Can You Scold An Other Mother’s Child?

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Being a first time mom at 38, I was the last in my line of my friends to have a child. I had a difficult time relating with all of these friends when I was childless. There were many things I just did not understand.

One day while shopping at the mall with two of my friends and their children, one of the kids fell behind in the group. At the time she was only a toddler. I watched as she walked over to the escalator. As she slowly stepped on, I screamed her name & told her to be careful. Her mother quickly scooped her up & we continued on our way. A little later, my other friend pulled me aside and reprimanded me. “You don’t do that.” she told me. “I didn’t want her to get hurt.” I replied. “You don’t ever yell at another person’s kid.” she told me. I learned that many mothers felt this way and took this to be some sort of unwritten mom code. I learned to hold my tongue when it came to other people’s children.

Fast forward a few years, I am at a birthday party & playing with my neighbors two sons. The mother stood at the entrance & watched as I entertained her sons with my goofy antics. One second the boys were jumping & laughing and then without warning they started to wrestle each other. I stopped, frozen with the curse of the mom code. My neighbor hollered at me, “Stop them! Break it up!” I quickly pulled them off of each other in a daze of confusion. What is the correct thing to do when dealing with other people’s children? As someone that did not have any kids of her own, I truly did not know.

After the birth of my daughter, my eyes were opened to all of the struggles and joys all of my friends had already experienced. It brought a new clarity and understanding. As my daughter reached a certain age, we began to be more social. I took her to the park, kid’s gyms, the library and anywhere where she could be around other children. Often the mothers would socialize and talk among themselves while their children played unsupervised. I found myself facing that same old dilemma. If I saw a child that was about to do something that could put themselves or others in harm’s way, I am I supposed to sit back and mind my own business or do I risk the mother’s wrath and speak up?

I will take the wrath. I cannot keep quiet if I see a child dangerously close to the end of a jungle gym. I won’t bite my tongue if I see one kid hurling toys at another one’s head. I won’t because what if the day I stay quiet, someone gets hurt and what if one day it is my daughter throwing toys or standing to close to the edge, I would hope someone e would speak up for me.

Recently while at an amusement park, I saw a young child struggling to get off her ride. She looked as if she might fall, so I gave her my hand to climb down. The mother very defensively grabbed her hand and pulled her away. What a strange reaction I thought.

As mothers, we all have the same goal, we all face the same challenges and we all need help once in a while.  Nobody wants their child to get hurt and I am sure nobody wants their children to hurt anyone else, whether it is physically or emotionally, so why is it so taboo to address another mother’s child. If it done in a respectful manner, shouldn’t we all welcome the extra set of eyes when our backs are turned.



  1. I’ve had this problem too. But I have come to realize, since being involved in a very serious issue of child abuse (my husband and I started initiative in our town where we got the schools, police, firemen, town officials, DCF involved with programs) that “we are all in this together”. So, if I see a child in a situation that may be potentially dangerous I will speak up. I figure I will take the consequences of a mother who yells at me (probably because she is embarrased because she didn’t stop her child),and have the child safe.

  2. This is the Rule I follow. If your child is in my care I will treat you as my own. If that means I stop you from doing a certain thing so be it. If you have a problem with that then don’t leave your child with me. I have never had an issue with disciplining another friends child since I have always been “auntie” or “titi” in spanish. I would never touch someone else’s child but even in a park setting I would def say something in a soft voice and ask to look for or talk to the “mommy”. I think with proper tone and respect we can for sure say something and if you can’t then I think those other parents a just a bit too “sensitive”. Team Mai! xo

    1. I have come across a few sensitive mommys. I used to work in retail and work see lost children or ones that were rough housing or climbing on displays. I saw one the missed falling into a corner of a display table with his head by just inches. I would say, ” Be careful” and the glares I would get were stabbing. Many times I was trying to alert the mother because she might not notice it, but I would rather have a mad mother on my hands than an injured child.

  3. I know this feeling well and my two nieces are the same age as my older daughter. They are my husbands siblings’ kids and must admit I have found myself biting my tongue on more then one occasion, because they aren’t my kids, but I will say if is a safety issue, I do open my mouth. I can’t stand that you this is the unwritten mom code, but sadly I do get it still. I totally get your point though and will say that I wish I could put my preconceived notions aside and be more vocal still

    1. I understand too, to a point. I know this is a tough one. Mai was playing with blocks one day at Kidsports and a little boy , older than Mai kept walking up and knocking over her blocks. The mom was sitting with her back to him. I looked at him and said very calmly, “That is not very nice.” He looked at me shocked and walked away. I used to ignore these things, but just couldn’t anymore. I also will never feel bad about saying something to a child that is on the verge of hurting themselves or another. Moms don’t have eyes all over their body. We all know it only takes looking away for one second. I will say something every time.

  4. If the child is in danger, I would prefer to stop them from doing something than to see them get hurt. I couldn’t deal with the consequences if the child were hurt and I could have stopped it from happening. How could you live with yourself? As a parent, I see my two-year old reach for strangers all the time at the park. They smile and help her, just as I smile and help their children. None of us hover over our children, instead we seem to have an unspoken agreement that we each take up residence over a particular area of the playground as all of the children run about. Could you imagine the chaos if all the parents chased their children instead of just standing at a reasonable distance and watching for danger?

    Besides, I prefer my daughter to know that she can turn to adults for help if she needs help. Ninety-nine point nine percent of people out there are good, generous people who would never turn their back on a child in need — if she is scared of that point one percent then she won’t get the help she may require. When she is older, I will teach her to notice ‘strange’ people, those behaving oddly etc. but she will know that most people are not monsters. For now, I’m never far enough away for this to matter.

    1. I did have a mother assist my daughter at the playground a couple of months ago. She picked up my daughter when she was trying to climb down from the jungle gym unsuccessfully. I was so grateful. I thought this was wonderful. Yet, I know there are many mothers that would be upset with this and as I mentioned I encountered one of them, when all I was trying to do is lend a hand.

  5. I think if the child is in immediate danger to him/herself or another person, it is okay say something. I don’t think you were wrong to talk to your friend’s toddler. You might ve just come across a little like yelling but that is how we react in an emergency situation. Your friend may have just felt embarrassed. I can understand where she is coming from. I have a friend who just yells at other people’s kids for no major reason. She does it constantly and it’s not bc the child is in danger. I don’t think this is right.

    My point is some people think it’s just okay to yell at other people’s children for no reason. If you’re a mom who has met someone like this, you’re going to be more defensive when someone yells at your kid for an emergency situation. If YOU know that you’re doing the right thing by saving a child from getting hurt, then say something bc if you don’t and something happens, you’ll always regret this.

    1. Oh goodness, I hope I am not that mother. I would never address a child without cause. It is sometimes difficult to know what will upset another mother. It is a very fine line. Sometimes there is not even a line at all. I am a bit of a helicopter mom. I know it. I have gotten better, but that over protective nature rolls off onto other children as well. Recently, one of my friend’s children was climbing on top of a table at their home. My friend was in the other room and as he is only 2. I did not want him to fall. I did not yell, but I did ask him to come down. I told him I did not want him to fall off. He told his mother and she said that this is something he does all the time and he is allowed to. I felt funny after. I apologized, but again would have felt bad if he fell. I do agree that just yelling at other people’s children with no just cause is unacceptable.

  6. I completely agree with you! I think there are a lot of mums out there who think about this dilemma a lot. I think the safety of the child should always come before the feelings of the mum. If any child is in danger of being hurt, of course we must jump in. Personally, I have been so grateful a couple of times recently when another mum has spotted something I haven’t with my own child. And I would always want someone to step in if my son was trying to hurt another child, or was being unsafe.
    Great article, good to get people talking about this! We all need to stop being so defensive and realise other mums are just the same as we are and we have the same goals – to keep our children safe and make them feel happy and loved. Thanks!

    1. Thank yo, Marianne. Exactly my thoughts. I feel so protective of all children, not just my own. We don’t all have our eyes on our children 24/7, sometimes we miss things. If someone else catches it, they are not judging you. They are just lending a hand. Us mamas have to stick together.

  7. You are so right, alas not many mothers understand this. I have myself encountered such a situation where I have spoken sharply to a kid who seemed to be running away from her mother while her mother was busy finding her shoes in the park. But the mother was not happy and glared at me as if I had murdered someone. Really, I don’t understand this. It makes me feel sad!

  8. I agree with you and your last sentence puts it perfectly– if done in a respectful way shouldn’t we all welcome and extra set of eyes (and ears and noses and hands!) when our back are turned!” Well I can’t speak for everyone else- but I sure do. I agree too, we’re all in this together. I remember once when one of my uncles’ reprimanded my son for something– afterward he turned to me and said, “Does that upset you that I told him not to do that?” and i was like, “Are you kidding!? I’m so tired of hearing my own voice say the same things to him all the time– I love help!” Nice post!

  9. I’m glad you posted this, because it’s something I struggle with as a firs time mom. I’m still not sure where that line is, when it’s okay to say something and when it’s not. I was at a family reunion a month or so ago and some of the kids were being really unsafe, and I was the only adult around. (These kids are a bit older, 8-12.) I felt so unsure, I didn’t say anything, but went in search of my dad’s cousin, the mom of two of the kids. I asked her what I should have done. “If you’re the only adult around and you feel they are being unsafe, I personally give you my permission to be a parent to my kids and tell them to knock it off. They know what my expectations are, and that’s to respect all adults.” I think half my problem is I don’t feel like an adult yet, even though I am 26. Silly, I know, especially since I’m a mom. But I am so afraid of overstepping.

    1. I worry about overstepping as well, but then I think what would I want someone to do if it was the other way around. I have had people that were grateful and also some that were mad. Oh well! I would feel worse if someone got hurt. I had my daughter at 37 and I was was not quite a grown up then. Age does not judge your maturity. I am guessing just by reading your words that you are every bit a responsible adult and mama. Being a mommy made me grow up real quick. My husband and I were still living life like we a couple of 21 year olds. Now we are an old married couple. Lol!

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