A Mother’s Love Of Discipline

A Mother’s Love Of Discipline

By Cindy Hudson


I never questioned the right my parents had to spank me, never felt abused, never expected things to change. So spanking my own daughters felt like something I was supposed to do, a responsible way to teach them right from wrong.


My three-year-old daughter glared at me as she lay stretched out next to where I sat on her bed, the sound of my slap to her bottom hanging in the air.

“You have to learn it’s not okay to bite your sister,” I said.

My daughter responded by lowering her chin and rolling her eyes before answering. “I’m cutting off your head with my eyes right now.”

I raised my hand again, wanting to hurt her, wanting to slap her into feeling remorse for what she’d done. A primal anger urged me to hit her hard, make her cry, show her who was boss. Frightened by the force of it I stopped, hand in the air. My breath came fast and shallow. For a few seconds we glared at each other.

Shaken, I slowly stood and walked to the door of her room. “You stay in here and think about what you did. You can come out when it’s time for dinner,” I said.

But I walked away knowing I would never hit my daughter again.

I grew up being spanked and until that moment accepted it as a reasonable form of punishment. My mom kept a yardstick handy by the stove so if my sister and I started pulling hair or pushing each other in the kitchen she had an extra three-feet to reach our bare legs or arms. While I don’t remember my dad ever using his belt to whip us, the threat often hung in the air. “Don’t make me come in there with my belt,” he’d say to the dark, warning my sister and me to stop arguing across the bed we shared.

The two of us were dramatic criers, screaming during a spanking and bawling hot tears after. In response my mom or dad, whichever one had doled out the punishment, would often say, “Stop crying before I give you something else to cry about.”

Everyone I knew got spanked. And everyone I knew realized the punishment was worse if you sassed or talked back to your parents. Like my daughter, my sister glared during confrontations. She stood with her legs apart, fists balled at her sides, eyes hard and angry. “Don’t you look at me with those eyes,” my dad would say. Even though my sister and I had fought moments before, I stepped between them to defend her. “Don’t spank her, I’m not mad at her anymore.”

I never questioned the right my parents had to spank me, never felt abused, never expected things to change. So spanking my own daughters felt like something I was supposed to do, a responsible way to teach them right from wrong.

While I read parenting books when I was pregnant and kept reading them for advice as my daughters grew, I passed over the sections on discipline, thinking I knew all I needed to know.

My eldest daughter turned out to be easy going, which reinforced my views. The couple of times I spanked her she cried and seemed contrite, even though I imagine her emotions hurt more than her diapered-bottom. We talked afterward about what she had done and why I spanked her, and her even temper quickly returned. I thought I was being a good parent, teaching her how to behave while doling out light physical discipline that fit her sensitive nature.

That self-assurance faltered as my youngest daughter grew old enough to act up. She often pushed me to the edge, wearing me down physically and emotionally. She climbed my body like I was a tree, grabbing the waistband of my pants, wrapping her legs around my lower limbs and pulling herself up, hand over hand, until she reached my shoulders. Frustrated at being confined in her car seat, she yanked chunks of her hair out as I drove down the freeway struggling to concentrate on traffic. She grabbed toys from her sister, her face defiant, daring me to respond. Now she challenged my assumptions about spanking.

Walking away from our stand-off in her bedroom, I headed downstairs to take my aggression out in the kitchen, furiously chopping onions and telling myself the fumes wafting up were causing the tears running down my face. Chopping gave me time to think, time to realize I didn’t want to be a mom who hit her children when she got angry. I didn’t want to teeter on the edge of the thin line separating discipline from abuse. “Don’t hit, use your words,” I told my girls when they fought with each other. Maybe I needed to start following my own advice.

Feeling calmer after prepping dinner, I went back upstairs to face my daughter, unsure yet of what I would say. When I walked through the bedroom door, my three-year-old glared up at me, still defiant, still cutting off my head with her eyes. I looked at her and in place of anger, I felt sorrow for her smallness, her vulnerability, her trust in me to love and protect her. Her trust that I would not hurt her.

Right then I knew I needed to apologize, to let her know I could be wrong sometimes, too, and when I was, I would work to set things right. I realized some would say showing weakness and uncertainty to your children is a mistake, that they need parents who are firm. But my heart told me different. I moved to her bed and sat down beside her.

“I’m sorry. I should not have hit you,” I said. “I didn’t like that you bit your sister, and I want you to know it’s not okay for you to do that. But I also know I should not have spanked you, and I won’t do that again.”

Her lower lip started to tremble and the tears I expected her to cry earlier came now. She buried her face in my chest, and I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her head.

Cindy Hudson lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and her articles and personal essays regularly appear in parenting publications across the U.S. and in Canada. Visit her online at CindyHudson.com.

Photo: gettyimages.com

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting

Mindful Discipline ARTBy Hilary Levey Friedman

Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up [LifeTree Media], writes, “Of all the workshop requests I receive, discipline is by far the most popular topic. Big people everywhere want to know how to discipline. By ‘big people’ I mean parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, aunties, uncles, caregivers, and any other adult who plays a significant role in the nurturing and growing up of a child.”

Various philosophies, versions, names, and age-targeted suggestions abound when it comes to discipline, especially for toddlers and teens. But one thing pretty much every book about discipline agrees upon is that discipline is not about punishment and is instead about teaching. Most also agree that a style of parenting that experts call “authoritative parenting” appears to work best for many families. The fourth book on this list, 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, defines authoritative parents as those who, “Set high expectations and help children live up to those standards; they enforce high moral standards with loving acceptance. They promote self-control with social responsiveness; they teach children to make responsible choices within firmly established limits.”

This group of books about discipline starts with those targeted at the broadest age range, like 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, then narrows in on the youngest kids, tweens, and teens. At the end a few books focus on targeted populations and how guidance learned in those arenas can help all parents.

The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance—From Toddlers to Teens by Kim John Payne

Kim John Payne is well-known for his 2010 book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Earlier this year he released The Soul of Discipline to help parents establish a strong foundation in early childhood that will help kids. Payne claims that in 30 years he has never met a truly disobedient child or teen, but he has met a lot of disoriented ones who react by being difficult. He details three phases of parental involvement that build upon one another: the Governor oversees the early years, the Gardener cultivates flowering of teen years, and the Guide oversees the teen years. He also contextualizes everything, like in Chapter 9 where he details the history of discipline, “Avoiding Discipline Fads.” In addition Payne offers concrete advice to parents (I especially loved the tips on pages 83-86 about how to handle serial interrupters!).

Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits & Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White

Unlike many other books on “discipline,” Mindful Discipline focuses not just on parents and what they can do, but also on what children can do. Shapiro and White emphasize the ways in which self-discipline enables children to learn to guide their own lives, what they call the five essential elements of Mindful Discipline: 1) unconditional love, 2) space, 3) mentorship, 4) healthy boundaries, and 5) mis-takes (this is not a typo, but their term for “missed takes instead of mistakes”). While discipline can help kids learn to be free, Shapiro and White remind is that, “Nature has intended for the parent-child relationship to be a loving hierarchy.” Each chapter ends with a mindfulness awareness practice that will help everyone in a family practice being more mindful.

Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents by Stephen Greenspan

This short, but dense, book written by a Clinical Professor of Psychology near the end of his career is directed at all adult caregivers, so not just kin caregivers but also teachers. One of the strengths of this volume is its clear explanation of the history of discipline philosophies and its description of the three major psychological approaches when it comes to discipline—affective, behavioral, and cognitive. Greenspan places a lot of emphasis on socioemotional development and social competence, so it is no surprise that he thinks the three long-term outcomes of effective discipline include happiness, boldness, and niceness. This can be accomplished through warmth, tolerance, and influence, good advice for other pursuits throughout our lifetimes and not just while parenting growing youngsters.

8 Keys to Old School Parenting: For Modern-Day Families by Michael Mascolo

Mascolo focuses on “old school parenting,” but what exactly is that? To him it’s parenting techniques that have stood the test of time. One thing that has definitely been dropped is violence, but the sense of authority remains. Mascolo, also a psychology professor, begins 9 Keys to Old School Parenting by articulating the parenting attitude that informs the whole book: “I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid, or your chauffeur. You are not my equal. I am responsible for your safety and development. I am here to teach you how to be successful in the world.” Not surprisingly the first key is to value your parental authority, but others include “cultivate your child’s character,” “solve problems,” and “foster emotional development,” and you definitely can’t go wrong there.

Discipline with Love & Limits: Calm, Practical Solutions to the 43 Most Common Childhood Behavior Problems by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell

About 30 years ago Wyckoff and Unell published a book called Discipline without Shouting or Spanking. In the intervening years the book’s title and content have gone the way of more positive discipline, so now we focus on love and limits and do not even mention spanking. The authors position the book as one you will pick up when a problem arises, much like many books out there for health issues like rashes or sore throats. You can read the first 30 pages or so to set the scene, but then turn to the “problems” as they arise, like “plane travel stress” or “sibling rivalry.” Each problem section briefly defines the problem, gives advice to try to prevent the problem, and what to do (and what not to do) to solve the problem. The sections close with a case history, which are not always helpful. Overall this is a good little resource to keep on your shelf.

Nelsen, Jane, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, From Infant to Toddler—Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy

Back in the Winter 2015 print issue of Brain, Child I wrote about this book in a round-up of how to deal with the emotional storm of toddlerhood. Earlier editions or Nelsen et al’s work helped establish the positive discipline mentioned above that we know today. Different “positive discipline” books exist for different age groups and scenarios, but it’s always good to start at the beginning. Some of my favorite parenting advice that I have found to be so true is in this book: “No parenting tool works all the time. Be sure to have more than just time-out in your toolbox… There is never one tool—or three, or even ten—that is effective for every situation for every child.”

How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents by Richard Bromfield

In this short book with lots of punchy advice, Bromfield lays out a 7-day plan to unspoil children aged 2-12. While not a discipline book in name, it is about discipline because spoiled children often do not listen or respect their parents. Bromfield focuses on natural consequences and less on concrete activities parents can do themselves or with children to change their behavior. Each chapter starts with an interesting quote that will speak to parents, making the book an easy one to digest in small doses. The advice is more general, but it is worthwhile, like suggesting parents study actions of those who have more control over your child that you do, like teachers.

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan

Now in its 6th edition with over 1.6 million copies sold, 1-2-3 Magic is certainly doing something right! In February 2016 the newest edition will be released, which continues to focus on what clinical psychologist Phelan denotes are the three jobs of parenthood: controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening relationships with children. Previous edition have focused on start and stop behaviors and utilizing timers when raising kids, and presumably the newest edition will suggest using cell phone timers and not just egg timers. Phelan also provides simple, but effective, suggestions to parents, such as: agree to keep your child’s bedroom door closed so you won’t see the mess inside and nag, but in exchange your child has to pick it up once per week. Seems like everyone ends up happier when following advice in 1-2-3 Magic.

10 Days to a Less Defiant Child: The Breakthrough Program for Overcoming Your Child’s Difficult Behavior by Jeffrey Bernstein

Bernstein says that in the past 25 years he has worked with over 2000 families who have defiant children. What is a defiant child? It is one who is quick to anger, overly dramatic, and almost constantly resistant to doing what is asked. A defiant child is different from a disobedient child, but s/he is also different from a child who has conduct disorder, destroying property or physically attacking animals or people (which would require being seen in person by a specialist). Targeted at ages 4-18, Bernstein suggests reading a chapter per day over the ten-day period. First published in 2006 and now in its second edition the book advises parents to think you are on a reality show, someone is always watching, so be careful of what you say and how you say it to model good behavior and emotional processing.

Parenting Children with Health Issues and Special Needs by Foster Cline and Lisa Greene

The first book on this year’s Top Ten Books for Parenting Children with Disabilities, this slim volume provides needed advice for all parents, regardless of their children’s needs. It reminds parents that to effectively communicate and influence their children they should strive to be consultants and not drill sergeants. And the best piece of advice for all of these situations, as Cline and Greene so succinctly state, “I love you too much to argue.”

Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.




Unsolicited Child Training Tip #1: Benign Neglect

Unsolicited Child Training Tip #1: Benign Neglect

dreamstime_l_31086967By Dawn S. Davies

A few years ago, one of my daughters, who was happily and healthily bored, was outside coloring the bark of a tree red with Kool-Aid powder mixed in oil.  Kool-Aid is a wonderful permanent dye that I suspect may color-fossilize the small intestine of anyone who drinks it. Kool-Aid stains never go away. If I ever got into tattooing, I would consider using Kool-Aid powder to mix my pigments, seeing that my mom has a Kool-Aid stain on her counter top that I put there 25 years ago, which has proven itself immune to bleach.

So anyway, my 12-year-old daughter mixed some Kool-Aid up with water, and some with oil, and spent an afternoon trying to figure out which one held a stain better.  Earlier in the afternoon she had done some noninvasive animal testing on her little brother by trying to dye his Mohawk red with Kool-Aid, and had moved on to the bare, stubbley sides of his head above the ears, and then, punitively, beyond—on his face and neck, since her brother was breaking one of the cardinal rules of little brotherhood: he was Speaking Too Much, and she must always Put Him In His Place whenever she accidentally found herself enjoying a quality moment with him.

Disgusted with the camaraderie, my daughter left her brother dripping Kool-Aid stains so far down his naked torso that he began to stain his own butt crack, and went out front to see what she could do with the leftover Kool-Aid mixture.  She spied the dog.

“Comere, Rocks,” she said.

The dog cowered under our truck as if he were about to get a bath, not knowing that he had escaped the much more humiliating fate of pink-stained blonde terrier fur.

So my daughter started pasting the Kool-Aid and oil into the crevices of the bark of a big tree, and began to race stripes of it down to the bottom. She was naming the stripes in honor of famous Thoroughbreds when she spied a friend of hers getting out of her mom’s car.

“Hey…ya wanna come color this tree bark with me?” asked my daughter. “Uh, I dunno. I have to check my schedule,” said the friend. My daughter’s arms dropped to her sides, staining her shorts and thighs.

“You have a schedule?” my daughter and I said in unison.

“Sure, “she shrugged. “Don’t you?”

It is true. My daughter’s friend, even smack dab in the middle of summer, had a schedule of activities that she followed, which included strength training, speed and agility specialization, soccer practices, and soccer games, not to mention soccer meetings. She was twelve.

We have met so many kids like this throughout the years that, in comparison, my children appeared to be neglected slackers, since I purposefully did not book too many scheduled activities for them. Sure, my kids played sports, but they also played with stuff. I let them take apart my old small appliances and electronics that broke down, then I let them remake them into little cities on the floor.  I let them paint furniture, set up fish tanks, breed mice, cut up cloth to sew clothes for the dog, and take the boat out alone for miles in the canals in our neighborhood. Doing these things without a hovering parental drone to correct or second-guess them allowed them to expand their abilities to take care of themselves, make sensible decisions, get out of scrapes, and do things without needing approval, not to mention it left me alone for two seconds, which is important to my survival and theirs, because I am not a natural lover of children, noise, chaos, questions, or even bright light most of the time

We are the trailer trash of our solidly middle class, suburban neighborhood. I cut my family’s hair. We drive used cars and repair them in the driveway. We light firecrackers in the backyard just for fun. We do rocketry — sometimes with real rockets and sometimes with Diet Coke and Skittles. We do our own house repairs. We buy used everything except socks and shoes and underwear. We take clippings of other peoples’ plants and plant them in our own yard.  If everyone who lives on our block donated one of their luxury car payments to, say, Angola, there would be enough money to feed and deworm every child in that country for a quarter of a year, and as such, I am sure some of our actions are viewed as “low-rent” by our neighbors, but we don’t care. Our kids have grown up grubby, active, usually happy, occasionally busy, and sometimes bored.

Some of the best learning, thinking and creativity come from bored kids. Here’s how you train bored kids to become people who can amuse themselves while stretching their creativity:

Turn off the television, put away the video games, and ban the internet for a significant part of each day. Let your kids get so bored that they start plucking at their shirts and whining and pacing about the house. Suggest to them a “fun” activity, such as scrubbing grout, cleaning out their closets, or organizing that little drawer in the kitchen that holds all the old batteries, solar calculators, stubs of colored pencils and orphan power cords.

After you suggest these truly awful ideas, quietly set out a pile of magazines, some glue and glitter and scissors and paper in the middle of the table. Ignore the little whiners and start washing the windows. See what they do. When they ask you if they can use it, don’t say “yes,” because then they will think you want them to do it.  Instead say, “I don’t care, just don’t cut each other up,” and go about your business. They will be drawn to the glitter and glue as if they were candy, and they will make you some fine art. Later, do not bitch about the glitter you find everywhere: your shoes, your toothbrush, the baby’s labial folds, the refrigerator, or in your husband’s beard. They should not be punished for this activity in any way.

Or, put an empty bowl, a spoon, and a box of brownie mix on the counter and leave it there while you are doing whatever it is you do at home. Don’t speak except when spoken to, because you don’t want them to think you care.  Sing loudly to yourself. Do not say the word “brownies” because if you suggest to them that they might want to bake the brownies, they will decline, as they know that if you have brought it up, it must be Educational, and therefore something to avoid. Out of the corner of your eye, watch them bake brownies on their own. Do not yell at the mess that arises from this foray, and do not grumble to yourself when, later that night, you step in a drying piece of brownie splatter that pastes your sock to the floor.

Or, get some old telephones, appliances, or speakers from bulk trash or yard sales. Give your kids some tools. Let them take stuff apart, and put it back together again. What better way to learn about technology than to understand the mechanics of some of it? When my husband was nine years old he built a floating wall for his parents’ Colorado home, to accommodate the swelling and heaving of the basement walls. He was the type of kid to take apart appliances and put them together and he grew up to be an engineer. I still count on my fingers and can’t match the right Tupperware lid shapes to the bottoms, but I do okay in life overall, so mechanical lack is survivable. If they can’t put the eviscerated gadgets back together, no matter: their futures are not hopeless. Let them count and categorize the bits, or draw them. Let them use a slingshot to launch the prongier spare parts into a hunk of old cardboard you lean up against the side fence in your yard. Maybe instead of engineers, they will be marksmen or markswomen. Or inventory specialists, or deconstructionists.

And I know it sounds like child abuse, but send your children outside with a watch and a bottle of sunscreen, and tell them not to come in for at least 45 minutes. If you give them some jars, they can collect bug carcasses, strange leaves, birds’ nests, wild herbs, chunks of bark or other natural bonne bouches. You can have a show-and-tell when they get back in, after you have a nice bath with a book, or catch up on some of your own work.

Are these activities really less valuable than a summer of elite soccer training, enrichment courses, or time spent online? Despite modern society’s drive to create mini-me child prodigies who specialize in something that will ensure a Full Ride somewhere down the line, I am certain that these free, borderline-chaotic exercises are just as valuable. In fact, I think untimed, unfettered activities give their minds freedom to think more creatively, in the way people used to think before technology crept into our lives like kudzu.

Some people call my parenting style lazy, but I call it benign neglect. When done well, it can add a boost of independence and creative thought for your children that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. If they learn to keep themselves occupied without becoming bored after five minutes away from television or the iPad, they will be well on their way to being lifelong learners, and hopefully immune to the constant need for external stimulation, which to me, is far more valuable than twenty-four hundred dollars’ worth of summer agility training, and well worth the slog of time it will take to bleach the Kool-Aid stains, scrape up the dried brownie, and pick the tiny shards of glitter out of everything you own.

Author’s Note: One of my daughters recently thanked me for parenting her the way I did—denying them TV time and unfettered access to technology, and, horror of horrors, dragging them to the library every week. Best of all: she said she plans to raise her kids the way we raised her. I guess I wasn’t an evil despot after all.

Dawn S. Davies (www.dawnsdavies.com) lives in the South. She is the mother of a blended family of five kids. Her work can be found in River Styx, Ninth Letter, Fourth Genre, Green Mountains Review, Chautauqua and elsewhere.

Photo: © Elista | Dreamstime.com

Should You Discipline Other People’s Kids in Public Places?

Should You Discipline Other People’s Kids in Public Places?



By Krystyann Krywko

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.28.22 PMI sit on the edge of the sandbox, watching my three-year-old daughter as she happily shakes sand through a sifter. I turn my head briefly to rock my infant son’s stroller, and in the wink of an eye another child comes up behind my daughter and dumps a shovel full of sand on top of her head. There are tears on the part of my daughter and a look of stunned amazement on the face of the offender. No real harm has been done, other than the fact that my daughter’s hair is now full of sand. I find some humor in the situation. I console my daughter with the fact that the child did not know better but that now, seeing her tears, he probably will. We move on.

Don’t get me wrong: As a former teacher, the urge to discipline is there, dangerously close to the tip of my tongue at times. Sure, public places like the playground, the mall, and the museum would run more smoothly if parents and caregivers were magically able to predict what mischievousness their children might stir up. But let’s face it: In our multi-tasking, multi-faceted world things happen. Your cell phone rings, the baby wants to nurse, the dog’s leash is wrapped around the stroller, and oh yeah, you are supposed to be supervising your toddler in the sandbox.

The minutiae involved in the sorting out of the lives of your own children can be mind-boggling enough without taking on the needs of the proverbial village at the same time. When I go to the playground or the park, I want to get some fresh air, maybe enjoy a coffee, and for my children to have fun—not to sit and worry about disciplining other people’s children. The longer I parent the more I realize my job is not to constantly monitor and supervise other people’s children but to learn how to negotiate these public spaces with others.

I believe when other children are misbehaving in public you have fewer rights and fewer obligations to intervene than you do if those children are your own. One mother I spoke with summed up her feelings this way: “When it’s my house, it’s my rules, but if I don’t know the child and it is in some public place where I see some- thing, then no way. Not my place to judge or discipline. If they are doing something that is bad enough, I figure the store or museum will say something, since it is their territory.”

Of course, we’re not talking about significant physical harm going on here, since we are all obligated to intervene when we see that happening, whether it involves a child or an adult. But in cases of general misbehavior, I think we need to tread carefully.

Other parents and children operate within other boundaries, ones it can be difficult for an outsider to understand. This is particularly true if the child happens to have a disability or other behavioral issue. Public spaces are not so open and inviting as we like to think, and for those who operate outside the norm of expected behavior, discipline should not come from those who do not understand. Intervening when you don’t have the background to the situation can worsen it, as a friend with an autistic daughter pointed out to me. “People constantly judge you as a parent when they look at you and your interactions with what seems to be a typical child,” she said. “More often than not my daughter just needs space, but I find that it is difficult to give her that in public.” Having another parent step in at the wrong moment—good intentions notwithstanding—is at least counterproductive and could even be disastrous.

In addition, our children ought to learn that adult intervention in public places is not always needed. As parents, we have a tendency to want to envelop our children in bubble wrap and ensure that they never feel hurt. But life is not like that; public places are messy affairs. Children have their own ways of confronting and working with those who operate differently. Instead of rushing to step in and fix every conflict, it’s often better if we stand back and allow our children space to find their own ground. That way they become better equipped to deal with difficult situations when we are not there.

And in cases where a child is misbehaving in a way that has nothing to do with my own, I simply believe it’s not my responsibility to assume the role of the parent. My discipline style might be quite different from the other parents’, and I sure wouldn’t want to create a conflict with them over whose style is the “correct” one. Who is going to be the final authority on that one?

Sure, it can be tempting to call a time-out on the little boy who is sticking his gum in his sister’s hair or to speak forcefully to the girl making fun of someone behind their back. And it’s true that I sometimes avoid public places for the simple reason that they are too crowded and yes, too full of crazed children. For the same reason, we often head to the playground at seven-thirty on a warm summer morning or avoid our local bookstore around story time. The example I want to send my children is on of acceptance and understanding. By allowing for a wide range of behaviors and teaching my children how to negotiate public interactions, they are able to see that life does not always fall into neatly prescribed categories and that sometimes it is better to forgive and forget.

Krystyann Krywko is a freelance writer based in New York City where she lives with her family. She is a former early childhood teacher, and is currently working on her Ed.D in International Education Development at Teachers College, Columbia University.



By Liza Greville

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.28.41 PMSeveral years ago I was driving down a residential through-street in a down-and-out section of town when a couple of boys caught my eye. Probably seventh-or eighth-graders, heavily pierced and wearing t-shirts in decidedly coat weather, they were pushing around a scrawny kid in a thin coat at the bus stop—a scene of bullying as stereotypical as it comes.

As a clinical social worker, I was tired of people using their power to knock others down and tired of people failing to use their power to lift others up. Actually, I’d had it. So I circled around the block to confront the bullies. It took a minute to get their attention, but I looked eye to eye with these kids and told them to knock it off. They grunted their acknowledgement. As I drove slowly away, I watched them for a while in my rearview mirror. The imposed truce seemed to hold, at least for a few blocks.

I believe we ought to discipline other people’s kids, even in public places. I believe that civil society depends on it. We are our brother’s keeper (and our sister’s and our neighbor’s kid’s), and we have that responsibility, regardless of our parental status. It’s wired into our natures, into our common lot in humanity. It’s the reason kids self-police on the playground. It’s the fire of a posse of grandmas who say “no more” to a gang of drug dealers. It’s the courage of a lone accountant who blows the whistle on a corporate bookkeeping scandal.

Looking back on the bullying episode ten years and two kids of my own later, I can’t say I’m any less frustrated by seeing people knocked down, literally or figuratively. A few years ago the National Association of Social Workers launched a bracelet campaign in the spirit of the American Cancer Society’s “Livestrong” bands. The green bands of the social workers say “Stand Up For Others.”

Stand up for others: a paramount value and one I want to instill in my kids. Yet though I believe it is a natural inclination, it is a value kids need to grow into, and the only way all of our kids will learn it is if the adults in their lives show them how.

We do a disservice to all the kids involved if, by failing to intervene, we reinforce unhealthy balances of power. For example, if I let the bossiest kid at the neigh?borhood party cut in line to crack open the piñata just to head off an expected tantrum, I reinforce the notion that willfulness ultimately prevails over fairness or righteousness. How do I expect my kids and their friends to learn to handle controversy and dissent by setting an example of acquiescence?

Second, we set the stage for large-scale misbehaviors by ignoring small ones. If I’m a field trip chaperone, and I let it slide when a group of girls dis their “friends,” I’m implicitly giving them permission to continue. What do I think they’ll be doing when they have cell phones and social networking sites of their own? Harassment is no small offense, and we’ve all seen some tragic results of friendships turned vicious.

Granted, other kids’ parents or caretakers are the foremost influence on their moral development, and the impact of my moment of discipline is probably minimal. Even so, to fail to set an example of respect and civility lets down all the kids involved, especially, I think, my own kids, for whom I am supposed to be a compass of right and wrong.

Now I won’t say I’ve never packed up and moved on as someone else’s kid flung gravel across the playground; I have. Intervening certainly has gotten a little more complicated now that I’m a parent. I understand now why parents get insecure about disciplining someone else’s kid: We don’t want to embarrass our own kids; we don’t want to mark our kids for retribution the next time we’re not around; we don’t want to get involved ourselves.

Yet I’m not sure our worries are well founded if what we mean by discipline is calm, clear, direct, and purposeful communication. I suppose there is always the chance of a blow-out with the child’s parents, but if we remain cool and focused specifically on the problem behavior occurring in the present situation, odds are for a favorable resolution.

Parenting philosophy and discipline principles aside, there is another very practical argument for disciplining children who are not your own: safety. It’s good to get involved in situations where lack of adult presence is giving way to, let’s say, an adolescent’s faulty perception of risk. One day last summer, I had to stand on my brakes as a kid jumped his bike off a back and into the road. I was only poking along the side street behind the town park, but what if another kid had come flying through, driving too fast, music blaring, and their invulnerabilities had collided?

It’s that neighbor’s kid’s keeper thing again, and once again, I pulled over and rolled down the window.

Liza Greville lives in Kane, Pennsylvania, where she walks the fine line between letting her two boys learn to handle their own problems and disciplining other people’s kids.

Brain, Child (Summer 2009)