Open Letter to the People With The Misbehaving Kids at a Kids’ Place

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Woman holding a book open for a baby, who is diving at it excitedly
Do you know how hard it is to find a free stock photo of a child driving their caregiver nuts in public? Maybe that’s part of the problem. Stock photos give the impression that children are little angels, and this baby is not totally about to eat this library book. Image: https://pixabay.com/photo-3046494/

Dear Frustrated Parent/Guardian/Caregiver,

I hear you there, hissing at your kids that they’re embarrassing you. I see you, your eyes darting guiltily around. I just want to let you in on something we who work in these child-focused locations (the children’s library or children’s museum, in my case, or maybe the play park or party room or whatever) know that you might not be able to see from where you are: your kid is not an aberration.

I can’t speak for those judgemental perfect moms across the room who don’t realize their privilege in having been gifted an abnormally even-tempered child. I remember them from when I was where you are, and I do admit their sighs and passive-aggressive comments to their perfect mom friends hurt. But having the chance to observe a lot of children who aren’t my own in this setting, I now know they have no place to talk.

Your child is not your puppet. Your child is a person with their own desires and tolerances and abilities. And if they’re in a mood today, or they don’t know how to channel their excess energy or communicate what they want, and this results in them acting like a child under stress, I do not blame you for their behavior.

Believe me, I’m not shocked that your child cannot sit still and talk in whispers while at the library, or anywhere. This is why the children’s department is separate from the grown-up places where people are studying—so your children can act like children. Most children do not sit still and whisper. Most children do not keep toys carefully organized while they play. Most children have little concept of other people’s stuff and will play with whatever they can reach, and most children react with anger when another child takes something they were playing with.

But your child is having a meltdown? Your child is throwing things and hitting and biting? Your child is not the first. Yes, you need to deal with these situations, but you’re not a failure if dealing with them is difficult. I am not judging you for your child’s behavior.

Admittedly, I do judge you for your behavior, though.

If you tell your child you’re going to call the police if they don’t shape up, I’m going to give you the side-eye. What happens if the kid calls your bluff? If you remind your child that you have a paddle in the car when they’re simply reluctant to change activities, I’m going to at least blink. And I do have to report anything worse.

If your child is having a meltdown because you won’t buy her a teddy bear,* I won’t click my tongue at you and mutter in your hearing that kids today are spoiled brats. If you break down and buy her the teddy bear after that scene, I might be facepalming so hard inside my head.

I am going to judge your behavior if it’s as bad as or worse than your kid’s—if you’re the one talking over the storytime, or yelling (even if you’re yelling at your kids to be quiet), or eating in areas that say “no food” and leaving your garbage around. You should know better. You’re a grownup.

To be honest, the time I’m going to judge you harshest is when you tell a kid “no” to a book they pick up. “No, that’s too long for you, you’ll never read it” and “No, that’s a baby book, choose a chapter book” equally. “That’s a comic, find a real book.” “That’s a girl/boy book.” I will probably say something like, “How about this book and this other book that fits your standard?” but I really want to say “LET YOUR KID DECIDE WHAT WORKS FOR THEM TO READ.”

But I digress. What I really mean to say is, don’t be embarrassed by your kid. They’re just being a kid. We’ve seen it all. But you’re the grownup, and if you say it’s time to leave, it is.

*Not that I am at ALL referring to events in my own motherhood this week, oh no.