Consider the following scenario: I'm taking my kid (5 years old) to a coffeeshop and we do some 'math problems'. By math problems I mean that I explain him about the numbers, addition, counting and so forth. When I ask him to draw a number sometimes he doesn't do it properly so I tell him: "no, that's not good, let's try again". I don't like to reward/credit him if it's not ok but I also understand that he's 5 years old. I may also tell him not to lose focus and to try to complete the task. The way I choose to handle the 'lesson' is short, concise and fun (take my word here). To be clear, none of those lessons ever ends with tears and I fully understand that a child has a threshold (and I know how to spot it).


From time to time, there would be someone who will voice their opinion on my method. Example: "you should not say this or that but rather this and that." Or, "you should try this method it really works best for other kids." Sometimes they would even go an extra mile and leave me a note!

Usually, I tend to say "thank you for this pointer" and end the conversation promptly but the truth is that I find it insulting. Consider what would happen if I would interrupt an argument between 2 lovers and say something like: excuse me for interrupting but Sir, respectfully, you should apologize and buy her flowers. How would they react? would that be ok? of course not!

What am I asking?

What approach would one take to handle such situations? The way I choose to educate my child is my decision only and not a stranger's concern. I wish to focus on my child and not the audience but I also wish to draw a firm line when someone takes the initiative to confront me on a private issue and make suggestions what I should/shouldn't do.

  • 8
    I know this question is old, but just in case someone has a similar issue and sees this question: if you educate your kid in a public place, you make it people's business. Not that it's good or bad, that's just how the world works. Do you really need to do this in a coffee shop?
    – Raditz_35
    Nov 30, 2019 at 11:04

6 Answers 6


The real audience for anything you say is your child and your own self. These are strangers: engaging in any kind of argument with them only sends the message that teaching your child is a topic on which their input is sought.

You will get that input. Anything you do with your child in public (including walking silently doing nothing) will attract suggestions, criticisms, I-just-thought-you-should-know, and so on. You can't stop Stranger #547 from saying something by a brilliant riposte to Stranger #546.

So: you need some base positions. These include "none of your business" and "thankyou for sharing" but also "I am not taking a survey", "I didn't ask for advice", and "we know what works for us." I am sure you have a lot. You want to choose ones that suggest you're not exactly insulted, but simply that the comments are out of place, unasked for, and not appreciated. The last three, you will notice, centre you and your child, not the advice-giver. I think that's best. Whether they are being rude, or whether they deserve thanks, is really not important to you, is it?

Then, and this is key, say your responses to your child, not to the stranger. For example, if your child's name is Chris, look at Chris, not the stranger, and say:

We aren't taking a survey, are we Chris?

Don't engage with the stranger. Reassure your child that you're happy and confident with your parenting approaches. Smile. This person's criticism of you means nothing to you - it doesn't even make a blip in your coffeeshop time together.

  • Nice. Short comment: What if the kid did not notice the advice from the stranger?
    – Santiago
    Mar 5, 2019 at 14:03
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    What worries me about this answer is that the style is rather confrontational. The stranger has already shown disregard for boundaries, what makes you think that talking to a 5 year old ignoring the adult that just talked to you will end well? I have met a lot of people that I am sure would actually call you names if you do that. And I don't think that is something nice to get a 5 year old exposed to.
    – Mykazuki
    Nov 26, 2019 at 1:21

In trying to put myself in your shoes, if I was getting a number of people commenting on how I teach my child, I might start by questioning myself and ask a friends/family/expert/teacher-(someone I trust & who has seen me teaching my child) if there is something that I might not be aware of that might cause people to comment on my teaching.

If this honestly turns out to be a definite no, then I would think about saying something like what is mentioned in other comments to the effect of, "thank you, I have worked this out to be the best method", and then shift your attention to your child. When you give someone your attention, that leaves room for them to continue comments, so I would keep it short and like already mentioned, return to teaching your child.


Though there's already an accepted answer from Kate Gregory, I'd venture my experience because I think that the accepted answer should be Step 2. While Step 1 should be:
"Assume good intentions".

The person might be thinking that they're being helpful and that you would appreciate their help. In which case starting with a harsh response would be overreacting.

Give them a chance to realize that their behavior isn't nice at all, and let them retreat on their own. The key point is that they should realize it themselves. You shouldn't try to prove them wrong, nor start any argument. Instead, try to present another valid point of view which would show them their actions in a different, yet not insulting, light. Of course, that wouldn't stop Stranger #547 from trying, but perhaps Stranger #546 would think better before trying that on someone else. Maybe.

This answer is based on personal experience:

When my daughter was younger (starting around 4 and till 7, I think) and we were visiting some public place or event (a mall, a grocery, a street performance), sometimes a stranger would stop by and say something: "Oh, what a beautiful child! What's your name? Want a sweety?"

The response I found working was: "Thank you, mam (sir), you're very kind! But see, you have surely taught your children not to take anything from strangers and not to interact in any way whatsoever? So do I. I wouldn't like your kindness to break that rule for my daughter".
Though their reaction ranged from "Oh, what terrible times..." to "But a sweety should be ok", they generally approved of my reason and never pushed on. We just wished a good day to each other and the incident was over.

So my point is: find some rational response that they can relate to, agree with, and likely feel ashamed of their actions.
If they were acting of good intentions, and if they're reasonable, chances are they won't persist. In your particular scenario, I could have said, eyebrows raised:

Well, would you accept an advice from a stranger who knows nothing about your particular background and situation?

but you may find better reason and wording.

Then, if that didn't work - proceed to more harsh response to stop the argument quickly.


I have the same problem in the gym with guys who come up to me and tell me I'm doing an exercise wrong.


Thank you for your advice

and get on with your day. You do not owe them an explanation for why you are ignoring their advice.

If they press the issue, keep it focused on your right to ignore them, which is absolute:

My rights in this matter are not affected by who is correct.

If they won't drop it, inform the management of whatever business you are in that this other person is harassing you.


Say "thank you" or even "thanks for that!" and acknowledge them by looking at them. Then look back at your kid and continue the rest of your life. The goal is be polite and make this interaction as short as possible. If you bring anything to your response you may lengthen the interaction. Nothing good can come from trying to express your thoughts to them. Also, Kate's point about the futility of interacting with one person and expecting another person to act differently is the most important concept to internalize here.

Here is a breakdown of multiple studies concluding that advice givers are often giving advice to enhance of create a sense of power in themselves. On the other side of this common interaction is the person getting unsolicited advice. This article does a fine job of illustrating how our sense of autonomy, freedom and control make us suspicious or even hostile to unsolicited advice.

My point about the length of response was just from my own experience, because I hate pointless interactions and conversations that are over but one participant can't seem to understand and just keeps talking. Nothing you say to the advice giver about their behavior is going to be heard. They in turn, may explain themselves or even offer more advice, neither of which you are receptive to hearing. So just say thanks and let them go.


I agree with the first section of Kate Gregory's answer that even if you addressed the stranger #546, you will still have to address #547 and #548 and so on. Addressing one or all of them is just not productive and bears no fruit at the end. Instead, you should focus on your child and direct how s(he) perceives these suggestions from strangers.

I just suggest not to be rude (especially in front of a 5-year-old) to anyone even to strangers [who probably mean well for you or your child in this particular case]. I'm sure you could come up with short comebacks that show humility and reiterate that you know what you're doing. For example: consider the following scenarios:

  1. Scenario A:

Stranger #1: "Do it x way it's better than doing y."

Simply say: "Could be but I have seen this work better for him/her. Thanks for the advice though."

This response shows that you know what you're doing without having to be rude to the stranger or having to defend your approach.

  1. Scenario B:

Stranger #1: "You should reward the kid for getting it half right"

just say something along the lines of: "I will, maybe, but for getting it right completely cause I’m sure s(he) can do it. Surely, I'll help him if required."

"Or maybe you won't cause it's too easy for the kid" but this gives you a chance to show your kid that you trust him/her and address the stranger at the same time. Sometimes, you could get the kid's opinion also on the suggestion(s) and explain to him/her why it's not suitable or why you don't agree with it. This will help him understand you better and give him the power to understand the logic. (of course, only after the stranger leaves)

You could always change your tactics based on the stranger's approach and attitude for example: is the stranger rude/condescending/hostile etc, you could take a more stern approach with them but otherwise, take these suggestions as a grain of salt and turn them into teaching/bonding moments for your kid.

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    while this no doubt seems reasonable to you, it's my experience that when you say "good point, but [reasons]" the person continues, sometimes telling you more firmly that you're wrong or rebutting your reasons or bringing other options into play. If you like what you're doing and didn't intend to get advice from random unqualified strangers, telling them why you're right does not, in general, cause the advice-giving to stop. It actually intensifies it. Mar 3, 2019 at 19:58
  • I never suggested agreeing or disagreeing with the stranger Mar 4, 2019 at 15:18
  • Wonder where'd you read the 'Good point' (or even 'bad point' for that matter) in my answer, let me reiterate the essence of the answer is to keep the interactions with the strangers short while focusing more on the child. Mar 4, 2019 at 15:28
  • both "could be" and "I will" even softened by "maybe" are in essence "good point" or agreeing. Leading with that feels polite - and is, to the stranger. What does it say to your child though? That you're doing something you know might not be best? And anyway, whether you agree and then add clarifications or disagree and explain why, you're still tacitly giving this complete stranger a vote on how you do this, giving weight to their unsolicited opinion. If they told you "you don't have the right shape of neck to wear that scarf" you wouldn't give them the time of day, right? Same for this. Mar 4, 2019 at 17:30

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