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How Do You Deal with Other People’s Unruly Children?

Other People's Unruly Children

We’ve all been in a situation where you’re at a friend or relative’s house, the playground, or even at the grocery store, and their child is being rowdy, rude or disruptive. The parent stands by and does nothing to correct his or her unruly child, which leaves you to question how – and if – you should handle this situation.

It is hard not to simply react in this situation, but anything involving children is a very sensitive issue, so knee-jerk reactions can lead to disaster. First of all, you need to understand that not everyone has the same parenting style, and that there are many valid ways to raise children. It’s likely that you will not see eye-to-eye on every parenting issue even with your closest friends. Because of this, you’ll need to tread lightly when approaching parenting issues. Many friendships have ended over contrasting parenting approaches, and you don’t want that.

Here are some strategies that will minimize conflict, yet still address the situation:

Pick Your Battles Sometimes ignoring certain behaviors can be beneficial. The point of getting together with other parents and children is to have fun, and sometimes this means that you will need to look at the bigger picture. Focus on the things you enjoy about your friend or relative, and open your heart to finding some things to enjoy in their children, as well.

Focus on the Immediate Issue Do what is necessary to dissolve a situation by finding a solution to the current problem only. Do not address personalities, lifestyles, and overall parenting strategies, and don’t make things personal. Be sure to keep your comments focused on the behaviors and actions, rather than questioning character and individual characteristics.

Use Redirection Many times a problem can be solved by simply redirecting the children to a different activity. If you can catch the issue before it gets too severe, you should be able to easily step in and suggest a new game or activity. Joining in and interacting with the children for a bit will help to keep them busy and may help to avoid problems in the first place.

Share Your Experiences It is possible to offer advice in a non-threatening way by sharing your own personal experiences and struggles. You could invite the other parent to accompany you to a parenting class or to attend a lecture. You could give your friend a copy of your favorite parenting book – tell her what you love about it, what you are struggling with, and what you are trying to improve in your own parenting style.

Have Child-Free Visits Unfortunately, there are situations where your children and the other children simply do not get along. You may be concerned about your child’s behavior being negatively affected, or you may find yourself feeling stressed about getting the children together to play. If that is the case, you can try scheduling adults-only events instead. Limit group events to those that are highly structured leaving less room for problems.


What Not to Do

Don’t Parent Other People’s Children Only get involved in a situation that is affecting your child or your property. Otherwise, you have to let the other parent deal with their children’s behavior (or not deal with, as the case may be).

Don’t Try to Change Other People We are all who we are today because of a lifetime of experiences. This is not something that changes easily or because of outside forces. Don’t expend energy thinking you can change this family’s life with a few well-placed comments. Trying to force change upon others can make them hurt, angry or defensive. Instead, you need to wait until someone asks for help and is interested in making some changes.

Don’t Give Up the Friendship Friendships are crucial for your health and happiness, and they are something to be treasured. If the issues you are struggling with are centered around the children, keep in mind that those children eventually grow up and mature. As time goes on, play dates will not happen as frequently or be as intense. Figure out ways to make this situation work for you.


For more tips see The No-Cry Discipline Solution.

Elizabeth Pantley's picture
No-Cry Solution Series Author

Elizabeth Pantley is a parent educator, mother of four, and the author of the now-classic baby sleep book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, as well as six other books in the series, including The No-Cry Separation Anxiety SolutionThe No-Cry Potty Training SolutionThe No-Cry Discipline Solution, The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, plus other successful parenting books. She is known worldwide as the practical, reasonable voice of respectful parenting.