Raising Other People’s Children

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!


  1. “and give suggestions when and if the mother is ready to hear them”

    I’m sure you’ve noticed that in Israel, no one bothers to wait til you’re ready to hear any suggestions- people are all to eager to dispense advice on childrearing, unasked- the baby’s too hot, take off his hat, the baby’s too cold, put on his hat, etc. Drove me crazy when I had my first kid, but you get used to it after a while.

    Good post.

  2. mother in israel says

    Nice to see you over here!

    Once someone pointed out to me that my baby “couldn’t breathe” because his hat was over his face. My response: “Call the police!”

  3. SephardiLady says

    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.

    I find I can parent because I’m particularly concerned with what others think. E.g. I am not putting my toddler in pre-school and plenty of people disapprove. But, we don’t care and it allows us to parent.

    On the other hand, I would like other adults to expect and demand courteous behavior from my children, as I do from other children. I don’t like to be yelled at (have been by children as young as 3 through 18 in different environments) and see no reason to not demand respectful behavior. I hope others will expect and demand the same level of respect from my kids because they deserve it.

    Ultimiately, I don’t have to listen to every piece of advice that comes my way or every complaint about my children that comes my way. But, I’d prefer to hear the complaints (and advice) lest I miss information I need.

  4. mother in israel says

    I keep rewriting my response. I can understand that in a community you want to enforce a certain level of courtesy as the norm. Certainly in your own house that is reasonable and your right.

    I don’t ignore comments about my children from whatever source. But ultimately I trust myself to teach them basic courtesy, through guidance on daily interactions within the family.

    I think if we lived in a more old-fashioned, homogeneous community where families were less isolated, I would be more open to other people correcting my children. At this point, though, I don’t think that correcting them will lead us back to this type of society and may be counterproductive.

  5. Moshe David Tokayer says

    A distinction needs to be made between reprimanding or disciplining a child and stopping a child who is in the middle of a prohibited action. The first relates to the mitzvah of chinuch. Parents are required to educate their children. The second relates to the requirement to stop a child from doing something which is prohibited. These are two separate categories and they are dealt with separately in the halacha.

    The halacha quoted addresses the latter only. If I see a 7 year old doing something that is prohibited, I am required to stop him. If he’s already done it, the halacha quoted does not require me to reprimand or discipline the child. That is for his parents.

  6. mother in israel says


    Thank you so much for clarifying the issue! You might want to post that comment on the Orthonomics thread as well.

  7. another mom in Israel says

    I am also an American born and raised mom who has since moved to Israel, and I happened upon your blog. It’s fun to read your posts. I want to second your lesson that you are most effective with your children when you’re not worrying about what others think. I have strong-willed children who spend many years outgrowing tantrum-throwing behavior. Public tantrums are very difficult for me, and even more so here in Israel where strangers criticize you and interfere in ways that are not always helpful (though sometimes they are!). It’s also difficult for me when we eat a meal at someone’s house and my kids don’t behave the way I wish they would. One mother told me something very helpful — according to her, no one judges a mother whose toddler throws a tantrum, because that’s natural. What they judge is how the mother handles the tantrum. Although I don’t know if this is always true, it’s been a helpful thing for me to remember when I’m in the situation and need some encouragement to just handle the tantrum in the way I think is best, as opposed to feeling like a deer in the headlights, or spotlight, as it were.