CHANGING LANDSCAPE: The "modern world” of parenting is a tricky one. iStock

Mastering discipline a modern minefield

HE SHOUTED "Hey!” in the unmistakable tone of a father who'd just seen his young child get barrelled over by another, much larger, kid.

Every parent waiting in the wings of the "baby water slide” flinched, watched on concerned and chewed on their lips to see how the dad played out his instinctive anger.

His little girl appeared unhurt but he scooped her up, spoke softly to her and she soon broke into tears. Yes, she had been hurt. Her dad bore witness to it and she was given permission to howl in delayed dismay.

There's always a delicate art of diplomacy in the playground, or water park, or anywhere children can run smack into another child, of how one parent handles another person's children.

I can recall that feeling - relatively new to parenting and so very protective - of frustration that someone else's clearly sub-par parenting was impacting my fragile bundle of wonder.

It's no surprise given how many hours I spend per week in a playground, playgroup, kids' gym, etc. And I can watch, with some detachment now, the parents not quite at ease with the unsteady etiquette of reprimanding another's child. I can even dole out some teacher-style lecture for the children - mine and others - when the need arises.

But the "modern world” of parenting is a tricky one. Don't for a second think I would condone anyone smacking someone else's child, but I did begin to realise just how dramatically the landscape of parenting - in particular, discipline - has changed.

I have smacked my children. Now, we're at an age where banned screen time is a much more effective tool, but they were young once. So was I.

I smacked small bottoms when breaking up a fight, and I smacked small hands trying to lose digits in a pedestal fan. It's a scary thing to confess because, it's not a popular position. But I grew up with the cane. Physical discipline was not uncommon to my primary school peers and I.

So, in my measly 30-odd years, we've gone from the cane allowed to be used by teachers to parents not even feeling they can smack their children.

It's a major leap from older parents who see a tantrum-throwing child and whisper "that child deserves a good smack” to the helpless young mother of the child having a meltdown feeling judged by her own peers if she handles it with anything less than reasoning and concern.

I don't have any answer to this. I certainly don't judge parents who don't smack, I don't judge parents who give time-outs (which I also do), I don't judge parents who bribe with chocolate (because I've done that too). I do believe each parent knows their child - and exactly what they're dealing with at any given moment - better than anyone standing on the outside.

I think it's a shame that such criticism exists in the parenting sphere because, let's face it, it's a tough gig and we've all had days where we could have done a better job.

I felt for the dad, schlepping his miserable daughter around on his hip at the water park. Because he seemed so out of his depth. What can you possibly do with that red swirl of emotion when you're dealing with a mere child? A child, overexcited at the bottom of a water slide who wasn't watching where he was going and happened to collide with someone's little daughter?

I watched him throw angry glances around, undoubtedly looking for the offending child's parents. No one seemed to "own” the kid and he was left with an impotent anger.

Perhaps it was a good thing the child's parents weren't nearby and the incident was allowed to slip into obscurity.

It's one thing to shout "hey” at a kid, another to impugn an unsuspecting adult - perhaps with their own pent-up parenting frustrations - with dereliction of duty.

Peta Jo is an author, mother of three and has learnt that pulling the car off the road is a very effective way to stop kids fighting in the car. Find her on Facebook.