Consider a case where a young child is doing something that directly impacts me, and most everyone would consider it reasonable to want them to stop. Here are a few real examples of things they've done in the past:

  • Pawing through my purse
  • Repeatedly and loudly talking in a theatre
  • Kicking the back of my seat
  • Pushing me out of the way to look through a window or use an arcade game

I get that young children do not fully understand boundaries and being polite. I have no desire to teach them a lesson, make a scene, scold them, or anything like that. I simply want them to stop the behavior that is directly affecting me in a negative way with as little effort and drama as possible.

Sometimes the parent notices the behavior and immediately fixes the problem for me, which is perfect, but often that doesn't happen. In that case, my current approach is the same as it would be with an adult: I politely ask them to stop doing whatever it is they are doing. In the case of something blatantly rude, I might be a bit more forceful ("hey, quit going through my purse!"), but it's not ever filled with fury or malice or anything like that.

I feel like this is reasonable, but it often prompts parents or even bystanders to object to me speaking directly to the kid, because "it's the parent's job to parent." I don't understand this sentiment at all; I'm enforcing my own (entirely reasonable) boundaries against a stranger, not "parenting", but it seems to be a common sentiment. I'm not sure if this is caused by the way I'm addressing the kid or if it's the very act of speaking to a child I'm not the guardian of.

I have occasionally tried talking directly to parents instead, but generally they tell the kid to stop, which they do for a minute, then start right back up again without any further intervention from the parent. At that point, I feel uncomfortable asking them repeatedly to do something about it or talking directly to the kid, so I'm stuck dealing with it.

So talking to the kid is generally effective, but sometimes causes a scene, which I'd like to avoid. Talking to the parent usually doesn't cause a scene (though they sometimes get huffy about it), but it is often ineffective.

What's the best method to get a youngish child (under 8) to quit doing something to me with a minimum of fuss? Alternatively, what's a response that will quickly shut down the "don't parent someone else's kid" complaint?

Note: I meant this to only include children who are complete strangers to me, but including the case where you know the family is okay too.

  • 3
    Where are you located? This info can change the answers your going to get. Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 1:17
  • Depends on your relationship to the parent and child. Are you in any position of authority over the child (teacher, coach, whatever)? Do you have an established relationship with the family? Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 4:23
  • Related interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/4225/…
    – clueless
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 7:10
  • @LinuxBlanket whoops, forgot country tag. It's the USA. I edited it in.
    – Kat
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 7:02
  • @curiousdannii they're all strangers.
    – Kat
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 7:03

6 Answers 6


The answer to your question is highly dependent on context.

Example 1: Two of my best friends got married and now have two-year-old twins. I am "auntie-in-honor" to those twins. If I see them do something they should not do, I parent them. I know what their parents see as acceptable behavior (and acceptable consequences) and that this overlaps very widely with my own judgment of the situation. Also, I know that their parents are not offended by me parenting their kids. So: Well known kids, well-known parents: Feel free to "parent" appropriately but stay in the parents' boundaries.

Example 2: An about four-year-old boy in the bus opens my purse which is dangling from my shoulder and takes out my earphones. If a parent is reacting, fine. I will either get my stuff back and have my peace quickly or interact with the parent to resolve the situation. If nobody is reacting, I will calmly and friendly ask my stuff back and explain that I do not want them to do this. If they comply, fine, if not, I will have to escalate the situation in small steps, as I would with my own child. As soon as a parent reacts, I will swap to interact with the parent instead. So: unknown child, interact with parents if they already are involved in the situation. If nobody involves themselves, treat the child as you would your own (hopefully). As soon as a parent gets involved swap to interacting with them.

It gets interesting with an unknown or little-known child where you know or can clearly identify the parent. Here, the maturity of the child is a factor for me. If a child is very young, I would always interact with the parents. If they are kicking my seat clearly with the idea of annoying me, they are obviously mature enough to understand I will be annoyed. Then I would first (as the more mature person in a very friendly manner) interact with the child. In many cases, that resolves the situation much faster and without any fuzz. I get my peace, the child did not get in trouble. Only if I would need to escalate, I will involve the parent instead. I get my peace, the parent gets to parent.

  • 4
    "Treat the child as you would your own" I don't have kids, and I have no idea how I would treat my own kids in that situation. That's why I treat them like I would adults. And I never know the kids or their parents, so I don't know their opinion either.
    – Kat
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 7:13

You have two questions in your post so for your first Question

What's the best method to get a youngish child (under 8) to quit doing something to me with a minimum of fuss?

1) Use direct language to correct tell the child their behavior is inappropriate. (from your examples in your question you already seem to have this part down. Good job)

2) kneel down so that you are on the child's eye level. This change of body posture will help show that even though you are correcting the behavior, your not a threat. I've found with my own kids that this helps them "hear" me better. Something about being on the child's level helps them pay more attention to you and what your saying.

3) Do not sound angry. It's Ok to sound stern in fact some kids won't respond unless you do sound stern. But an angry tone of void will risk setting off alarms for extra sensitive parents or standers by. It sound like you have this one down as well. But it may be use full to look up some video/audio clips of people sounding stern vs angry just in case your tone of voice could use a little adjustment. Though frankly I've found that there is always some one who will think your being to harsh when disciplining a child.

4)When they correct the behavior Thank them. Every one loves to be appreciated. And this ends the interaction on a positive note.

For your second question you ask:

what's a response that will quickly shut down the "don't parent someone else's kid" complaint?

The above steps, while directed to the child should help with parents or standers by who would otherwise balk at the appearance of you "getting mad" (in their eyes) at a child.

However if you still get a parent or other person complaining to you. Just respond with:

You could also say something like:

I'm not parenting I'm setting boundaries about how this person can behave with me(my purse)(my personal space)etc. . . "

you could also simplify it and say

I'm not parenting I'm telling him not to be rude (protecting my purse)(protecting my place in line)etc. . "

This explains simply and directly that A) your not parenting (that's a life long commitment). B) you have a right to request/enforce boundaries regarding your person, space, and possessions.

Best of luck,


Talk to the child first if you somewhat know the parents and child, or you don't see the parents around.

You have to be assertive and friendly. For example, say something like "[Insert name of child], can I have my purse back? Thanks!" Then, just immediately take back the purse into your lap without waiting for their response. If they push you out of the way, just tell them to get back in line. If they talk in a theatre, tell them to be quiet bc other people are listening.

Might seem kinda rude but it works, unless the kid is a real brat. In which case, just tell the parents you need your purse back from their kid. If they give you permission, just snatch it.

Talk to the parents first if you don't know the parents or child.

Parents feel a bit wary if a stranger starts talking to their child without acknowledging the parents first. You can say something like "Hey I'm sorry to bother you, but will you please tell your child to stop kicking the back of my seat/going through my purse/talking in the theater? It's a little uncomfortable and I'd appreciate if they stopped."

As you've mentioned, usually the parents get embarrassed and tell their kid to stop. But if the kid's behavior persists, and it really is something that's bothering you, turn around and ask the parents to stop the kid. Yes, it feels a bit weird, but there's really no other way to stop this. After three incidents, just ask the kid to stop. After five incidents, call the staff and explain the situation, maybe they'll have a solution.

Finally, just remember that sharing a public space means sharing it with all members of the public. And that includes kids. And sometimes kids just cannot be controlled, no matter what you do.


In my book, you are doing things right: I'd address grievances directly with the child, preferably with the parent in hearing. Children cannot wait with acquiring a working relationship with the rest of the world until they are grown up: the variety of conflicting interests is large enough that it does not make sense prefiltering them through their parents' views first or they will consider most sensitivities the problem of the victim.

It's still good if they have the parents around for a second opinion or more explanation.

Now some people can be obnoxious about being made aware of anything concerning their responsibilities. Dealing with that additional fallout can render the whole interaction quite more unpleasant than bargained for.

However, it is not certain that you'll fare better with "please make your child stop $x" than telling the child "please stop $x because it is rude and annoying to me". In my culture, the latter would more likely make the parent discipline the child than the caller, but you cannot depend on it.


How about both ?

Why not tell both the parents and the child at the same time that this behaviour bothers you and that you would like it to stop?

You look at the child, then at the parents and state

"I'm sorry but I don't allow people to run through my purse like that."

"Getting the back of your seat kicked is very uncomfortable and I would appreciate it if that didn't happen to me for the rest of the movie. Thank you."

Then you proceed to get your purse back or watch your movie.


I am a big believer in talking to children directly, but as the mother of two kids I wouldn't be so happy if I thought other people were trying to parent my children. For the really difficult kids, that really don't care what you have to say that have parents who really don't care either I have another solution - the scary story. Think of a couple really scary things you could say to kids who are causing trouble. For instance, my daughter refused to wear her seatbelt in the car and it didn't matter how many times I told or how nice I was. So, I told her that if she was in the car riding without her seatbelt the police would take Mommy and Daddy to jail. Never had a problem since. Maybe there's a troll in your purse that likes to eat little child fingers? Maybe pushing or kicking people's chairs too many times makes your hands or feet fall off? While the child will reason it out in time, it's usually enough of a startle to stop them in their tracks. And it may very well cause the parents to protect the kids and tell them to stay away from the scary person. There is a reason why fairy tales are they way they are. It works.

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