I was in a restaurant when my 2.5 year old decided to throw a major tantrum. I used time outs, so I scooped him up and carried him towards the door (he was crying and flailing). Much to my embarrassment, an older woman stopped me and said...

What that child needs is a good spanking!

I kind of had enough on my plate, so I just ignored her. But I would have loved to have said something wise in return. I think if I had said "I don't spank my child", she probably would have said, "It shows!"

If you've been in this situation, what have you done? What do you wish you had done?

  • 1
    I think this question can really be generalized to How to deal with unwanted advice? The second half of Beofett's answer here answers that pretty well.
    – Bobo
    Dec 6, 2014 at 0:36
  • 5
    "In our family, violence is not our answer to anything."
    – Marc
    Dec 6, 2014 at 3:52
  • 14
    "Ah!... So you're the cause of today's violent street gangs." Dec 6, 2014 at 6:30
  • 1
    "How I raise my kid is none of your business." would be typical. I'm not a parent but I have had experiences that suggest that parents take it an offense to be told by total strangers how to raise their kids. And true enough they should not meddle.
    – ADTC
    Dec 6, 2014 at 10:48
  • 13
    "What that lady needs is a lesson in manners!" Dec 8, 2014 at 13:58

4 Answers 4


Consider that this woman has grown up in a world different from yours, her perspective colored by a lifetime of experiences and education that are different from yours. Maybe she is scolding, maybe she thinks she is being helpful, maybe she is expressing frustration that a younger generation does not share her beliefs or that her hard-earned understanding of how to mother is out of vogue.

Certainly she is crossing a social boundary in giving advice to a stranger, but is it such a huge thing to ignore the advice, to acknowledge in a simple way that for a brief moment your paths crossed, that she spoke and you heard? You are two mothers from different times with different ideas, but you share a common experience - a child having a tantrum. Maybe you can acknowledge that commonality, saying something like, "Tantrums are a challenge, aren't they?"

You are not going to change a lifetime of someone's thinking with a brief comment, any more than her comment changed your thinking. So maybe just spread a bit of kindness.

  • 3
    These really are wise words. Puts it in a whole different light. Thank you.
    – anongoodnurse
    Dec 6, 2014 at 2:47
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    Maybe you can acknowledge that commonality, saying something like, "Tantrums are a challenge, aren't they?" "No, they just need a good spanking to get rid of." Unfortunately, that's essentially what the other woman was already communicating and what the OP wants to counter (in a short interaction). But the general slant of your answer is worth keeping in mind. Dec 6, 2014 at 6:29
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    MJ6, you're a more generous person than me. I'd interpret it as an unambiguous put-down of both the child and the parent, and almost as a physical threat to the child (the implicit "I would like to hit that child"/"That child deserves to be hit"). Cultural factors may be in play - I'm in London (UK) which is very much a negative politeness culture.
    – A E
    Dec 8, 2014 at 16:50
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    +100! Snarky escalation, while popular on the Internet, is a poor choice for grown-ups in real life. This is great advice to defuse the situation and leave everyone happier, not sadder.
    – mxyzplk
    Dec 8, 2014 at 18:39
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    I agree with this answer 100%. Either it was well meant and just wrong-headed, or "don't feed the trolls" applies.
    – Joe
    Dec 8, 2014 at 21:55

I think ignoring it was the right, wise answer. You could have any number of responses, from informative to "pleasant" to aggressive, but any response tells your child and any spectators that the woman's comment was worth validating in any way.

Nothing you could have said would likely have changed anyone's mind on the matter. Even being polite, a one-off with a stranger isn't going to prevent that stranger from repeating the behavior on some other preoccupied, unsuspecting parent.

In a different setting, such as a close friend or relative making the comment during a visit, then I think an informative, verbal response would be warranted. However, it'd be important to not be reactive or stand offish, but calm and informative.

The internal response to the situation may be of more importance (it is in my book). You should feel confident enough in your disciplinary and parenting choices to not have critique from strangers perturb you. If you're not bothered internally, you won't feel that need for an external reaction.

  • 1
    You are right that nothing I could have said would have changed her viewpoint. I would have liked to have said something that would have caused her to pause and think about what she was doing to a newish mom with her unkind words, but that is wishful thinking.
    – anongoodnurse
    Dec 9, 2014 at 6:42
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    She probably would have turned it around in her own mind to make your reaction to be the inappropriate behavior. She felt comfortable enough to say it to a stranger, which says a lot about her mindset as an elder.
    – user11394
    Dec 9, 2014 at 6:51
  • Good point, there's a lot to be said for completely ignoring it.
    – A E
    Dec 10, 2014 at 19:00
  • @anongoodnurse: You said she was "an older lady". Don't you think she's had enough chance to encounter parents that could have made her pause and reconsider their believes?
    – sbi
    Feb 21, 2015 at 16:06

Perhaps I have a unique perspective on this answer because I actually agree with her sentiment. For all of you who feel like flaming or downvoting because of this, please spare me the insanity of comparing loving discipline to abuse - if you don't know the difference then you made the right choice to not spank!

Anyway, despite agreeing with her sentiment, I would never say this to a stranger like this. Part of being a parent in a free country is having the freedom to decide how you wish to instill discipline in your child. Though I may not agree with your choices, they're yours to make without public commentary (you opened yourself up to commentary in this forum, but I'm not trying to start a debate with you here).

All this assumes this woman was not directly affected by the child's behavior (i.e. they destroyed her property, etc. - more than that pesky kid is bothering her). If your child did something destructive toward her, then it is much more understandable for her to comment on your ineffective discipline (at least it was ineffective in this instance - we've all been there at some point), in addition to demanding remediation. Anyway, I'm assuming this wasn't the case based on your question.

You don't need to respond in a snarky way to try to win some argument. You know there are people who spank their kids in the world, and that fact isn't what is bothering you anyway. Don't try to address her view on that. What you need to do is address her social error - that she offered unsolicited criticism of your parenting. If this had been a private discussion with a friend, it would have been a very different matter, but the old adage of "I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care" really applies here. Given that, here are some possible responses:

  • That's one approach.
  • I'm sure that's what you'd do, but this is my child and I have the freedom to discipline them as I see fit.
  • I'm sorry, you don't really have the standing in my life to speak to my parenting style.
  • Please keep your unsolicited commentary on my parenting to yourself.

These can have different levels of "attitude", which really should be customized to the level of offense she's caused, including the attitude that she had with you. Though despite her lack of graciousness, that does not require you to omit graciousness also. Perhaps the most gracious response on your part is no response at all.

  • 1
    Welcome, and thanks for this honest, well reasoned answer. I was raised with spanking, and I'm sure in that (embarrassing) moment, I was given momentary pause, as well as startled. Ultimately, the answer is the same. +1 from me. I hope to read more of your answers.
    – anongoodnurse
    Feb 21, 2015 at 13:03

If you live on Earth, you have to understand that her view is either the majority in your area or a strong minority. For example, the average single mother in the USA spank their young children an average of 2-3 times a week. Including their toddlers. So whatever response you give has to be compassionate with their worldview that routine physical abuse is normative and good. You think she is being rude and suggesting something awful, so respond with compassion.

Maybe say "While I relate to where you're coming from, I don't spank my child because X and Z". For myself, I think spanking is acceptable but adults abuse it by using it far too much (more than once or twice in a lifetime I'd define as excessive). So instead of saying "I don't spank because its violent", I say "I understand that the rare spanking can be beneficial for a child, I don't spank because I feel far too many parents spank their kids far too much and I don't want to risk becoming one of those parents."

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    Re "if you live on Earth": no, what's true in America isn't necessarily true for the whole world. Here in the UK, this survey taken by the country's most respected polling agency in 2007 shows only 24% of current parents admitting to smacking their children, and only 7% of current parents thinking it's an effective behaviour management strategy. Here, hitting a child with any object other than a hand or so as to leave a lasting mark is a criminal offence...
    – A E
    Dec 10, 2014 at 19:08
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    ... and according to this 2004 opinion poll, 71% of the population would support a total ban on hitting children. Even if one lives in an area where hitting children is normal, one does not (IMO) have "to be compassionate with their worldview that routine physical abuse is normative and good".
    – A E
    Dec 10, 2014 at 19:10
  • +AE 24% of people with children is not a strong minority? A NSPCC meta-survey shows very different results. One references study had over 40%. Another survey they referenced "found 71 per cent of parents of under 12s said they had used “minor” physical abuse when punishing their children (58 per cent in the past year)". Compassion is always better than dismissal. Their view has a grain of truth. That's why I recommend acknowledging that in response before giving the criticism.
    – Lan
    Dec 10, 2014 at 19:44
  • It's easy in a survey or public opinion poll for people to lie. Ask anyone if they are racist or have racist tendencies and I/they will say "no". We're dishonest and will hardly admit our own faults to ourselves. People won't say in a survey "its great to hit kids" but behind curtains they will. Take what you reference. A quarter of current parents in it smack their children and yet over three quarters of those who smack their children if asked will say it is ineffective. Dissonance. Do you think while those three quarters are smacking their children, they are thinking "this is ineffective"?
    – Lan
    Dec 10, 2014 at 19:52
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    John, that's exactly why I specifically said "only 24% of current parents admitting to smacking their children". I'm glad we agree that some parents will do it but be too ashamed to admit it: that supports my argument that it's not socially acceptable here. I think compassion is more appropriate for the people being hit than the people doing the hitting, myself. I suspect the people who hit their children but know it isn't effective realise that their violence is more about expressing their anger than about managing their children's behaviour. The NSPCC paper is interesting, thanks.
    – A E
    Dec 10, 2014 at 20:08

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