A Stranger Reprimanded My 3-Year-Old in Front of Me


A few days ago, a stranger reprimanded my daughter. In public. In front of me.

Ellie wasn’t causing physical harm to anyone, she was simply having a 3-year-old meltdown after a long, hot morning.

Moms: What do you do when a stranger reprimands your young child in front of you in public?

Here’s what happened:We were in the check-out line at Nordstrom’s Rack when the cashier realized the hairbands Ellie picked out didn’t have a UPC code, so she gave the bands to another cashier who walked back to the display to check the price.

Now, in the mind of a 3-year-old, someone just took away her “special treat,” and a meltdown ensued.

I tried to explain to Ellie that the cashier would be right back, and we couldn’t buy the hairbands unless we knew the price. But it’s largely pointless to reason with a semi-hysterical 3-year-old. I know this, so admittedly I didn’t try too hard, knowing she’d be OK in a couple minutes.

The woman behind us felt differently. As she passed us to get to an open cashier, she leaned into our cart where Ellie was sitting, got within six inches of her face, and shushed her.

I couldn’t believe it and was momentarily struck dumb.

When I snapped back to it, I reassured Ellie, and after 30 more seconds of processing what had just happened, encouraged her to cry louder.

Perhaps this was not the most mature reaction, but I’m a hormonal 8-plus month pregnant woman. I’m already slightly insane.

By this time, other women in line behind me were expressing shock and outrage at the shusher’s actions. The cashier also was apologizing profusely. I smiled and thanked people for their support, paid, and tried to leave as quickly as possible. But before I left, I stopped by the shusher, who still was paying, and said, “I’m sorry my child was being loud, but what you did was not OK.”

She didn’t even look at me.

Ellie had calmed down once we reached the parking lot, and as we loaded up the car, I told her how cool I thought her new hairbands were and how we should totally ignore the woman who shushed her — she was just having a bad day.

I’m pretty sure none of that sunk in with Ellie — she was just happy to have her hairbands back.

But here’s what I’m wondering, and why I’ve decided to write about the incident: What’s the best way to handle this type of situation? Has this ever happened to anyone else? And how much do we need to explain what happened to our children?

What I’ve told myself, and what I honestly believe, is the shusher was having an off day. Maybe she hasn’t been shown a lot of compassion or patience in her life and therefore doesn’t know how to show it to others. And, she’s obviously not a “kid” person.

I’m also trying to focus on the kindness the other strangers showed — especially the woman who stopped me in the parking lot and offered Ellie her own hair ribbon to make Ellie feel better — an incredibly sweet gesture.

But man, the more I think about it, the more I really want to slap the shusher — if not physically, then verbally. My child had a meltdown at Nordstrom’s Rack — not at a church, school, library, or during an event where such actions are especially disturbing.

What would you have done?

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

8 thoughts on “A Stranger Reprimanded My 3-Year-Old in Front of Me

  1. i think you handled it perfectly. Not that you need to apologize for a 3 year old having a tantrum, but because you acknowledged it upset the woman, but also made clear her actions were inappropriate. I had a perpetually grumpy, almost always whining or crying toddler and luckily people were always very helpful and sympathetic. Keep focusing on the kind, supportive people that were there because most people understand!

    • You were right to make mention of it to the shusher. Unless your daughter is out of control and that is impeding the other shopper(s) ‘progress,, fine. Frankly, I wouldn’t bring it up to the shusher, myself. Too much of a chance for someone to really get out of control. On the reverse plane: I always go out of my way to praise a child, in front of his or her parent, for acting politely in a public setting. Also, I would never, ever take a chance of irritating a pregnant woman. Ever.

  2. I had a family friend do this right in front of me even going so far as to hold my daughter by the arm. I have never really forgiven him (oh, how I like a grudge). The stink eye I gave him was all he needed. A stranger though would have sent me over the edge! You handled it with decorum as did your daughter.

  3. I think you handled it wonderfully. I don’t know if I would have been so poised if that happened to me and my kiddo. Good on you that you’re focusing on the kindness of others and that she was just having a bad day… I know everyone is fighting their own battles but when it crosses over into my battlefield… I probably would have been escorted out by security 🙂

  4. I probably would have told the lady to get out of my son’s face before she even had a chance to finish shushing him. If I, who carried this child for nine months, who stayed up through the nights, who was thrown up on, pooped on, and just plain annoyed by, am not willing to be so rude and disrespectful to my son, who is a PERSON, then no one else will either. If my son does something rude or disrespectful to others while we are in public, I have him apologize but a 3 year old having a meltdown is no one else’s business.

  5. I always try to catch kids being good in public. The closest I get to scolding a child is to ask if I can tell them a story when they are standing up in the shopping cart… when my daughter was about 2 she was standing in the cart and fell out. She landed on her face and broke her nose (giant Costco cart) then I tell them that it makes me worry about them and to have a good day shopping. More take everybody aware that it is dangerous. Then the kids can make an informed decision about their behavior and have it not just a “mom said so”
    And my panic settles a bit 😉

    Also when I was a gas station cashier I told kids that it was illegal for me to sell them candy after their parents told them no 😉 it worked lol

  6. I would be so stunned I would not know how to react. I would like to react as you did as I think it was polite, to the point, and non-confrontational. It is hard to believe people would be so rude and insensitive.

  7. 🙁 That action could ruin little girl day, and her joy of getting the headband forever 🙁 That woman is so rude. If I was you, may be I couldn’t talk anything to that woman, just try to comfort my kid, you handle it very well.

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