Should You Reprimand Someone Else’s Child

I think we’ve all met people who are certain that their children can do no wrong.  Their angels walked and talked ahead of schedule, are the smartest kids in their classes, and most importantly they behave in public!  Coyly, these parents will downplay their involvement in their child’s perfection, while at the same time boasting about said parenting skills.

“Oh yes, he’s just a good kid.  Of course, he was enrolled in violin lessons beginning at 6 weeks old and I’ve ALWAYS been 100% consistent with consequences and let him know that bad behavior will NOT be tolerated.”

I am not one of these parents. My children most certainly can do wrong and often do wrong.  They’re particularly talented at doing wrong in public, misbehaving despite my being 90% consistent with consequences and letting them know that bad behavior will NOT be tolerated.   Their sometimes appalling public behavior, is something that I’m particularly sensitive about. I know how their behaviors reflects on me, despite how hard I try to mold them into socially acceptable little people.

I took graduate level classes on child behavior and worked for many years with children who were diagnosed with some sort of behavior impairment.  I remember sitting in meetings with parents preaching consistency and reinforcement techniques, certain that if the parents were doing these things at home, then surely the children’s behavior problems would disappear.  Like magic!

Oh how I chuckle heartily at my foolish self now.  I suspect that God is laughing, too, having given me two very strong-willed children who laugh in the face of my graduate level behavior management techniques.


We eat out occasionally, always with one foot ready to run out the front doors of the restaurant with a screaming child. Both my husband and I try to be respectful to those around us, so we are very quick to remove our kids if their behavior might disturb someone.  I don’t know why we continue to punish ourselves by going out to dinner, but I guess we’re both optimistic that SOMEDAY they’ll learn how to stop acting like a rabid monkey in restaurants.  We’re also hungry and I get tired of cooking, so sometimes our growling stomachs drown out the logical pleas from our brains.

Last week we ate a restaurant that my son, Carson, chose.  They have fun coloring pages, Shirley Temples, and mozzarella cheese sticks and this usually is a formula for a successful outing where my husband and I get to sit at the table the whole time and actually enjoy the meal.  Other than some argument about who would get to sit by me (HA!  I was the popular parent that night!), the dinner was relatively quiet.  That is, until it wasn’t.

Tate, my husband, was boxing up the leftovers when my son practically growled, “GIVE IT BACK! I WASN’T DONE.” It’s nearly impossible to convey in writing, but his tone was so full of anger.  Of course he had this outburst just as the waitress returned with our change from paying the bill.

His behavior itself was horrifying.  I was so embarrassed, but even more so when the waitress looked at my son with shock and said in an equally nasty tone, “Uh?  You need to say please.” The waitress! Reprimanded MY son!

As much as his outburst stung, her curt response felt like a second slap across the face.  She corrected him so quickly, even before my husband or I had a chance to reprimand him ourselves.  My husband and I just looked at each other, shocked, and unsure of what, if anything, we should say to the waitress.  We quickly left with our tails between our legs.

It’s been several days and I’ve gone from being shocked, to embarrassed, to hurt, to angry, but now I just feel like she was out of line.  My son’s behavior was completely uncalled for, but as his parents, I feel like WE should have been the ones to correct him, not some stranger who delivered dinner to our table. Tate and I have talked a lot about this incident, would we be as angry if a friend or family member had corrected our child in this way?  Did she just blurt out something and regret it later? Was it really THAT big of a deal?

There’s a fine line that can very quickly be crossed when it comes to correcting a child that is not your own.  I’ve reprimanded my fair share of children, but it’s usually been when the child’s parent wasn’t anywhere to be found, like in those play areas in Chick-Fil-A (or more popularly known as, “Free Daycare While I Go Eat My Waffle Fries in Peace Far, Far Away”).  There’s also been times that I’ve had to gently tell a parent that their child isn’t behaving. I can’t imagine EVER correcting someone else’s child in the way that waitress spoke to Carson, though.


We don’t plan to actually do anything about what happened. Really?  What’s the point?  I don’t really want the waitress to get in trouble or worse, get fired.  Selfishly, I would sort of like for her to feel as embarrassed as we did that night as we left the restaurant.  (Mature.  I know.)

Instead, we’re just never going to eat there again and I’m going to write about on the Internet for a little free therapy.

So, what do you think?  Was she out of line or are Tate and I too sensitive?  How would you have handled this situation?

(photo source)

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