sealPurdue News

October 1999

Expert advises parents to let others discipline kids, too

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- We're told it takes a community to raise a child, but many parents say "hands off" when it comes to letting others discipline their child. A Purdue University child development expert suggests that children might benefit from the authority of others.

"Many Americans take an individual responsibility approach to child rearing," says Judith Myers-Walls, a Cooperative Extension specialist and associate professor of child development and family studies. "The attitude is, 'It's my job to raise my child and your job to raise your child -- and don't judge my way of doing it.'"

She says factors that contribute to this attitude include:

  • We're a mobile society, so we don't live by neighbors or relatives whom we've known for a long time and trust to help discipline children.

  • We worry about the safety of our children, telling them not to talk to strangers for fear they'll be abducted or hurt.

  • We have widely varying views on the proper way to discipline children.

    Myers-Walls says there is a reluctance to allow others to discipline our children, but at some point it makes sense to share those duties. She says rearing children can be stressful, and letting others assist can relieve some of the pressure. "Children make many of their own decisions about behavior. You do not need to be embarrassed when they misbehave," she says.

    Knowing when to offer assistance to a parent can be difficult. Myers-Walls gives a few suggestions on how to know when it's appropriate to correct or discipline another's child:

  • Watch the child -- If he or she wanders away from a parent, follow and guide the child back. If the child does something dangerous, try to protect him or her.

  • Watch the parent -- If a parent looks exhausted, embarrassed, angry or desperate, ask if you can help, or just talk with the child and provide a distraction so the parent can relax for a minute.

    "Never tell a child he or she is bad and never strike a child," Myers-Walls says. "Even if you use certain strong techniques with your kids, it is good to avoid those with other peoples' children."

    Myers-Walls points out that children can act very differently around persons other than their parents. "A child who might cling to mom may be very independent and even a leader when in a setting away from her," she says.

    She says parents are often amazed at how well their children behave for relatives, teachers and coaches. "Recognize that other people can do more with your children than you think," Myers-Walls says.

    CONTACT: Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959;

    Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; home: (765) 497-7109;

    Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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