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Dear Strangers: Please Stop Contradicting My Role As a Parent

They say it takes a village to raise a kid — and while that might be true — it takes only two people to decide HOW that child should be raised.

The other day my three-year-old and I are waiting in the check-out line at a grocery store. It just so happened to be one of those days where my son is full of some serious “Toddler ‘Tude” with me and pretty much everyone and everything he comes into contact with.

For better or for worse, my parenting style has generally been to completely ignore his tantrums because I know he’s just looking for attention.

If he crosses the line, Mean Mama Bear comes out to pointedly tell him if he doesn’t cut the crap we’re leaving, and there will be punishment. (The good news is, he usually takes me seriously, so I haven’t had to figure out what exactly that punishment is yet).

The point is, I don’t take attitude from anyone, let alone a kid that weighs 30 pounds and stands 2 feet off the ground.

Anyway, my toddler is having a tantrum because he wants the cashier to give him some crayons and paper (a treat they sometimes do with little kids at certain grocery chains). The woman goes to get him these items and I stop her.

Me: “Uh-uh. I really appreciate it, but he won’t be getting ANYTHING when he behaves like that.”

The Cashier: “It’s ok! He can have them. I really don’t mind.”

Me: “No, it’s NOT ok. He’s acting like a spoiled brat and he doesn’t deserve your gift. Thank you again, though.”

She looked confused and slightly annoyed, and part of me wanted to sit her down and gently explain why what she did was an issue – something that I wish I could explain to EVERYONE my son and I come into contact with, but I simply don’t have the time. So, I’m going to explain it here and hope it resonates with most – whether they have kids or not.

Simply put, I’m trying to raise my kid not to expect things just because he asks for them. I’m trying the teach him that acting out, crying, screaming, and having tantrums is a guaranteed way to ensure you definitely aren’t getting whatever it is you’re demanding. I’m trying to teach him that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior results in the exact opposite.

The reason kids become adults who are spoiled, privileged, and inconsiderate is because neither their parents nor society took the time to explain to them that nobody OWES them anything, particularly if their actions or words are demanding, disparaging, or rude.

Yes, giving in to your kid’s tantrums (particularly when you’re in public) is significantly easier and less stressful in the short term. But in the long-term, it will prove to be a straight-up nightmare.

So, my public service announcement to all of society is this: please don’t go against a parent’s wishes. I realize it might be awkward for you and you’re just trying to be nice and do the right thing. But you’re not. When a parent point-blank says their child cannot do something or have something, there is probably a legitimate reason for it. When you say things like “it’s ok” or “I don’t mind”, what you’re REALLY doing is contradicting a parent’s authority and that, in turn, sends a confusing message to the child. If you find yourselves inadvertently being interjected in these awkward interactions, just graciously smile at the kid and say, “I think your mom (or dad) knows what’s best.”

I swear, 95% of parents will appreciate you for doing this. It reinforces their decision and authority and often alleviates further conflict between the child and parent.

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About Mcclain W.


  1. While I agree with you that when your child is having a tantrum they must not be rewarded for their bad behavior, ignoring their screams can get very very burdensome to everyone else in ear shot.
    When my kids behaved like that they were first warned if they didn’t straighten up by the count of 3, we would make a trip out to the car until they could behave.

    • If you’re already checking out at the cashier than leaving is not always an option at that point. Sometimes screaming and tantrums will happen and people who are annoyed will be annoyed. Persons without children can also leave if they’re so highly annoyed and offended by tantrums. In fact it might be easier.

      • Sorry, expecting others to leave when it is your child offending is selfish. Once or twice leaving with screaming child and ensuing punshment should get the message across.
        Please also, be aware that children are sensitive to surroundings/people and the crying could be an indication they sense something not right. So talk to your children, ask questions. When my daughter was little, riding in the grocery cart, I could tell she felt uncomfortable around some people and we left their presence. It is important to establish sensitive communication with children and it starts when they are very young.
        Set the tone at home and when in public will become easier, do not allow tantrums anywhere, teach talking about what is the problem.

    • Nobody likes a screaming kid, including me…..but the lady’s point is when a person goes against the parents’ wishes, it undermines the parental role and short circuits what the parent was trying to do in the first place. No parent is perfect, and my best friend had ways of raising his kids I didn’t always agree with; however, they’re his children, not mine, and I have no authority and no right to interject my parental “advice.” Not always easy, but a consideration all people should follow and practice.

  2. When my son was that age any kind of misbehavior from him and we left. I never did the “warning” bologna in public because he was already well aware of what was expected from him in public because he was reminded and warned before we ever left the car and I also believe the public should not have to deal with that kind of behavior. We often forget about how we affect other people when we are too concentrated on how we think they are affecting us. Yes it would be inconvenient to have to leave the store once you are already in line but it shows your unruly child that you do exactly what you say you will there is no bending because of inconvenience. Parenting is s battle of will from 2 years old until forever. I can’t remember any situation where I let someone else feel uncomfortable because my kid was being a brat.

  3. You obviously need some parenting skills. How did a 3 yr. old learn to throw a tantrum at any time. A good intelligent
    Parent would never let that happen. You seem to think
    Everyone in the store needs to put up with your inability
    to make your child behave. The world doesn’t revolve
    Around you missy. I feel bad for this child that has to be reared by a mother that has no clue. He will have many
    issues in life ahead and think it’s all about him, just like his mother. Tsk tsk.

  4. As a 67 year old grandfather I have become a student of human motivation. My wife and I have 3 children who we reared that were and are better behaved than the average, and, now we are involved helping with 6 grandchildren under age 7. I also operate an insurance agency working in the medical insurance industry where we see many people behave selfishly, and having supervised 15 employees who have various situations that must be addressed.

    My wife and my strategy is that we have found people of all ages do what you expect, not what you want. If they are behaving improperly, you need to supply a win-win alternative…Not a threat or a bribe.

    While when I was a child a tantrum would have lead to a whipping…that is no longer acceptable.

    We address the behavior immediately, by redirecting the behavior. We have found the tantrum is a result of someone wanting something and it may be as little as a hug, and often the behavior can be redirected. So you pick up the child, give them a hug, tell them you love them and suggest a future alternative and then make certain you deliver on the alternative. The alternative should not be a bribe, no ice cream, give them a future activity that is constructive. This builds a relationship of trust. It may take a few attempts.

    If this does not work figure out some way to isolate the child as quickly as possible. It is unfair to all of those behaving to have to endure one who is not, and the parent has a responsibility to others to get this under control or remove the noise.

    When we are in a sitaution where another child is having a tantrum. We will allow a finite amount of time before I instruct the parent. The time is dependent on the location and our ability to remove ourselves. In a line in a store, I am more tolerant because we will soon be leaving. And I might first try smiling and distracting the child. In a movie or restaurant, where moving around and providing distraction is not as easy, I will provide specific instructions to get it under control or get them out after one or two minutes especially if I was there first.

    I agree with Lori that I do not need to subject myself an existing situation. I can pick another check-out line. We do not plan on a quiet night out at Chuckie Cheese. If I was there first at a location where there is not expected noise, I expect the person coming after me to control themselves and their family

  5. My mother taught me a valuable lesson when I was about 8. We were in a store and walked up on a woman whose toddler decided to throw a fit when he could have something. My mother was disgusted at the how the woman pandered to the toddler to stop the screaming and told me “There are 3 kinds of people in this world that you do not argue with Drunks, Stupid People and Toddlers. You tell them what they are going to do and then make them do it!” She was right

    When I was a kid though it was a different time. My mother was a wonderful and loving and was definitely not abusive or an authoritarian. However there were lines never to be crossed and we learned them early. If we misbehave and whined and cried at the store like your child, nothing good came of it. When we got a little older and decided to try that my mother would look at us and simply say “Your acting terribly in public so if you want a reason to cry then we can step outside and I’ll give you a reason to cry (spanking but not a beating). One of my older sisters decided to push the point and no one else ever did.

    The above is how she raised 4 of the 5 of us. We turned out quite well and she pandered my little brother (the youngest) and he grew up with that entitled attitude. He’s a loser that still can’t handle the fact that the world owes him nothing.

  6. @Lori

    I heartily endorse the goal of raising a child who understands that bad behavior will not be rewarded. That said, toddlers are at a developmental stage where foot stamping, screaming and other behaviors may, at any given moment, be the best arrows they have in their quiver to express complicated feelings. Also, the tantrum at the checkout counter may be the only outlet for an exhausted kid who has been dragged around to one errand too many. YOUR attitude that “people who are annoyed will be annoyed. Persons without children can also leave if they’re so highly annoyed and affected by tantrums” is arrogant and counterproductive to raising children who will be considerate members of society. “My way or the highway” is not a good example to set for children. Your disdain for other people’s comfort in public places will be quickly learned by your kids.
    And for the record : I have raised two children: I handled the inevitable meltdowns by removing them quickly from the scene. Your child rearing rules don’t entitle you to behave badly yourself.

  7. After reading this article I agree with the author. I imagine Kavanaugh must’ve been one of those kids that always got the crayons even when he had a tantrum.

  8. My Mother handled temper tantrums the same way you
    mention in this article. She even took it a step further and said we would be leaving the store. We can’t always give in to our children’s wants and like you point out or else they will continue to use it as a way of getting what
    they want just for acting out. It’s difficult enough with
    a situation of this sort with others adding to it all. And
    yes; you are right. It’s confusing to the child too.

  9. I agree, I have raised 6 children, my youngest is 21 years now. I still do not get attitude in a public place. When the children were little, it only took me showing them my wooden spoon to stop the tantrums. Start early and to let you know I never had to use the spoon, just show it to them. Threat was enough.

  10. Anna L Eby Eastman

    Good for you! More people could learn from you! People that give in to the bratty tantrums, have kids that grow up to be a**holes!

  11. Agree 1000%! The reason millenials are such a hot mess is the la know tough love they were dealt. Strangers and friends and family need to let parents parent with consistency. Butt out.
    With our kids we were lucky. They feared punishment but we rarely if ever had to. My best memory is one day thy were bickering in the back seat strapped in. I turned around and said “that’s it! You didn’t stop so you are on time out! They started crying “please no! No time out!” It was so cute, they were strapped in. Literally nothing changed! My hubby and I were secretly laughing bc it was so cute! But that’s what respect looks like. Happy to say they are fine young adults who got plenty of tough love! ❤️❤️❤️

  12. William S’s works if youve just started your shopping and can just leave a barely filled or empty cart for a clerk to put away! Lori’s works if youre already in the checkout and cant just walk away from a filled cart! Been there – done that!!!!!

  13. William’s solution works fine if youre willing to leave a half filled cart for some poor clerk to put away! but Lori’s works if youre already in the check out line and paying!! Been there – done that!!

  14. I recently came into contact with a similar attitude. A friend of mine’s daughter’s best friend was having problems trying to find housing. I didn’t want them to be homeless so I offered my house. I soon became the little girl’s piggy bank because I could afford to give her things her parents couldn’t. Her parent told her she shouldn’t accept these things just because I can afford to get them for her. I didn’t see the problem but it clashed with their parenting style. They have moved on and the little girl got to see what it’s like to have a generous parent who can afford to buy the stylish stuff that makes other kids jelous, and now she will have to live within her parents means.

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