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Ali, recently, I was at the park with my friend and our three-year-old daughters. Mine was ornery. She probably needed a nap. She took the sand toy from my friend’s daughter making the little girl cry. My friend went off on my kid, getting up in her face telling her “Don’t Grab! Give it back to her!” I sat there shocked, looking at the surprise on my daughter’s face. I froze, not knowing what to say to anyone. Help!

Yikes! I can understand your loss for words. You didn’t expect your friend to treat your daughter like that. Your daughter is still learning social rules, kindness, respect, and manners. She will need many more reminders to ask nicely, and to not grab. Good gravy, even adults still need reminders! But it’s completely inappropriate to go up into anyone’s face to remind them.

Your friend should have deferred to you. You could have reminded your daughter to ask first, and wait her turn–we don’t grab. In this situation, since they are only three, I think I would apologize to my child and the other child. “I’m sorry you got yelled at, that’s not okay.” And, “I’m sorry so and that she snatched that toy.” By modeling apologizing, they learn to follow your lead. I do think an apology should not be forced. It’s worthless if it’s not sincere. You could say to your child “I think it would make your friend feel better to hear that you’re sorry.”

Maybe she didn’t want to share that toy. That’s okay! We don’t always have to share all our toys. That mama was just protecting her child. But she went about it all wrong. That could have been a nice teachable moment! Sharing, taking turns, asking nicely, patience, negotiating time with the toy, etc.

Moving forward, I would talk about this with your friend. Let her know your rules about disciplining YOUR child. Can she help guide her, raise her voice, take something from her, give time-outs? What does that look like for each of you? If you are present, do you want her to defer to you always? What if you aren’t there?

Let your friend know how you feel about what happened. Be compassionate. Try to see her side, too. She was just protecting her upset child. Under normal circumstances, as long as you have discussed it and agree, it should be fine to discipline each other’s child. Then, tell each other what happened in your absence. You shouldn’t leave your child with anyone you wouldn’t trust to teach them with kindness. That’s how it should always be.

“Moving forward, I would talk about this with your friend. Let her know your rules about disciplining YOUR child.”

Hi Ali!
I don’t believe in hitting my kids, but how can I discipline them when they do something they shouldn’t?

“Boundaries and limits must be taught, as children are not born knowing this information.”

I am happy to hear you don’t hit your kids. Nothing is learned from being hit — except fear. In most cases, it’s illegal to hit a child – as it should be. It’s not that hard to be a positive parent. It does take practice. And, it definitely takes patience. Boundaries and limits must be taught, as children are not born knowing this information.

However, instead of saying “no,” turn it around. Say “walk” instead of “don’t run.” “Be gentle” instead of “don’t hit.” And, “you can have ______or______” instead of “you can’t have ______.” Sometimes it helps to take a deep breath, or count to three before you reply to a child. If you just say “no” and stop the action, you don’t teach options or choices. But if you make it positive, the action is stopped and the lesson of what to do next time is also learned.

Make sure, if there is a consequence, that it fits the action you didn’t like. If they continued leaving a light on after being told repeatedly, maybe show them the electric bill and have them pay towards it, or take out the light bulb for a day. As my kids got older, I asked THEM what they thought their consequence should be. Usually it was stronger than what I would have suggested myself. (I don’t sweat the small stuff.)
Remind yourself to treat and speak to your kids the way you would a house guest. In that way, you are modeling all sorts of good things like politeness and caring.

There are so many great books on this! My personal favorites are: Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D., et al.

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