At Orthonomics today Sephardi Lady quotes a rabbi/doctor on the halacha of disciplining other people’s children. They come to the conclusion that it’s okay to reprimand other people’s children when the action is assur deoraita (biblically prohibited). I looked up the Mishna Berurah that is quoted and the examples given involve Shabbat and Kashrut; in other words if we see a neighbor’s child above age 6 or so about to eat a ham sandwich, it would be proper to say something to the child to prevent him from doing so (assuming we follow the Mishnah Brurah in this case). I have no problem with this, but extrapolating from one line in the Mishnah Berurah to justify reprimanding children for all kinds of unpleasant behavior doesn’t sit well with me.
I was with a friend and her children in the park. Her son is somewhat aggressive, and she keeps a very close eye on him. Before she knew it, he hit a toddler. She can’t prevent this every time, because then he would never have a chance to improve, but she does prevent most incidents. She apologized to the mother of the toddler (who happened to be a distance away, not that she’s to blame). My friend held her son close and talked to him about what happened. The ire of the other women in the park, mostly nannies, was palpable. They clearly expected my friend to yell at her son and punish him. I can only imagine what would have happened if the child’s mother hadn’t been around. It’s this kind of atmosphere that troubles me. Yes, there are times when reprimanding another’s child is appropriate. Yet we should be looking for opportunities to praise the good job that a mother is doing, give her a hand with the baby when her toddler is needy, sympathize when there is a temper tantrum, and give suggestions when and if the mother is ready to hear them. Bystanders are often too quick to jump on a mother when her child misbehaves.
As I posted in the comments section on the blog, I was happy when a friend called to tell me that my teenager was seen doing something he shouldn’t. But in most cases, I want to be able to walk down the street or go to the park without feeling that I am being judged by my younger children’s sometimes erratic, irrational and rude behavior (they are children after all). One of the most valuable lessons motherhood has taught me is that I can be most effective with my children when I am not concerned about what other people think. Fortunately my children are usually adorable!