A fellow parent keeps disciplining my child for normal kid behavior

A fellow parent keeps disciplining my child for normal kid behavior

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 4-year-old’s friend’s parent (going gender-neutral here: “Sam”) has on many occasions chided my kid for what we see as normal 4-year-old behavior.

For example, being too whiny/impatient, not playing a game “the proper way,” not cleaning up neatly after themselves. Or, when Kid does something that warrants intervention (but isn’t a safety issue), Sam interjects before my spouse or I are able to. If we were at Sam’s house, or Sam’s kid were being harmed, I could understand, but I have such a hard time controlling my anger in these moments at our house or in neutral spaces that I say nothing at all, for fear of blowing up at Sam. Do you have a script?

—Permissive Versus Overstepping?

Dear Versus,

Can you bring this up proactively? I know the thought may fill you with dread (call this parent and tell them you don’t like the way they treat your kid? Won’t that make Sam defensive? Will Sam stop letting their kid play with yours?) but I think it’s a much better way to approach this problem than speaking up, in front of the kids, in the moment. The “script” is, “We know there are lots of different, equally good ways to raise a child, but since we have different expectations and rules for our kid than you do for yours, we’d be a lot happier if you didn’t scold Kid for being whiny, say, or not doing what you want them to do.”

Sam will definitely be defensive; the conversation won’t be fun. But saying anything along those lines in front of the 4-year-olds will not only also make Sam defensive, it will embarrass them—and the kids will be paying close attention to this interaction and be affected by it in ways you can’t predict. Sam will either 1) calm down after you talk, and with any luck begin to police themself about their behavior toward your child; 2) pretend that convo didn’t happen and keep on keepin’ on (and in that case—or if Sam makes a good faith effort but still frequently fails—a stern look from you or a soft-spoken, “Ahem, Sam?” is the only script you need); or 3) remove themself and their kid from your world. The latter would be sad, and I’m hoping Sam will be able to prioritize their kid’s friendship over their own hurt feelings, but if it comes to that, you’ll have to redirect your kid’s energy to other friends. That shouldn’t be hard with a 4-year-old.

—Michelle

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