playmate latches onto and bites your child. Or jumps up and down on your favorite couch. Or tells your child, “Don’t listen to her!” when you give an instruction.

Your own child would end up in a time-out or lose a privilege for such behavior. But what do you do when it’s someone else’s kid?

“It’s not a good idea to scold or punish another person’s child,” said Ellen O’Dell, a group facilitator for PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support). She’s worked with several groups of parents with infants and toddlers that meet at local community centers.

For parents, watching other people’s children – whether they belong to a friend, relative or playdate acquaintance – can suddenly make them aware of their priorities in raising children. And be surprised by how even adults who seem to have a lot in common can vary in parenting strategies.

“What’s important to us is not necessarily what’s important to other parents, and it’s easy to spot those differences with other children,” said Elizabeth Pantley, the Kirkland, Wash.-based author of several parenting books, including “Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate.”

For example, if manners are very important in your family, you’re likely to notice etiquette transgressions by a friend’s child. Likewise, if she keeps a very clean house but you don’t, she might hone in on your child’s tendency to forget to pick up toys.

“The most important thing to remember is raising your own children is a full-time job,” Pantley said. “You don’t need the stress of raising other people’s children too.”

She suggests parents annoyed by other kids’ misbehavior repeat the mantra: “They’re not my kids.” Then focus on the specific problem – for example, a friend hitting your child in a fight over a toy – by suggesting a different toy or going outside to play instead. “But don’t make this a lesson in sharing and getting along in life.”

This holds true for strangers, friends and family. “Don’t think you’re going to change your sister’s family with a few well-placed comments,” advised Pantley, a mother of four.

Indeed, correcting a child can often be perceived as directly criticizing the parent. “It gets tricky because you’re getting very personal,” said Sharon Romppanen, a parent-education instructor with Bellevue Community College.

In a parenting group, one mom might be very sensitive about other kids touching her child, while another mom doesn’t care if the kids run amok, said Joanne Barber, a PEPS group facilitator and mom of a 4-year-old.

In most cases, parents are apologetic if their children misbehave or butt heads with another. Some even welcome some help. “Their attitude is, ‘My child isn’t listening to me, so maybe he’ll listen to someone here,”‘ Barber said.

It can be challenging, however, if a parent seems oblivious to his child’s rudeness, say, or destruction of your house.

“If a friend’s kids are misbehaving and dealing with it in a way you don’t agree with, it’s hard to say anything since you don’t want to ruin the friendship,” said Anita Hardy of Brier, Wash., whose kids are 12 and 15.

She knows some friends think she’s too strict, while she believes they’re too lenient. Hardy explained how her 15-year-old daughter lost her cell-phone privileges for being disrespectful. One friend told her, “Wow, that was kind of drastic.” Hardy’s philosophy, however, is “You’ve got to get them where it hurts.

“I’m so shocked by parents who aren’t willing to say, ‘No, you’re out of line and there’s a penalty because of your behavior,’ ” Hardy said. “I’m sure some friends think I do need to lighten up.”

The differences made her question her own approach, prompting her to ask her husband and her parents, “Am I doing something wrong here?” They assured her she wasn’t.

As long as parents are consistent in their own home, Pantley says she wouldn’t worry about young kids being influenced by another child’s questionable actions.

“Children are exposed to all kinds of behavior,” she said. “If you talk to your child about it later, it’s a good opportunity to open up a conversation about different values.

“Children might surprise you and show you how much the things you are teaching them are really sinking in.”


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