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Ask L'Oreal: Is it ever OK to scold someone else's child?

Can you scold a child who isn't yours? Parenting advice columnist L'Oreal Thompson Payton weighs in. (Getty Images)
Can you scold a child who isn't yours? Parenting advice columnist L'Oreal Thompson Payton weighs in. (Getty Images)

From a reader: "The other day my 5-year-old son and I were at a playground attached to a restaurant. He quickly complained that a group of three little boys around his age were being mean, and thinking that he was being a little sensitive, I tried to calm him down and suggested that maybe they just wanted to play. That's when the rock-throwing started.

I had to block some (small) rocks being flung at my son as he cried and said, 'Let's not throw rocks. Someone could get hurt.' I got some sympathetic looks from other parents, but none of the kids' parents looked up from the table where they were eating about 20 yards away.

We ended up leaving soon after that (there was another round of rock-throwing, tears and me having to intervene), but should I have said something to the parents? I was fuming but didn't want to speak sharply to the kids and come off as the bad guy, and I imagine their parents would have only defended their children."

What L'Oreal says: Few things are more frustrating than finding yourself in a scenario where other parents aren’t parenting the way you parent. Been there, done that ... wanted to scream.

Instead, what has typically happened is, like you I try the gentle approach, and then when that doesn’t work, I remove my child from the situation because if I say something else (to the child or the parent), it’s probably not going to be nice. Know thyself. Which, it turns out, is the first step in figuring out how to manage conflict as a parent (or, well, anyone, for that matter).

“The parent has to be very much aware of who they are and what they can deal with,” says certified positive discipline educator Natasha Nelson, who is best known on social media as the Supernova Momma. To do that, Nelson encourages caregivers to gauge their own comfort level with conflict and confrontation.

For the parents, like me, who are generally not comfortable with conflict, Nelson advises managing yourself and your child. In the above scenario, it could look like telling your child, “We don’t accept anyone throwing rocks at us or treating us wrong, so we’re going to leave because that’s our boundary.”

However, if you’re a parent who can handle confrontation and you’re feeling regulated, you could try saying, “Excuse me, we don’t throw rocks at people. Would you want someone to throw rocks at you? What’s something you can all do together and have fun without throwing rocks?”

But if the children continue to throw rocks, Nelson recommends approaching the parents and saying, “Excuse me, your children are throwing rocks while the children are out here playing. Would you like to talk to them?” If nothing changes, reiterate to your child that it’s not acceptable to throw rocks and make a decision to leave.

A photo illustration of L'Oreal Thompson Payton
L'Oreal Thompson Payton. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Chuck Olu-Alabi)

Leaving space for grace is key when interacting with other families, according to Kimberly King, body safety educator and author of Body Safety for Young Children: Empowering Caring Adults. “All kids make mistakes, act on impulses and don’t always think things through," she says. "These are teachable moments that will create an opportunity for real discussion, reflection and learning. Always use a calm and nonconfrontational tone, expressing concern rather than blame. Focus on the specific behavior and its impact rather than making personal judgments about the child or parenting. This approach helps minimize defensiveness and opens up a constructive dialogue.”

If you need help regulating yourself in preparation for conflict resolution, Nelson suggests using the 5-4-3-2-1 method by noticing five things you can see; four things you can feel; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; and one thing you can taste. The popular grounding exercise has been proven to help calm anxiety and put you in the right frame of mind to have tough conversations.

“You can’t control other people. You can only control you,” says Nelson. “It’s about knowing your own window of tolerance, how much you can deal with conflict and then deciding whether you want to do conflict resolution, or you just want to protect yourself and your child by establishing and enforcing those boundaries.”

About Ask L’Oreal: I’m a mom, journalist, motivational speaker and the author of Stop Waiting for Perfect. You can think of me as your personal cheerleader and new mom friend who just happens to love calling up doctors and experts to help guide my answers to your questions. Reach out to me on Instagram or X (Twitter), or email with anything you want me to weigh in on.