With a 6- and 3-year-old at home, I've seen a lot of bad behavior. Not just from my own brood; but from pals, playdate companions and classmates as well. It goes with the territory. For some reason it's easier for me to enforce the rules when there are more kids around than just my own. In fact, when it comes to disciplining other people's kids, I'm a British Super Nanny. I can work Discipline 101 like nobody's business:
Executing a pitch-perfect calm, modulated firm-not-stern tone.
Making my presence known and felt without being menacing or daunting.
Feeling no guilt about taking action regardless of the consequences (e.g., a boo-hooing 4-year-old).
I've got it covered.
With other people's kids I'm able to crack the code of playground politics that I simply cannot enforce in my own house with my own kids. I make stuff happen, prevent accidents and quell hurt feelings with the negotiation skills of say, a Netanyahu. I'm that good.
Except when my savvy backfires, like it did last week at our preschool's playground.
There was a kid, a good year older than my son—we'll call him Active Kid—who was getting a bit too excited about reaming his tricycle into everyone during his Lance Armstrong–like laps around the yard. I was enjoying a chat with another parent as we took note of Active Kid's steroidal-like-laps. I joked about my, "What Would Larry David Do?" test. I always consult with my inner Larry to assure that outwardly, I do the exact opposite. In this case Larry would probably just stick his foot out and watch the kid go flying.
The lovely father of another child and I continued with our Hollywood-parent-shmooze about how we "should totally work together someday" until the alarming calls of my name heralded me from across the yard. It was another mom and she was struggling to untangle my son and his tricycle from a fence that Active Kid had reamed him into.
I dashed over. She filled me in on the beat-by-beat. My son was completely fine. Physically, that is. But he was staring into the distance, dazed, confused and emotionless. I went straight to, "What if he's developing PTSD this very moment and never, ever, NEVER RIDES A TRIKE AGAIN?!!!!!" Just then, I looked up and flying around the bend like a banshee on three wheels with a wide baby-tooth grin, and showing no signs of slowing down, was our perp. Active Kid.
News of the event spread quickly.
As he approached us in the middle of the road, barreling at top tri-speed, from out of nowhere, my inner Larry made it to my outside voice, "HEY BUDDY BOYYYY QUIT ITTTT!!!" And I stopped him both with my foot, leg and a firm hand on the handle bars. I got down, eye level and looked deep into his now terrified eyes and riffed, making sure to add extra vowels, dragging out words for impact, "Buddy Booooy, you are going toooooo fast. Someone’s gonna reaaaaaly get hurt. You gotta' slooooow down. UNDERSTAAAAND?!"
News of the event spread quickly. The next morning at school I found myself reenacting the whole thing for Active Kid's distraught and perturbed mom who wanted to get the facts straight. Apparently he was hysterical all night. When he saw me in the playground, Active Kid's Mom said he pointed a finger at me very much like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, "That's her, that's the MOM!" It started to get creepy.
I wondered, just how much of inner Larry made its way to outer Emily? Had I caused trauma to this unsuspecting kid who was just doing his kid thing? I started to feel badly, followed by feeling guilty. What had I done? I emphatically apologized to Active Kid, his mom and to anyone else who may have been standing within ear shot. But even as I was doing it, there was a small part of me that felt like I had acted appropriately, and I would expect a parent to do the same thing to my kid if he was the perp. I did not feel good about upsetting a kid but maybe harnessing a little of the ol' inner Larry served the situation. After two previous warnings, nothing had gotten through to Active Kid. So fine, I scared him a bit. Sue me. No wait, don't.
When is it right to discipline other peoples kids? Without consulting the experts I would first say, check in with yourself and do exactly what you would accept and expect from another parent if it were your kid needing the discipline. Then, go online and consult the experts and see what they suggest. Ask your pediatrician or therapist. And if none of those work in the moment, go ahead and check in with your inner Larry. I promise not to tell.