How to help that parent struggling in public


I have a preschooler who I’d prefer not to run any errands with. Usually he’s quite good at the shops but there have also been times when he’s dashed into a parking lot almost to be knocked over by a car. There have been times when he’s run screaming around the post office, you know, for fun. And Lord help me, there was the time I had to physically drag him from the store because he wanted something or the other he couldn’t have and that tantrum was something to behold. Just the thought of taking a flight with him has been enough to put us off travelling by plane for 4 years.

Disciplining your kids in public is never fun. You try talking, reasoning, cajoling, silently threatening and praying to God that your child will please just let you finish your task. You’ve also probably seen another parent dealing with this in public.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is ignore the situation, because the last thing a frazzled parent wants is the attention they know this meltdown will attract.

I remember reading about an incident back in February about a group of women at LAX airport who came together to assist an overwhelmed pregnant mother. They helped calm her 18-month-old who was having an epic meltdown, and she was at the end of her rope.

How amazing is that? I know I have been ever grateful whenever a stranger has helped me navigate a tricky situation, like entertaining my kids while we’re stuck in a ridiculously long line or just giving an encouraging word in an otherwise awful situation.

Here are some more ways you can help:

  • Don’t discipline other people’s children. If a child has run off there’s no need to admonish him about it.
  • Assess the situation and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Even better, offer to do something specific that can help the current situation.
  • If you want to offer the child a sweet treat, check with the parent first. Kids can have allergies and while sometimes a treat can help the situation, sugar could also make it worse.
  • Parents are always wary of getting those judgemental looks and unhelpful comments when their kids are misbehaving, so kind words and sympathetic looks go a long way.
  • Do intervene if the child is putting themselves in danger. (Shout-out to the man who grabbed my son as he almost ran behind a car.)
  • Let them know that you’re a parent/grandparent/uncle/aunt/nanny so that they know you have some sort of experience with kids and fully understand what they’re going through.
  • I’m always very wary of strangers approaching me in the parking lot or in shops when I’m alone with my kids. So please ask before starting to unload bags into a car or even just approaching my kids at all.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but so often parents are made to feel like they are inconveniencing the world when they bring their kids out in public. How often are parents made to feel guilty when flying with their kids?

So next time you see a parent struggling, show a little kindness.

Have you ever received welcome or unwelcome help with your kids in public? Have you helped someone else? Share your stories with us at and we may publish them.

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