Hey Stranger, I Don’t Need You To Discipline My Child

Little kids can be irritating. I am very well aware of this. I’m currently 7-months-pregnant with my second child and as a stay-at-home-mom to a 2-year-old, there are times I sit around daydreaming of a quiet, sandy beach where the squeals of littles can’t be heard for hundreds of miles. Children cause scenes in public, throw things, and have tantrums. They even run away from their parents’ clutches at a moment’s notice. Watching them is stressful. Disciplining them is exhausting. Keeping up can feel nearly impossible some days.

And yet, after well over two years in this parenting game I still for the life of me cannot understand why strangers feel compelled to “step in” and discipline children who are not their own. Look, I’m standing right here. I understand that if my child is running around the playground like a banshee and hitting people, and I’m nowhere to be found, another adult may need to step in and correct her behavior. But I’ve never done that. I’m always available to dole out the discipline, and as Mom that’s my job, not yours.


I’ve had strangers step in whether my daughter is being truly naughty or not, at least by my own definition. It happens at the park, in the supermarket, and in restaurants. My husband and I are pretty strict about not going places with her that children aren’t welcome. For example, we don’t frequent fancy restaurants unless she’s home with a sitter. So it’s not like I’m toting my 2-year-old along when everyone is expecting silence and calm.

But still, people feel the need to step in and discipline others’ children and it really irritates me. We go to indoor playgrounds a lot in the winter months, and once it warms up you’ll find us at the park most days. My 2-year-old is rowdy; there’s no denying that. She likes to run fast, climb high, shriek in delight, and she’s still learning how to take turns. I get that if she isn’t your child, these behaviors could be mildly stressful. But guess what? She has a mother right here, and I’m good. I got it. I don’t need you correcting her.

My child does not hit or bite. But she has been known to give a little sassy attitude to other kids at the playground, or snatch up a stray ball and then run away with it rather than seeking out its owner. You know, classic 2-year-old stuff. I don’t see what the big deal is. When she misbehaves in public, I’m right there guiding her to do the right thing. I create the limits, provide the necessary time-out threats, and make sure the sharing commences. I’m her mother.

And yet, time and time again when we were out playing and she messes up, some sanctimommy zooms in ready to pounce. I’m probably the least aggressive person you’ll ever meet, but it takes everything in my power not to rip the head off of some obnoxious interloper who sternly speaks to, or worse, grabs my daughter.

Yes, just last week some idiot mom felt the need to touch my daughter’s arm firmly and tell her not to grab a toy. My thought? You chose to bring your toys to a public playground filled with toddlers; how could you possibly think no one was going to play with them? But I was going to redirect my own kid. She literally beat me to it!

I had some choice words for that crazy woman, and hopefully she learned never to touch someone else’s child again after our interaction. But when it’s verbal, or it happens fast, I’m often so startled and stupefied, I don’t even have a chance to respond. And here’s what’s worse: it isn’t only when she’s being “bad.”

Recently, we were checking out at the grocery store when my little girl asked to get out of the cart. She stood by my leg, chatting to herself for the five or so minutes until we approached the front of the line. She wasn’t screaming or acting out, just repeating “Mommy” a bunch, and pointing out random items by name as we stood there. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, an older lady bent over and wagged her finger inches from my daughter’s face, “Shhhhhh” she hissed harshly. “Be quiet, little girl!”

My daughter was stunned. First of all, kids know when they’re misbehaving and when they’re not. She seriously had done nothing wrong. To be shamed like that when she’d just been playing and acting sweet was scary. Not to mention the fact that we don’t even know this person who scolded her! I was livid. My comeback wasn’t much but it was something to the effect of, “Do not speak to my child.” I wish I could go back and ask her what was missing in her life that she felt the need to bully someone else’s baby, but then again that probably would have been cruel.

Here’s the thing: if a child is acting out in public, the behavior absolutely needs to be corrected. But the parents or caregivers are the only ones who should be doing that. I’ve definitely seen kids go off on their own and cause a ruckus at the playground, without a parent in sight to reprimand them. But even then, unless they are physically attacking another child, throwing sand, or otherwise harming them, I would never ever dream of stepping in. It just isn’t my job. And isn’t yours to handle my child.

We all set up limits and consequences that work for our families. We know our own children best and are aware of what works and what doesn’t. I don’t know or care what you think about my parenting style and likewise, yours is your business. But please don’t step in and try to tell my daughter what to do. And definitely don’t touch her. Aside from being rude, scary, and downright unnecessary, you’re disrespecting my child when you do this, and that’s way worse than any transgression she could have made.

Photo: Getty