Ask Kim says it’s OK to be firm with children misbehaving in public

Page 2 Advice
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Dear Kim,

I was grocery shopping and there were a couple of elementary-aged school children running around misbehaving.  No parent was in sight.  Is it okay to discipline someone else’s child?



Dear Tina,

I would say it’s okay if you’re prepared to have a confrontation with their parents!  People are VERY “hands-off” when it comes to their kids.  Even though some of us would enjoy the opportunity to apply our own version of parental guidance to a misbehaving child, it just won’t work.  I’m sure you weren’t talking about snatching them up by the seat of their pants (or maybe you were)!?  The only time it’s okay to put your hands on someone else’s child is to save their life. 

We’ve all been in this situation.  Kids running, screaming, crying, and throwing things around.  If they’re not your children, these behaviors feel even more intrusive AND offensive.  We get into that, “I’d never let my child behave like that” mode.  The truth is, if you have kids, they’ve probably behaved exactly like that at one time or another.

Seriously though, the first thing I would do I is look around for their parents or find a store employee. You don’t want the kids to hurt themselves or someone else.  If you must intervene yourself, Scarymommy (she didn’t name herself that for nothing) suggests being as gentle and kind as possible. Be firm, if needed, but never harsh. Treating children with respect not only protects you from accusations from defensive parents, it’s also usually the most effective method of changing behavior. If a kid doesn’t respond to respectful correction, they’re probably not going to respond to disrespectful correction, either. 

Finally, I try to do my shopping when I know the store isn’t going to be packed with stressed parents and their children.  Perhaps if we weren’t in their way, it might make their life easier as well.  I see it as a Win-Win.

Have a question?  Ask Kim!

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