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 Kittner

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, 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.

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