Sunday Magazine: Should You Discipline Other People’s Kids?

There are two sets of rules when it comes to parenting: BC and AC.

This refers to the years Before Children and After Children.

Before giving birth to your bouncing bundle of joy, you make a pledge.

“I won’t be the kind of mum who fills up the kids with sugary treats then puts them in front of the electronic babysitter,” you promise.

Then reality (and exhaustion) sets in and you find yourself handing out lollies like a street corner drug dealer and whispering menacingly, “I don’t care what you do. Just go away and leave me alone”.

Or maybe that’s just me.

One of the (many) other (broken) promises I made was to refrain from disciplining other people’s kids, otherwise known as OPK.

As Judith Martin’s book Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children states, quite explicitly, “Criticising other people’s child-rearing methods, or the absence of them, is rude”.

It’s a bit like the Fawlty Towers episode when Basil warns Polly, “Don’t mention the war” in front of their German guests.

Eventually Basil pops his cork, shouting, “You started it! You invaded Poland”.

Well, last week, a small child rolled his tanks into our territory.

In a moment of madness, we’d agreed to host my nephew’s 7th birthday party.

Seventeen sweaty boys battled Beyblades, yelling “Let it Rip!” at the top of their lungs.

A Beyblade is a spinning metal top, which is supposed to stay in a special stadium.

So it was with some surprise that we saw one, then two, fly through the air towards kids’ heads.

We looked down to see the offender, his face twisted in fury after losing one of the battle rounds.

Miss Manners would have recommended remaining calm. But I blew my top.

“Oi,” I shouted. “That could kill somebody, you know. Stop it. Or you’re going outside.”

He looked at me in horror, as if this was the first time he’d ever been disciplined.

“My mum says I can do it,” he replied, defiantly.

“Well, you’re in my house. These are my rules,” I countered, echoing words from my childhood.

I walked away shaking. I’d come close to hitting the kid. And I knew that was wrong.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one.

Over the next two hours the tiny terrorist teased, kicked and hit every single kid.

Each time, we put him in the corner, the bathroom, or outside.

But nothing worked.

Eventually, someone snapped – it was the sweetest, quietest, kindest boy in the room.

He turned around and gave the bully a dose of his own medicine: a right hook to the face followed by an uppercut and three quick jabs to the stomach.

I glanced at hubby nervously.

Should we intervene? Break them up? Or let justice take its course?

It was like watching that video of Casey Heynes finally standing up to his tormenter.

So we stood back and let it happen.

Was it right to watch a 7-year-old boy double over in pain and dissolve in tears? Probably not. But it worked.

Suddenly, he stopped picking on the kids.

When his mum came to pick him up, I didn’t know what to say.

“I let another kid beat the living daylights out of your son because he’s a little turd,” probably isn’t the best thing to say to someone you’ve only met once.

I’m sure Miss Manners would have found the appropriate euphemisms.

But I ain’t her.

Hubby decided we should make a pledge based on an iconic Brad Pitt film: DO NOT talk about Fight Club.

I guess this is yet another pledge I’ve broken by writing this column.

I’ve come to the conclusion it’s OK to discipline other people’s children while they’re in your care.

This boy was a danger to himself and others.

I had to play Mother Hen. (As hubby would say, “Cluck him!”)

Maybe he’ll think twice next time before throwing a heavy metal object at another child’s head.

Email: Twitter: @spicertracey