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When You Should Discipline Other People's Kids

We’ve all bristled a bit at this moment: You lay down the plate of mac and cheese, sliced apples and carrot sticks in front of your 6-year-old lunch companion and with nary a comment she digs in. Moments later, she calls from the table: “I need more water!”

Maybe you wouldn’t bristle as much if the lunch companion were your own child. But she’s your child’s playdate, and the absence of pleases and thank yous feels all the more striking when you’re waiting on a guest. If I would immediately correct my own child, replying: “May I have more water, please?” why wouldn’t I correct the other still-forming, untrained beast in my home?

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Many mothers just ignore bad—or the absence of good—behavior in a guest. I’ve seen it many times. They just wordlessly fetch the water or the juice or refill the bowl of Goldfish crackers. These children are only in your house for a few hours, so what’s the point of turning yourself into an ogre?

Well for one thing, I would want another mother to correct my child. Shame her! It always hits harder when it comes from someone outside the familiar yip-yapping of your own house. Maybe if someone else says it, it’ll stick!

But what if the other parent doesn’t care? Then do it for the sake of the child, and of your child. Showing your kid what’s acceptable and what’s not is just as important in these situations. You don’t have to be a total jerk about it: “Were you raised in a barn? We say please and thank you in this house!” But a gentle reminder? Why not?

We all know the kids I’m talking about.

Of course it gets trickier the older the child gets. I can get away with, “I didn’t hear ‘thank you,’” when I’m talking to a 2nd grader, but a 5th grader? Correct manners in a 10- or 11-year-old, and you tread dangerously close to mortifying your child.

I also don’t correct if the other mother is present (duh), or—and this is kind of a weird caveat—if the child is particularly shy. I’m not going to push a kid further into his shell (who’s barely peeking out in the first place). Someone who has to muster the courage to even ask for water is going to get that water, no questions asked (or autocorrects given).

No, we all know the kids I’m talking about. His lack of manners is usually just the tip of an iceberg of general lawlessness. He blows into your house like a tornado, approaches you five minutes after he's been dropped off and declares, “I’m hungry!” Then shakes his head at every morsel you offer, breaks a couple toys, and leaves. It’s not gratifying in any way to have that kid over, because not only are you treated like a low-rent house frau, but your child is picking up bad habits as well.

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I say we all watch out for the village. If no one corrects your kid when you’re not around, it’s going to be a long, rough road to adulthood. And if my kid doesn’t say "please," cut off the Goldfish!

Do you correct other people's kids?

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