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Chaos in the grocery store? 20-40-60 answers

by Helen Ford Wallace Published: August 25, 2010


QUESTION: While at a grocery store checkout line on different occasions, I have seen children who I assume are siblings physically fighting with each other while the parent is on a cell phone or distracted in some way.

At least one time, the punching was so hard it looked like it was hurting one of the kids. Do I glare at the parent and hope he or she gets off the phone, glare at the children and hope they stop, verbally interfere with the altercation, ignore it or handle it some other way?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: Not your place. But if it bothers you enough, step in. Maybe calmly try to calm the kids down.

If the mother gets mad, back off and get someone else involved. You should know what to do based on each situation, use your good instincts.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I’m not sure this is your business to handle. Irritating and disturbing? Yes! But requiring your interference? No. I’m not condoning ignoring children while they kill each other. The minute weapons come out, it’s time to get involved.

But realistically, what kind of horrible things are going to happen in a checkout line? It’s up to parents to decide how they want to handle their kids, and if that includes ignoring them, so be it.

Your involvement in a brief moment in a line isn’t going to change their upbringing; it’s only going to antagonize a parent who may react against you instead of against their children who are misbehaving. It’s too bad the parents aren’t stopping the behavior.

If you feel you have to do something, an angry or stern glare at the parents or the children acting up or both might be enough to get your point across, if they truly are in the wrong. If they’re getting in your shopping cart or their fighting is threatening your family, then step in and stop it.

However, many of us think we’re better parents when it’s not our kids involved. Just ask the mom whose child is having a sudden meltdown in the grocery store what kind of disapproving looks she gets. Ask yourself if you’re doing the same thing by inserting yourself into a family situation in the checkout line about which you know little, and try to give the harried parent some sort of grace.

We all need it from time to time.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Going to the grocery store with small children is hard. It is hard enough to figure out what you need and how much it costs, but if someone else’s children are bothering you by running down the aisle in front of you or fighting with an intent to hurt, I think it is ok to step in with a word or two…“Hey, you two, settle down.” Maybe that will get the parent’s attention. It will certainly get the children’s attention.

I have heard mothers pacify their children by offering some reward “if they behave.”  Sometimes that works, sometimes it does not.

But, truly, it is not your place to discipline the mother and the children. Just get through your shopping, go the other way, and hope that the mother learns to set down rules ahead of time and sticks to them or learns to immediately leave the store if the children are disturbing others.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Matt Price, Features Editor: If you think someone is being hurt in front of you, then of course you have to step in. But if the fighting is just annoying, or loud, you could try talking to the parent.

Something as simple as “It looks like you brought your helpers with you” will help her realize that the kids are being disruptive.

And genuinely try to be nice instead of being judgmental.  The parent will realize that her kids are affecting other people — she probably just zones them out at this point — and will try to make them more presentable.

Callie Gordon, a college junior,  was a 2009 debutante and has been in many new social situations recently. Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a former  debutante and currently the assistant features editor for The Oklahoman. Helen Wallace has written a social column for The Oklahoman for many years and has been on various local Ball committees. Guest Matt Price is The Oklahoman’s Features Editor.

This group does not always agree (via age differences), but they ALL see the need for proper behavior.

Ask a specific etiquette question and you will get three answers…Then you decide for yourself how you would handle the situation. The answers have information for every age range….Callie is 20-ish; Lillie-Beth is 40-something, and Helen is 60-plus.

Please email us with your questions and  follow us on Facebook, Twitter and daily blogs. We will try to answer your etiquette questions  weekly on the Parties Extra! blog. Sometimes we will ask other people for their opinions.

Look for us!…

by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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