I REMOVED SOMEONE ELSE'S CHILD FROM THE BALL PIT AT A PLAY CENTRE THIS WEEK. Hands up, I did it; arrest me. I took it upon myself to not only tell off somebody else's child, but mete out what I thought was the appropriate punishment. Am I guilty of assault, or was I right to deal with a child - whose crime was repeatedly headbutting my daughter, then chucking balls at her head - in this way?
I know the saying's always been 'it takes a village to raise a child', but in this age of hypersensitivity, this might have fallen by the wayside. A quick chat with friends reveals some of us still don't mind others stepping in when discipline is required, but some think it's the ultimate taboo and the village should butt out, regardless of the consequences.
US school psychologist Barbara L Minton says strong boundaries create secure children, but many of us seem afraid of enforcing such boundaries if the children aren't ours. I know I'm absolutely happy for my friends and family to discipline my two children, as long as it's fair and the punishment fits the crime; when we started Supernanny-style time-outs with our children, I was grateful when a close friend stepped in and dished one out to my son when I had my hands full elsewhere. I was relaxed knowing the same message was being reinforced, no matter who was in charge. Likewise, I love being at home in the UK where I know my sister and her husband will deal with my two in the same way they do theirs.
Another mum I know here, though, thinks the only people who should be allowed to tell her little angels off are their parents. So what happens, I asked her, when one of said little angels is beating merry hell out of another child on the trampoline and they're not there? I get that children need to feel empowered, but should this terrifying toddler really be allowed to carry on his campaign of violence unchecked, or should another adult step in? And if it's not OK for another adult to step in, how does the aforementioned little angel learn his behaviour isn't appropriate? I'm guessing his mum doesn't want him to get to secondary school and spend his days permanently in detention because he doesn't know it's not OK to batter one's classmates.
It's a difficult one, I know, and particularly in a place where so many cultures and childcare approaches exist side by side. But to me, the ramifications of not disciplining children - regardless of whose they are - are just too serious not to step in. Where would we be if they think they can run riot and adults are there to be ignored? How are they going to learn what's acceptable behaviour in a civilised society, and what's simply just not on?
Incidentally, the mother of the headbutter came over shortly after his removal from the ball pit, and she wasn't the slightest bit bothered about his behaviour. She put him back in the ball pit and sat and watched calmly - or possibly disinterestedly - while he resumed his headbutting and ball throwing. If that's what happens with such permissive parenting, and nobody's allowed to step in and provide discipline, heaven help us.
You may also like: 'UAE mums debate: Is it OK to discipline another parent's child?'
This article was originally published in Aquarius magazine.