Debate: Should You Discipline Other
By Nanci Olesen
This is a scene I remember from about seven
I walked into our living room
to see three-year-old Roberto standing
on top of our coffee table, clutching a
glass Christmas ornament tightly and waving
above his head.
"WHOA!" I said (I like to think
I spoke loudly, in an urgent tone). "Get
down, Roberto! Hand me that ornament, please!"
My son Henry stood looking
at me, knowing that our new guest had been doing something that we don't
do in this house. Roberto handed me
the ornament. I
about how we don't take ornaments off the tree and we don't stand on the
coffee table. Roberto ran over to Henry's
little wooden train and started throwing
the train cars in every direction.
Henry sat himself on the couch, looking
like he might cry. I asked Roberto to stop
throwing train cars and announced that
lunch was ready. As I recall
the macaroni and cheese occupied them both for a while... and then (yay!)
Roberto's mother arrived.
I told her what had gone on and that I
thought it was dangerous for Roberto to
climb on our
coffee table. Roberto's mom, Maria, speaks
with a thick Italian
accent and dresses like she's straight out of Vogue magazine. "He
climbs all over in our house, and he gets into everything," she said
to me curtly. Feeling self-conscious in my stained t-shirt and torn jeans
her Italian-ness, I left it at that.
After another Henry/Roberto play date
in which I tried to keep Roberto from pulling all the books out of our
bookshelves, Maria got upset with me for
trying to tell
her that Roberto needed to follow our rules in our house. We ended up stopping
our play dates altogether.
That incident made me sad, but it also
helped me learn how to talk to other parents,
especially parents I don't know very well.
I like to feel that
my kids are safe
and well-cared for with other people when they are playing elsewhere, and
I just assume that parents whose children I care for expect the same. I
early on in a new relationship if the parent seems similar in style to
me. It's best when everyone can agree on the rules. That way "discipline" is
more of a distant threat than the inevitable end of the play date.
uncomfortable when you really like the mom but you really disagree with
how the kids are cared for. It's complicated when you feel a need
to be polite,
which I do, but I have had to forsake politeness for firmness when there's
a conflict. For example, we don't believe in spanking in our household,
and I would
be very uncomfortable if I heard of one of my children being spanked
in another household. I would be firm about
removing my child from that childcare
In the last ten years, I have had more
children under my care in our house than
I can even count. Recently
on a weekend morning, I was in
ages six through thirteen. I have half a dozen close friends with whom
I share childcare responsibilities in a haphazard, call-when-you-need-help
I am happy to carry a one-year-old on my back while making dinner, or
to read a
book to a herd of kids gathered in my living room in the late afternoon.
I like the idea of helping out other moms and having them help me out
of having this support system, though, is recognizing that when my children
are under the care of other parents, they are in charge of handling the
of my kids' behavior. I've heard of childcare co-ops where parents sit
down and actually write a manifesto of how they want to trade childcare
are, for discipline and for scheduling. For me, it works best to just "feel" it.
Do these kids all enjoy playing with each other? Do we parents pretty
much jibe on how to raise kids?
When there are "issues" about
discipline, I have to say that any kid under my care has to follow
my rules. We have a set bedtime, and it
too. We eat at the kitchen table and we all start eating together,
and we say "thank
you" when we're done. We close doors to the basement when we come
up and we put our toys away five or ten minutes before moms or dads
arrive to pick kids
up. Now that my kids are seven, eight, and twelve, they can make cookies
with their friends (with minimal supervision from me), and ride bikes
or even go sledding
in our neighborhood on their own.
Of course, sometimes our guests flaunt
the rules, and I do feel within my right to discipline. For me, the
bottom line of disciplining my
people's kids is respect. I have to show respect for the person whose
behavior I'm trying
to influence and I have to get respect from them in return. I am
pretty adamant about respect. I really
don't like to yell at kids and although
I have done
so in my life, I have to say that I think it is rare and that I think
it doesn't work. It is instant condemnation of the kid's actions.
to communicate with the child in a respectful way, by making eye
contact and sitting them down to talk about
whatever behavior is a problem.
the younger the kids that you're caring
for are, the less likely just talking it
out will work. I have to intervene more
Kids like to know what their boundaries are and they like to have
a loose handle on
a schedule. I do try the old "time-out" thing and I even
separate kids until the play date is over if I have to.
I have heard
of my own kids being put in time-out in other homes, usually after
some kind of problem with sharing a toy. It seems fine
Kids need a break
from each other when they just can't handle the stress of being
together and not getting what they want.
all sounds like a whole lot of hassle,
but in the end, visiting and having vistors
is good for our kids. Remember how you
to enjoy going
kids' houses when you were a kid? How the mom was different from
your mom and the way
they ate was different (or the way they got to eat in the treehouse?!)?
Whatever it was that felt so exotic, it's a change of pace for
the kids to get to
dive into life at another family's house. I want my kids to experience
of different households, but I want them to be safe and respected.
I do a lot of
this by intuition. I get the sense that other parents do the
same thing with us.
If you came to my house
you would be happy, I think, because
it's a fun place. I try to get enough sleep
so that I am a friendly
and I love
the work I do, work that often keeps me right nearby. We have
old furniture so you can hang out in any room and feel comfortable,
is a pretty
But please don't stand on the coffee table.
And if you come around Christmas time and
little kids, tell them before
get to the door
to leave the ornaments on the tree.
producer and host, MOMbo: 1990-2007