By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
It used to be that public disciplining of children by anyone and everyone was expected. School teachers, policemen, shop owners, random passersby-I've watched enough Jimmy Stewart movies to know that pretty much anyone was allowed to give a child what-for and the parents would spank first and ask questions later. These days it is exactly the opposite. Today parents are expected to provide 100 percent of the discipline with other adults playing a supporting role by reporting behavior to the parents who then take appropriate action. Whether or not this has been a good shift for society in general and for children specifically is a topic of hot debate with everyone from the moms on the playground to parenting experts.
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Dr. Ron Zodkevitch, M.D., a child psychiatrist in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, said in an interview with the Today show, "Discipline no longer seems to be a collaborative effort among parents. Today, you're not supposed to stick your nose in where it doesn't belong." Adds Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist, in the same interview, "I've been a family therapist for 30 years, and I've never seen a generation of mothers and fathers so guilt-ridden and overwhelmed with their lives and their role as disciplinarians."
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Many moms feel comfortable correcting other kids to a certain degree. Sara, a mom of three, says, "You can say anything as long as there's a smile on your face." while Rachel, a mom of two, says, "I take 'discipline' to mean just vocally calling their attention to a problem. Not like putting them in time-out or taking a toy away or whatever." Adds Alice, mom of four, "I only step in if their behavior is impacting my children. If they were hurting some one else's child I'd probably step in also."
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The problem comes when a parent is totally fine asking someone else's kid to stop taking all the toys, but gets upset when someone calls out their little cutie for pushing. I've found that moms whose mother-bear instinct runs strong often are the first to jump in to protect their young... and also the first to jump in to defend them. Squelching this instinct in either direction is really, really hard.
Having been on both the giving and the receiving end (many, many times thanks to four kids), I can attest that it does not feel as black and white in real life as it appears on paper. Of course we want everyone to just play nicely but they're kids and they don't know how yet. So many questions have to be answered:Did I see what happened? If not do I trust my child's account or the other child's or the other parent's? Was what they did really a problem? (Parents can define "unacceptable behavior" in widely varying ways.) What harm was done? Is this a repeated pattern? How old are the kids? Is the other mom prone to dramatics? (Be honest, you ask yourself that!) - it's no wonder people are confused.Barring extreme situations, what is your philosophy?
- It's not my business. They should be responsible for their own kids.
- I think more people should intervene. Often kids listen to other adults better than their parents.
- I think it's okay as long as it is verbal and not physical.
- I only step in if my own kids are involved.
- Who cares about the kids. Can I discipline some parents in public?Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and writes the blog of the same name.
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