I understand how in loco parantis applies to such things as teachers or registered childcare providers. I'm wondering about less official situations of childcare.

To give an example last weekend I attended a friends babyshower. It was taken as granted by everyone that I would mostly watch the kids so other parents could enjoy the shower, which I was fine with. This meant I was upstairs, in the son's playroom, with half a dozen children of various ages between 7 and 2. At no point did a parent come up to me and say "here, i'm legally asking you to temporarily watch my child." Instead most of the parents just let the children wander upstairs since they knew me and trusted me to keep an eye on their kids. Even the two parents that didn't know me eventually allowed their children upstairs without explicitly asking me to watch them, though for at least one parent it was pretty strongly implied.

During this time I did what I considered was reasonable to care for the children. Some of that may be justified no matter what, for instance my physically picking up a preschooler who had climbed into the baby-to-be's bassinet, which I was not confident could continue to support his weight, would presumably count as acting both to protect the child and the bassinet and thus be allowed even if I wasn't the defacto guardian of the child.

Other stuff is not as clear. For instance when one child was constantly pulling toys out and tossing them on the ground I set a rule that he couldn't get more toys out without first putting a toy away, and physically held the toy he was after until he put away a toy. I was only acting in defense of a clean toyroom, If I was just a random bystander I don't think I could have done that. I also intervened a few times to help settle verbal disputes by children that likely wouldn't have qualified as defense of person.

As I see it some of the stuff I did could theoretically be claimed as an assault or other offense if I couldn't claim to be acting in loco parantis. However, I'm not sure if I can claim that when I'm an unofficial, presumed babysitter of children who's parents are just 1-2 stories down from me. So by the strictest interpretation of the law if a parent somehow took offense to what I considered reasonable actions to care for a child would I be deemed legally justified in my actions?

While this would be a very foolish idea given the situation and ready availability of parents, regardless of legality, and not how I would handle such a situation let's pretend that I had chosen to punish one of the children for striking another child by putting them in time out, which I did by physically moving them to a location and not letting them leave for a few minutes. If the parent's took offense to such an action would I be able to claim I legally had the authority to detain him?

I live in the USA, Maryland.

  • I'm not sure if there is even an exact, well-delineated definition of "in loci parentis". It's just Latin for "in the place of the/a parent". The meaning will depend on context. It should be obvious that you did not have custody, nor was this a classroom settings. You were only dealing with short-term concerns, with implied consent of the actual parents. Also, this was voluntarily, so a breach-of-contract claim won't fly either.
    – MSalters
    Dec 22, 2021 at 18:52

2 Answers 2



In loco parentis is a doctrine where the person has parental rights and obligations to discipline and correct children, not just a duty to care for their health and safety. By adopting the role of sitter, even implicitly, you have assumed a duty of care towards those children and could be sued in negligence if you failed in it. However, you have not been given the authority to discipline the children, for example, with corporal punishment.

  • 1
    but schools dicipline children all the time, including with what amounts to time outs. Why would they have the authority to do that but my not if I was acting in loco parantis?
    – dsollen
    Dec 23, 2021 at 14:32
  • 2
    They can because they are. You can’t because you’re not.
    – Dale M
    Dec 23, 2021 at 20:59
  • @dsollen It's simple: School is Government and in loco parentis, so can discipline; Sitter is not in loco parents so can't discipline
    – Trish
    Jan 24, 2022 at 10:56

If they fell down and you took them to a hospital, and was told that their life was in danger and it would be best if a leg was amputated as quickly as possible, would you feel that you had the obligation to decide or to wait for the parent? Do you think the parents felt they were leaving you with the authority to make such decisions. That’s loco parantis.

You were left in a lesser degree of charge, which may or may not include the right to discipline the children in any particular (legal) manner. That’s largely a matter of convention and context and what is viewed as acceptable.

Timeout would almost certainly be acceptable, with your restraint within the bounds of what would be necessary in order to do the requested task (if you can’t tell the child to stay in one place, you can’t tell them not to walk out into the middle of a nearby freeway).

OTOH, if you feel hesitant about this, making your conditions and expectations clear in advance is good.

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