to hit/steal/cheat/hurt/etc." Usually they look at me like I'm psycho, but I don't tolerate mean behavior --especially by my own children. And I've got myself a pretty mean 2 year old boy. So I'm in this situation a lot.

    What I've learned the most, however, is to be firm without freaking out. If your child is being hurt by another child and the mother won't intervene, just calmly tell that other child to stop hitting. If he continues and said mother continues to not care, then end the interaction (if it's a playdate, go home. If it's the park, find another friend. If it's a family member, tell said family member-mom to stop ignoring the situation!).

    However, if it's your own child, follow Julie M. Smith's advice above.

    I mean, come on. We've all heard the "if we let them be hit, they become a victim" or the "if we don't let them fight it out they'll never learn to stand up for themselves" but when you're dealing with children under the age of 3, hitting needs to be understood for what it usually is --the inability for that child to express him/herself verbally.

    Okay, I guess I made some sense. I'm tired...
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 6/20/2007 09:30:00 PM  

  • Sunny - I'm so glad you posted this and am interested in the responses. Kids have been tough with T occassionally (he is NOT a very agressive kid, so I don't know, maybe he's an easy target?) and I found myself reacting the exact same way you did. Saying, "oh, it's okay, don't worry about it", to the mother. But yesterday at the park this little girl (almost two) bit him on the hand and it must've really hurt b/c he screamed. The mom just smiled at me like, "oh, kids will be kids". It was really awkward. Plus, T had these bite marks on his hand all night. Poor little dude. Anyway, I wasn't sure what to do. I guess just take notes and think about how I will handle the situation if T ever bites anyone at the park in the future. At his age (16 months), I think I would apologize to the mom & child (as Julie said above) and say firmly to him, "No. No biting. Ouch. That hurts." Or something like that. You know your own child and what he/she understands. T definitely knows what it means when I speak firmly to him - even if he isn't always clear on the specifics. Anyway, Thanks for the post. This is something that has been on my mind lately.
    posted by Anonymous Beth at 6/20/2007 09:34:00 PM  

  • I once read a parenting book that helped make sense out of this but explaining developmentally how complicated it is to obey instruction. Take "not hitting"
    first, the child has to hear and understand your message of "no hitting"
    then they need to remember it at the next future time a hitting opportunity occurs
    then, they need the self-restraint to modify their behavior and not attempt the hit.
    Learning why not to hit is a separate part too.

    each of these pieces takes time to learn, and from what I've seen of 1-2 year olds, all you can do is say "no hitting" and redirect every time. they're too far from possibly putting it together.

    Parenting on Purpose

    but it's not my very favorite parenting book, that's "the power of positive parenting" by Latham (?)
    posted by Blogger cchrissyy at 6/20/2007 10:42:00 PM  

  • If I don't discipline adequately, it's usually because I am tired.

    My idea of adequate for this age is to do what Julie M Smith says. I usually make them say sorry as well.

    Recently I was at a public play place where in my opinion my child needed little supervision. It was just my 2 kids and ksl's kid. Another mother that we didn't know arrived with her son who was a few months younger than Poopy. Almost immediately she came up to me and informed me rather gruffly that Poopy had hit her son.

    This BUGGED me.

    If I had been that mother, I might have said to Poopy...please don't hit the baby....or that's not nice to hit the baby....b/c the mother (which was me in this case) was not paying attention...or I would have moved my baby to a different toy....and if after a long while the picking on continued, I would have kindly and pretend apologetically informed the mother of what was going on....and could she step in.

    That's all.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 6/21/2007 05:59:00 AM  

  • I love this post! It is so important especially for us new moms to learn about things like this. Seriously girls, these topics help me so much.

    Everyone's comments are so right on. I think a firm and gentle response every time helps us so we don't overreact when we are too tired, or fed up with bad behavior. It also teaches our kids what is appropriate. Even though my 18 mo old doesn't behave perfectly and doesn't understand why we should, she nearly always turns to me when she misbehaves like she is looking for a response. So even at that young age a response from parents is crucial.

    I'm also bugged when other moms either (a) don't respond, or (b) overreact to the situation. It is totally awkward.

    By the way, along the lines of the idea that it takes an entire village to raise a child...you have every right to verbally respond to other children who hurt your child. Of course don't do anything physical, but a simple phrase is wholly acceptable. It's important that kids learn that are part of a whole society, and not just individuals.
    posted by Blogger Tally Girl at 6/21/2007 07:16:00 AM  

  • Can I say this without being tarred and feathered? My nearly 17-month-old is a hitter, and I feel like I'm constantly either being too laid back about disciplining him or making other people uncomfortable. Our (ever-evolving) rules are to apologize (he signs "sorry") and leave the situation. If we're at home, we make him sit in the corner of the couch until he signs "sorry" and then gives the person he hit a hug.

    With my son, I think he (1) gets easily excited (probably all kids do, but what do I know? I only have one), and (2) gets confused about when it's okay to hit (high fives, splashing in the pool, etc.). I'm trying to show him to clap when he's excited, and to eradicate all high fives (but convincing Grandpa and DH has been a rather hard sell).

    We'll see. I figure everyone's doing their best, so I just hope the other moms give me the same benefit of the doubt.
    posted by Anonymous mhuff at 6/21/2007 01:00:00 PM  

  • Thanks for all the ideas, ladies. Mhuff, I appreciate hearing your perspective. I've wondered often if rough-housing with our kids, tickling them, etc. sends mixed messages when we tell them to not be rough with other kids. If your kid and mine played together, I know I would appreciate any effort on your part to respond.

    Tally Girl, I completely agree. I'm amazed at how often my daughter starts doing something I have previously told her not to do and then stops to look for my reaction. It's such a test, "What is Mom going to do?" Her understanding almost frightens me at such a young age.

    But I appreciate the insight you shared, Cchrissyy, that this IS a complicated process that needs constant reinforcement.

    So I appreciate hearing from some of you that if the other child's mother doesn't respond, I have the right to speak to the other kid and let my disapproval of the action be known.

    Beth, I hope T's bite marks are gone! Yikes! And thanks Julie M. Smith and Cheryl for your suggestions. I really appreciate other perspectives on this.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 6/21/2007 06:22:00 PM  

  • mhuff,
    I think the only way you would be tarred and feathered is if you said you have a "hitter" and then continued to say that you don't believe in any kind of discipline.

    I for one appreciate the eyes of other mothers. I would hope they would let me know if my child was misbehaving because I don't want to have to watch them constantly, but I do want my kids to know that hitting, pushing, etc is never acceptable. And only constant reinforcement of that idea will allow it to sink in. But proper tone in conveying the poor actions of my child by another mother is very much appreciated because hitting between toddlers is not a horrific offense. It happens.

    I also have no problem with another adult discipling my child when I have not seen the offense happen. I love the idea of the "community" helping to raise a child so a mother does not always have to be on her toes at every moment. And I also want my kids to be able to take instructions and discipline from adults other than dh and I. But I realize that many mothers wouldn't agree this philosophy.

    ALong these lines, we were swimming at a pool this past week with a lot of kids and moms and a little girl push Pumpkin into the pool (she's only 21 months and cannot swim). The little girl's mom was not around and I was busy saving my daughter from drowning and then trying to calm her down after the experience so a third mom immediately stepped in and reprimanded the little girl for pushing. I really appreciated the tag-team.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 6/22/2007 10:49:00 AM  

  • I don't allow other people's kids to push my kids around. When dd was littler, I ensured this by staying right by her while she played so that if/when another child made to push or hit I was able to head it off. Usually the mere presence of a strange adult was enough to stop the would-be pusher or hitter, and if not then my words (always said sweetly), "You may not [push/hit]" generally did the trick. Either the child would retreat or the mom would involve herself. If the other child were insistent on hitting or pushing, I've been known to catch an arm mid-swing or physically put myself between my child and the push.

    Only once has another mom been bothered by my handling of the situation. Her child was pushing kids at the top of the slide while she chatted on her cellphone on the other side of the playground. I climbed up and told the boy he had to stop, and I helped my child find her way to the front of the line, in turn of course, and take her turn without being pushed. Mom was ticked that I even talked to her kid.

    Sometimes, but not usually, I take my child away from the situation. I don't make this my first course of action because I don't want to send the message to my child that she always has to retreat in the face of threats nor do I want to send the message to the *other* child that I don't think they're capable of controlling themselves.

    When MY kid has been the pusher/hitter, I apologize to the other child and take my child to another part of the playground. She's pretty reserved, so I haven't had much practice with this. I expect to get better as my boy gets bigger, as he seems to be more aggressive and outgoing.

    posted by Blogger Shel at 6/23/2007 06:03:00 PM  

  • hmmm... i'm sure this has been resolved by now but read "Parenting with Love and Logic". their take on the matter is... interesting but might be effective. just depends on all the variables.
    posted by Blogger Bliss at 6/26/2007 11:21:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home