56

I am a childless female 20-something who occasionally comes in to contact with other people's children. This happens anywhere really, at work, stores, museums, movie theatres, just around the neighborhood. And sometimes these children are being rude. I tend to be very forgiving about things like someone bumping into me accidentally and will say "No, no, it's fine." But when someone does something like cut in line or talk during a movie I will ask them not to. With adults I feel comfortable doing so, but when it is a child or young teenager I am not sure if it is appropriate/how the parent may react.

For this question I will limit it to when the parent is there and does nothing.

For example, I was in a museum using an interactive exhibit when a child squeezed into the small gap between me and the exhibit, pushing me out of the way to use it themselves. Their parent was only three feet away and watched this happen without saying anything. I wanted to tell the child something like "Excuse me but I was using this, would you mind waiting your turn?" but I was concerned about the parent reacting negatively to me correcting their child so I walked away.

In these situations I am mostly worried about the parent. When it is just me and the child I usually say something and as long as I am gentle and polite the child seems to understand and correct their behavior. But I have seen parents go nuts when someone says anything remotely corrective to their children.

In such a situation should I say something the child or the parent? Is there a particular way I should phrase it?

It seems wrong to just let such things happen and not say anything. I wouldn't let that fly with an adult so why should I let it go with a child?

EDIT: To add some clarification I am in the US. And the age range I had in mind was 6-13. That seems to be when they are still oblivious to their surroundings but old enough to understand if I were to say something.

The answers seem divided on whether or not to direct the comment to the parent or child. Both sides make good points so I am still unsure which would be best. It seems like in the majority of cases speaking to the child would be alright but in the minority of situations where the child has behavioral issues it could easily go wrong. If this isn't resolved in the answers I might make a new question about that specific case.

  • 17
    Where are you located? Culture is important here. – user288 Sep 19 '17 at 17:51
  • @BrentHackers: Even more fun to remember the parent on the leash enforcement. Joke aside. I was going to say the same and building an answer around it but while I was writing it, I realized thats not how I would behave, I would talk to the child directly as otherwise it would feel like I'm talking about a "thing" and not a very young person. Also I just concluded in that process, what probably makes parents go nuts is more correcting behaviors, which aren't your business, but if the child's behavior interferes with your interests, I think most parents would totally understand. – dhein Sep 20 '17 at 8:09
  • "With adults I feel comfortable doing so, but when it is a child or young teenager I am not sure if it is appropriate/how the parent may react." Children are noisy and often do not control their behavior as much as adults do. You need to cut them some slack. However they learn to wait (more or less) until it's their turn relatively early. So in this case it's okay to say something, even if the parents might approach you. As long as you are polite and reasonable, you should be okay. I usually first address the kid and the parents only as a second step. – Trilarion Sep 20 '17 at 14:31
  • 1
    @BrentHackers one suggestion there: don't call children "it".... THAT would make me flip out, whether you do it to my child or to someone else's. – Patrice Sep 20 '17 at 16:02
  • 2
    @Trilarion in my experience, children will perform up (or down) to expectations. Addressing children as if they're a bit older than I think they really are generally produces an initial look of astonishment, followed by a positive adjustment in attitude, as kids don't like being treated as babies. I may be influenced by teachers who addressed me as "Mr. Harder", indicating the expectation of adult behavior. If that fails, now that I'm older and have a white beard and wire-rimmed reading glasses to go with my fat belly, I can always make a comment about adding a name to The Naughty List. – Monty Harder Sep 21 '17 at 20:06

11 Answers 11

36

You can definitely say something in the situation you described. You are not correcting the child's behavior, you are just voicing the inconvenience caused by someone to you.

If you see a child throwing rocks at pigeons or swearing/cursing other children, then probably not. Even though it is a bigger problem, it is a problem that does not concern you. It is just a beautiful display of horrible parenting and your comments on that is directly targeted against the parents.

But in your situation, even though it seems like the same thing, you can comment because you can make it seem like this: The kid was just excited and you were really in the middle of something that the kid interrupted because of his own excitement.

With everything, phrasing is very important:
How do you go about saying this without coming off as "baby-hater" or "parent-insulter"(?):

  1. Talk like the child is still adorable.
  2. Never use the word no. There are actual parents who think saying no to their kids is wrong. So, they don't want a random stranger saying no to their child.
  3. Be nice and sweet. Not even for the parent's sake, but for the child's. You don't want to hurt the child's feelings. They are still children after all. They only know what they've been taught.
  4. Point 3 does not imply "teach them the right way". Do not sound like you are teaching them. Just express the discomfort they've caused you. Not why what they did is wrong. Teaching them the right way could really get you into a fist fight with some mom/dad.
  5. Do not touch them or grab them . I know this is obvious, but I am not talking about mean grabbing. Even a friendly Hi-5 or something after you talk about something. Just keep your hands to yourself.
  6. Smile as you say something to them.
  7. Most importantly, in order to avoid a big scene, use a childish/playful voice to say this to the child. Make the child think you're playing with them, make the parent thing you're just being sweet. Get the point across.

I hope this helps you.

P.S.:
I couldn't think of any examples to specify but I will update answer as and when I get some examples in my head.

  • 21
    As a parent who avoids saying "no" to my child, I think it's worth noting that there's a reason we don't say "no" often... when you do say it, it carries more weight - it catches their attention. We save it for when they are at risk of hurting themselves or others. It's generally encouraged to redirect a child rather than tell them not to do something. "Let's do this instead of that". Avoiding it is great but one shouldn't feel that saying "no" outright is bad - and you should definitely speak up when an animal is being harmed... kids hurting animals is bad. – Catija Sep 19 '17 at 22:25
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    I am sure you meant no offence at all, @ Crazy Cucumber, but kids hurting animals is bad for the future personality. A parent who allows it can give the world a bad human being 12 years later. So OP can't ignore it as a good citizen. In view of @Catija's comment you might reconsider the "If you see a child throwing rocks at pigeons" part of your answer only -- as in, that's the situation where OP could kindly advise the child that it is very wrong, and she would be quite justified in directing some sharp comments, if not at the 'innocent infant' age 5, then certainly at the passive parents! – English Student Sep 20 '17 at 0:23
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    @EnglishStudent If the behavior does not directly affect you, you don't do anything not because it is "good", but because it protects you from trouble. Some parents can go crazy and sue you for "assaulting" their child, emotional/psychological damage, etc. You just don't want to get into legal trouble when children are involved. It is impossible to know this, so for your own sake, don't go correcting other people's children unless they did something that affected you. – Nelson Sep 20 '17 at 6:58
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    @dhein I don't know about case studies or research, but my wife never says no to my daughter. She uses a different form of no. So when she actually says no, my daughter stops doing everything that second. Right that second. Depending upon how loud my wife is, she may even cry her heart out. But the point is, she can stop my daughter from doing something dangerous quicker than I can by just saying no. – Crazy Cucumber Sep 20 '17 at 12:07
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    I'd agree to all of them except for the last one. Please don't talk like the child is your pet hamster or a mentally disabled toddler. – Hans Janssen Sep 20 '17 at 14:30
29

I see nothing wrong with what you proposed saying other than I don't ask questions to anyone (especially children) that aren't really questions (meaning the would you mind part). As long as your tone is kind and gentle, there is no flaw in doing so. It still won't always be received well.

I was shopping once and a random child ran up and attempted to grab my cart and run off with it. I was perfectly nice and simply told them that this is my cart with my purchases and they cannot play with the cart. The adult approached me very aggressively lecturing me about how the child was their foster child and "didn't know better" and how I should expect them to, blah blah. I had no such assessment, I merely told them they couldn't take it and said it nicely. It required nothing to be said to me as I wasn't even slightly abrupt to the child, all I did was stand there holding the cart while she was trying to pry their hands off.

So if you are asking how you can say it nice enough to never upset the parents, you can't. You can't control the reaction people have to it. You are well within your rights though to say something that addresses it politely if a child has acted in a way that is directly rude to you. Children need adults to model proper interactions. All children do. Mine do as well. I take no issue with an adult politely telling my child to pay more attention and be polite. Children get excited sometimes and forget their manners entirely. If someone says it nicely, it completely saves me from having to walk over to do it. I will already be on my way, as I don't "do nothing", but if I keep coming it's merely to tell my child you are right and that they need to make sure something is open and available, not just take over. Different parents will react differently though. That is just how it is.

  • 7
    Part of the problem (the biggest part, I daresay) is that many parents react extremely defensively to even someone's most polite 'correction' of their children because they are insecure enough to see it as a criticism of their parenting. "I take no issue with an adult politely telling my child to pay more attention and be polite" -- of course a confident parent won't react adversely in such situations, as your own example demonstrates, @threetimes! – English Student Sep 20 '17 at 0:32
  • If the parent can't be reasoned with, you can always say something along the lines of "All that I ask is that if you raise your kid like a wild animal, please have the decency to not set it on innocent people". You don't actually need to say it (you shouldn't), just knowing that you have a last-resort snarky response can give you enough confidence to withstand potential confrontation. – Agent_L Sep 20 '17 at 17:47
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    If only all parents shared this mindset! Regardless though, many parents do take issue to interactions (good or bad) with their children. Although my personal belief is to not care what they think if they act unnecessarily aggressive, that may not work for others. Regardless, +1 on the nicely informed answer. – Anoplexian Sep 21 '17 at 15:29
  • Definitely this. Everything will offend someone out there. I once told a kid to quit rifling through my purse and got scolded for it by an adult that wasn't even the parent. – Kat Jan 6 '18 at 2:33
20

Telling the child directly and politely

Excuse me but I was using this, would you mind waiting your turn?

is adequate. Most parents should appreciate it.

Correcting a child's behavior is what parents are supposed to do even if it might seem at first that this is what you are doing. They are responsible for that, not you. You are just setting boundaries for yourself.

You can't control how parents might react. Some might correct their child right away and thank you, some might feel embarrassed and just apologize, some might not say anything and some might get upset thinking you're trying to do their job.

If a parent gets upset with you, be firm and polite with them just as you would be with their child. Sometimes it's the parent's behavior that needs to be corrected and not the child's. Don't let that discourage you from doing what you think is right.

  • 2
    "Excuse me but I was using this, would you mind waiting your turn?" The problem with such over-polite phrases is the child might not get it. I know children that would have responded "No" to the question with a fat grin on their face. – Scrontch Sep 19 '17 at 15:48
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    @Scrontch If the child doesn't get it, you explain it, politely. – Tycho's Nose Sep 19 '17 at 15:53
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    "Excuse me, but I was using this. Please wait your turn." This changes it from a question to a statement. – Michael Richardson Sep 19 '17 at 16:18
  • 1
    @Scrontch then you say "I'm glad you don't mind waiting" with a fatter grin to your face... ;) – ANeves Sep 20 '17 at 17:18
8

I understand your concern and I've been in your shoes multiple times.

Please keep in mind the following:

  • Children are children, they sometimes act impulsively and there is a huge possibility that they still don't know what they are doing is wrong or how to behave in a certain situation (I didn't know that I was supposed to say 'thank you' when I was told I was cute or 'Nice to meet you' when someone was introducing themselves until my teen years) - they are still learning. So they are not so 'guilty' of their actions. So just keep in mind that you have to be gentle whatever your reaction may be.
  • Nevertheless, however young, they are responsible for their actions. If they are disturbing you, they have to know. Addressing the problem directly to the parent makes the child believe the opposite - whatever they do, others will pay for it. It could also make the parents defensive - not everyone likes to hear that they are missing something on their child's behavior.
  • You have to be very gentle, because if you are too strict maybe you will frighten them (and anger the parent) or make them want to disturb you even more.

Now, a good approach would be something polite and playful:

Hey hello! I really want to play with the exhibit a little longer, will you wait a few more minutes so I can do 'enter a exhibit-related interaction here'? You can do that too after watching me, it's really fun! Look...

The child probably was too excited to pay attention to you in the first place, you wouldn't like to make the little one sad! This approach could work on almost everything, no angry parents or children. Just try to speak their language, share their enthusiasm and you will be perceived as the nice young lady that means no offence.

  • 6
    "Addressing the problem directly to the parent makes the child believe the opposite - whatever they do, others will pay for it." That is a really good point that I hadn't thought of. – km678 Sep 19 '17 at 14:39
  • This is very similar to the accepted answer... except that it contains an example, which makes it much clearer how to phrase it. That earns an upvote from me. – wizzwizz4 Sep 20 '17 at 15:42
7

Why not just talk to the parent?

If you have no problem confronting adults and the parent is there: Don't speak to the child. That is their job. Ask them to please control their child that is being rude and cutting in front of you.

Speaking as a parent and grandparent, I think I would react better to that than to somebody 'correcting' my child or grandchild, no matter how politely.

You also have the problem that the child may not understand your language, or may be cognitively disabled: We have autistic children in our extended family, they look like normal kids but can be pretty rude. Your attempts to "educate" them or scold them will literally not be understood, and may even frighten them.

  • I hadn't considered the child being unable to understand for language/disability reasons. That is a good point and could be said for such interactions with people of any age. – km678 Sep 20 '17 at 15:22
  • I strongly disagree with this advice. Talking over someone's head as if they have no sense of their own is a very insulting thing to do. Just don't. – reinierpost Dec 31 '17 at 10:50
  • @reinierpost I strongly disagree with you. I am not "talking over their head," they are minors! Perhaps you don't live in a USA city. Here, almost any stranger interacting directly with a child is a legal minefield, especially if the child is touched. Exceptions are made for rescue or to prevent injury, that's it. The smartest thing to do is avoid the child altogether. Issue no commands, risk no argument, do not curse and you do not risk being heard as threatening or insulting a child! Is is not "as if", the child has already demonstrated they lack adult sense and self-control. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Dec 31 '17 at 15:34
  • What a way to live ... I don't envy you. – reinierpost Jan 1 '18 at 14:00
3

Parenting is one of those things where everyone has their own way. What's even more interesting is that due to some circumstances, they may not be able to do 100% the parenting they want but have to adjust their ideals to fit a situation or need. In fact, you might even run into a situation where the parents reaction is 100% play acting for the child's benefit. You can never really know. I try to teach my children to "mind the other adults" specially if there school age. But that's not always possible.

For example if a child is having a very hard time in public situations because of some past experience, your comment may set the child back months. As a parent you may be totally ok with them pushing back other adults because, the last trip, they pulled down their pants and pooped right in the middle of the exhibit. Heck, you may even be thrilled that they pushed past, because up till that point, when ever they touched another adult they wet themselves in fear and broke out screaming.

That said, those are rare cases, but you can't tell just by looking at them. In fact, kids with those kids of problems are usually normal in every other way. So you want to be really careful what you say.

Here is my advise:

  • If the child is not in school (too young), then just let it go. They may not interact with other non-family adults much. And, at any rate, they really didn't hurt anything.
  • If the child's safety is involved, then step in 100%. Touch, grab, yell, what ever you need to do. But make sure that you know that safety is actually an issue. For example if you see a kid pickup a knife at a knife exhibit and start waving it around, then feel free to stop them. If it looks like there going to knock over a bunch of paper cups, then sit back and enjoy the show.
  • Talk "to" the kids. This can be tricky, there not little adults, and they don't get the same concepts that we do. "Excuse me but I was using this, would you mind waiting your turn?" Well, they may not know the phrase Excuse me, they may not know how to take turns. And asking a 5 year old to wait for anything is nearly torture, according to them anyway. Lead by example, "I was using this, can I keep using it?" may be much better. The answer may be no, so be prepared for that.
  • Make sure the parents can see you. This is very important. Even if I think your doing something wrong, if your doing it right in front of me, the worst I am likely to do is politely ask you to stop (most of the time) - If you take the child out of my line of site, or just happen to be speaking to them from outside my site, then it's a very different game. Your now "the stranger" and should be treated as such. Even if you were being kind.
  • NEVER touch a child (except for safety). Even a small touch, like hand on the shoulder, or messing with the hair. Now you just went from "the stranger" to "direct danger". And polite isn't in it any more. I am still talking about your example though. Playgrounds, parks, and other places where kids and adults interact a lot this is obviously different. But as you go to these places you kinda get a feel for what is ok and what is not. Random lady at an exhibit with no kids of her own around, we will not be having a pleasant interaction.
  • Keep a calm even tone, the child will understand it better, and the parent will not think your trying to discipline their child.
  • Use you "I feel" or "I want" words. Try to never say "you". This is just good practice.

Again try to keep in mind that not everyone was raised in the same way you were. Even something as basic as waiting your turn may be totally foreign. Parents are allowed to teach their children all kinds of interesting things that you may or may not agree with. Usually though, once a child is school age, they get "the rules here are different then the rules over here", so a gentle reminder that you don't like what they did is perfectly acceptable, usually.

1

Am I the only person who thinks this is really weird? Somebody touches you without your will, and you should be the one apologizing? (Everybody is starting a possible quote with "Excuse me")

No: you can simply say "Hey, you wait your turn", you say it without hesitation but obviously no need to sound like a bully. While you do this, you might tick the child gently on his/her shoulder, just for getting his/her attention.

And what about the parents?
Imagine they say "Hey! Don't touch my child!", then you can easily respond "You tell your child not to touch me!", that should be enough.
Imagine they say "Hey! He's just a child!", then you say something like "Yes? So?", and like this make them understand that a child has no more rights than another person, everybody has to wait its turn.
As said before: children are children, which means that they expect adults to correct them when they misbehave, and when no person corrects them, they won't stop misbehaving more and more, that's just a child's nature.

As an example, just a personal history: as a child I was living next to a butcher, and when I needed to buy something for my parents, I was always crawling my way to the beginning of the queue. This all went very well until one day somebody noticed that, and with very red cheeks I went back to the end of the queue, never to do this again. In the meanwhile I've grown up to a civilized adult :-)

Another point: the culture: I believe you are living somewhere in a Caucasian country, where indeed it's up to the parents to correct the children (in third world countries, especially in Africa, this is different, everybody has the right to correct children when they misbehave). In case you are not living in a Caucasian country, please disregard my entire answer.

And finally: you mention "strangers" as a tag in your question. Are you especially referring to children of different origin or are you the stranger in the country?

0

A lot of parents are just plain nuts when it comes to correcting their children. But this is not YOUR problem!

If a kid pushes, hits, cuts in line, etc. I have taken two different approaches.

1.) A loud, "Excuse me, young man!" should get a normal parent's attention. If the parent is a normal, civilized person, he or she will apologize and say something to junior. Then you smile, thank the person, say you hope you didn't offend, etc.

If the parent doesn't respond, you might or might not have gotten junior's attention. You might or might not provoke an angry response from the parent. Ignore an angry parent or walk away from a parental tirade.

2.) I'm not proud to admit it, but sometimes a passive-aggressive approach can spare you a confrontation. I have, more than once, loudly said to a friend, "THAT CHILD JUST HIT ME! I'M NOT SURE WHERE/WHO THE PARENT IS, BUT THAT IS NOT OK!" A sane, but distracted parent at this point will apologize, corral junior, etc. Then see above about smiling, thanking parent, etc.

Please remember that many parents are doing the best they can and fall down like the rest of us. I try also to remember a friend's comment, "I am never shocked by what a child does. A perfectly wonderful, well-parented child will do something crazy and horrible ... because he or she is a child. I am often shocked by a parent's reponse (or lack thereof)."

-1

Children often do things spontaneously, especially when they are excited. The example you give here is a good example of this. In the mind of the child, you were an obstruction, a grownup in the way, an obstacle. There was a space to squeeze in so the child took the opportunity. It wasn't personal. To the child, you were unimportant to the objective, i.e. using something the child wanted to play with.

Parenting is not only about right and wrong, it's also about exploration and allowing a child to be off the leash, free to explore within the bounds of safety. If you had any real communication with the child, you could have stepped back, smiled, or said something on the child's understanding level, along the lines of "wait a minute I want my turn!". To be annoyed with children is to be in a different mindset, misunderstanding the child's motivation. Children are in a place where they learn from everything around them. Unfortunately, this includes techy grown-ups sometimes. Try to empathise, rather than pronounce judgements, and I would definitely not offer your opinions and points of view about parenting to a child's parent unless the child did something that was potentially dangerous. Our society has forgotten childhood, our children are regulated and policed, what they need is freedom of expression while they are young to be balanced when they are older, not being told they are wrong. What is needed in any interaction where one is teaching and one is learning is good humor and friendly demonstration. Children learn much better and faster if they are happy and the person teaching them the lesson is friendly. An unpleasant and selfish attitude from adults will teach the child just that.

-1

The gist of your thinking seems to be:

In these situations I am mostly worried about the parent. When it is just me and the child I usually say something and as long as I am gentle and polite the child seems to understand and correct their behavior. But I have seen parents go nuts when someone says anything remotely corrective to their children.

So when you're alone with the child, away from the parent, you are entitled but if the parent is within earshot you don't want to be corrected.

As long as the child's misbehavior is a secret between you, and they won't run to their guardian and repeat your conversation, then you're in the clear.

That's why you shouldn't communicate with other people's children.

I'm not suggesting that the child is correct to push in front of you, I'm questioning that you are the decider of right and wrong for stranger's children; as long as they don't catch you and have their own corrective advice.

Would you like to be alone with a much larger and stronger stranger whom corrected your actions? - You say: "... the child seems to understand and correct their behavior.", if you were alone with someone much bigger would you argue and continue doing what they objected to? You knew not to pick the child up so they could get a better view and explain the exhibit to them, so you know not to be selfish and put your own needs over a mistake made by someone whom doesn't know better.


For the average person: If it's an emergency then it's reasonable to intervene, otherwise if you don't want to mess with the parents then don't mess with the child. Speaking with the parents or talking to the exhibit's custodian or security would have been correct.

If you have been assaulted it's not wrong to ask them to leave, if you fear for your own safety contacting security makes sense; the idea of resorting to a microaggression ("the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor or the disabled") is why you wrote: "I have seen parents go nuts when someone says anything remotely corrective to their children.". If your only boundary is "what harm will come to you" is that not selfish and childish?

-6

Let it go. Unless it is some issue of the loss life, limb, or property, let it go. It is not "wrong" for you to let it go as you said. You can probably get a way with a lot of it, but sooner or later you will say something to the wrong kid and you'll have to deal with the parent(s). And you never know how people react. If it is worth it to you to get in a mess, then say something. If not, let it go.

Can you? Yeah. Should you? Probably not.

Kids have all kinds of reasons they do things. It may not excuse them, but you'll wish you'd lost your place in line, when you're in a fist fight because Little Johnny lies and says you said or did something you didn't.

  • 3
    Couldn't disagree more. If my kid did something like that, well first of all, I would correct them, but if I was distracted or didn't notice for some reason, I would absolutely expect, and even want, the other person to say "Hey, wait your turn." But my personal parenting style aside, I see no reason a person should just interrupt what they are doing and leave because a child is misbehaving. – Kevin Sep 20 '17 at 12:05
  • You couldn't disagree until you're in a physical altercation with a parent who will not believe you no matter what you say. People should be very careful correcting other people's kids. In the example given, it is not worth the fight, verbal or other. In the USA, the other folks may be packing. Who knows? People get Road Rage over a lane change. You think they want you correcting their Pride and Joy (even if they are a Hellion)? – johnny Sep 20 '17 at 14:17
  • I've corrected kids lots of times in situations like this. Never had an issue before. The prospect of an altercation doesn't bother me though. – Kevin Sep 20 '17 at 15:40
  • Maybe you are a big guy. A petite person might not be that willing to tussle. – johnny Sep 21 '17 at 15:07

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