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Dear Stranger, Stop Rewarding My Kid’s Bad Behavior


photo credit: 2006_05.28 Isaac tantrum via photopin (license)

Last weekend, I took my kids for bagels after swim class. As we got to the front of the line, my toddler noticed some cookies near the counter. I immediately knew what was coming.

“Cookie!” he cried out, pointing frantically. “Cookie! COOKIE!”

I calmly explained to him that a bagel smothered in cream cheese is indulgent enough for 10 a.m. It was breakfast time, and we’d have cookies some other time. He, of course, was not pleased. Shaking his head, he began defiantly screaming “No!” It was clear trouble was ahead.

All of a sudden, from behind the counter, a mysterious arm extended — holding a giant, sprinkle-covered cookie.

“Here,” the store owner said to my son. “Have a cookie on the house.”

Clearly, I was in an awkward position. I’m not in the habit of rewarding my kids for whining and carrying on. Sadly for my son, he’s the second child, meaning that when he cries or complains, I make sure he’s not bleeding, and then go back to mentally recapping the plot of Empire. If I say no cookie, it’s pretty much non-negotiable.

However, I’m also not in the habit of arguing with nice old men trying to be kind to my kid — however misguided the gesture. Plus, by handing the cookie directly to my son, the man had just elevated the situation from annoying to CODE RED. Had I wrenched that baked good from my son’s clutches, he would’ve erupted into a tantrum so loud, you’d be watching it on YouTube the next morning. And all this with a line full of bagel-loving onlookers standing by.

Obviously, those aren’t good reasons to abdicate my parenting responsibilities. However, after a morning of changing two kids in and out of swimsuits, repeatedly lifting my 30-pound toddler in the air during circle time, and then chasing him around the locker room while dressed only in a towel, I was exhausted. And so, my son kept his treat, and I kept my mouth shut.

Sometimes, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

But, for all you well-meaning strangers out there, I have a message. Please trust that I have this covered. If one of my kids is crying in the cereal aisle, or writhing on the floor at Target, please understand that as their mother I have a plan — even if that plan is simply not collapsing on the floor in a Mommy-shaped pool of tears.

I get that you want to help, really I do. However, should you see me with a whining, cranky child, please don’t do any of the following:

  • Offer him a lollipop, cookie, or other delectable treat, while cooing the equivalent of, “Here you go, kid. Sorry your mom is such a mean, fun-hating harpy.”
  • Reassure my daughter with promises that “if you’re good, dear, your Mommy will cash out her 401(k) and buy you [insert overpriced Frozen merchandise here].”
  •  Give me a nasty look like you’re preparing to call Child Protective Services because I won’t let my toddler have a tub of foot powder he pulled off the drugstore shelf because it’s shiny.

No matter how useful you’re trying to be, when you interfere with how I parent my kids, you make all our lives harder. I can’t set consistent boundaries, and they think if they’re loud and annoying enough, they’ll get their way. If you really want to help, offer me a sympathetic smile. It goes a long way to helping me keep my sanity while being yelled at by a 2-year-old with a cookie and a dream.

Or, better yet, when the kids aren’t looking, give me the cookie. Because, unlike my pint-sized extortionists, I’ve actually earned it.

photo credit: 2006_05.28 Isaac tantrum via photopin (license)
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  1. This is hilarious, but I actually don’t think he was trying to be kind or nice to your toddler. I think he was trying to shut him up, because his crying and wailing was interfering with his job.
    The other examples are much better, as those people had no ax to grind. I have no idea how to stop a toddler from wailing at the check out counter to avoid a run in with an enforcer, which is what I think you were up against.

    • Maybe, although he seemed well-intentioned at the time. But you could be right. Maybe he just can’t stand the screaming any more than I can, and he doesn’t have to deal with the consequences.

  2. Yes! All of it! And while we’re on the subject of making parenting decisions for me, stop giving my kids sugar too!

    • So true. The teller at the bank used to offer my son lollipops when he was an infant! He’d never had sugar and didn’t know what a lollipop was. I politely declined.

  3. I think you have to tell these people not to interfere even if it causes some discomfort and nasty feedback.

  4. Oh amen sister! Can we scream this one from the roof tops!?? How bout I’ll tweet it and see how that does!?

  5. This happens all of the time!! It drives me nuts. I always ask a parent before offering a child anything!

  6. This is one of my biggest parenting pet peeves, for sure! I can not stand strangers getting involved with the way I handle my children. I have more than once refused/rejected/shoved back unwelcome rewards and dealt with the consequences because as you pointed out, you have to stay consistent or they will turn every inch of leeway into a mile!

  7. This is my pet peeve!! Now that I”m on kid three, I’m learning how to say, “No thanks.” Or “we’ll just save that for later. I don’t reward crying” and I don’t care anymore!!!!

  8. You crack me up, “with a cookie and a dream”!! And yes, please slip momma the cookie instead. I almost start laughing when people stare at my toddler melt down like it is the first time they’ve ever seen a child screaming before; momma’s got a plan!

  9. This was great and totally made me want to give you that cookie, darnit! XOXO-Kasey

  10. I love it!! I usually let my kids get the “free kids cookie” in the bakery at the end of our Target trip if they’re behaving. One trip, though, one of my children was definitely NOT behaving. In a big way. So I quietly said, “Okay, no cookie.” Well, that got her attention. The pleas began, but I ignored them. By the time we were checking out, she was wailing. And a sweet old man walked by and said, “Aw, poor little thing! Did you know that there are free cookies for kids? That would cheer her up?” She looked up, hopeful. I quickly dashed that hope. :) Ah, shopping with toddlers! That was several years ago, and it’s way easier now for sure. Hang in there! :)

  11. Oh that’s annoying! Imagine his face if you took the cookie and ate it yourself haha.

  12. Oh no! I like Tricia’s comment. I dislike lollipops at the front of the checkout line. The last thing I want my kid to have is a lollipop at 9:00 am two or three times a week. This was so funny!

  13. That is a hard spot to be in! I would have let him keep the cookie also, but I would have tried to “discuss” the whining behavior at home. Sorry mama! Maybe you could ask the old man for a cookie for you too.

  14. I love this post so much. Spot on!

  15. Awesome post. Yesterday my daughter and I were out shopping with my mom. At a whopping 13 months she knew exactly the Lindt and Reese’s chocolate bunnies were at the checkout line were candy and kept doing the sign for “more.” Luckily tantrums havent begun over not getting a treat this yet, but I am sure they are coming. And when they do, I have a secret stash of chocolate in my cabinets, because at the end of any given day in the land of motherhood, I damn well deserve it. I should probably add a bottle of wine with said chocolate! Lol

  16. I can completely relate to this. I hate being put in ackward situations that undermind my parenting!

  17. This happens a lot to my daughter. I’m always tempted to fib and say she has a food allergy.

  18. yowch. Awkward! I’d suggest snatching out of child’s hand ASAP but that could result in your arm getting bitten off! I feel a shade of this when my 2yo sprinter is running laps around the circle at storytime as if it’s a track and all the other mothers are laughing like its so cute (and well, of course it IS, but that definitely encourages him). It’s not like I’m hoping they’ll admonish him (I’d take care of that if I could catch him) but they could just ignore him, or at least ease up on the high fives! 😉

  19. Visiting via Meetup Monday and, as a mom of five, I am SO with you. Have a great day!

  20. Yes! I can completely relate to this having a 4 year old and 1 and 1/2 year old. I get people are just trying to be nice yet it annoys the hell out of me when I am trying to parent my children. Makes me want to have the tantrum! :)

  21. I love this post! I actually get this more with aunts, uncles and grandparents. I get so annoyed because it just makes me look like the bad guy. My kids have everything they need. That extra candy or toy is only going to make them scream louder and harder the next time around!

  22. This is hilarious and So true. Grandparents can be the worst offenders :) Thanks for stopping by MeetUp Monday!

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