Dear Stranger: Please Stop Rewarding My Kid's Bad Behavior

by Meredith Hale
Originally Published: 
A blonde girl with pigtails, wearing a blue t-shirt and feeling sad after her bad behavior
Image via Shutterstock

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.

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