No Means No
You are at the bank and a child wants a free sucker. The mother tells the child no. Along comes a stranger that has heard her deny your child this piece of candy. They bend down and hand the child a piece of candy anyway. Here is what the mother of that child is thinking.
1. If I wanted my child to have the candy, I never would have said no in the first place.
2. By giving my child that candy, you have inadvertently taught my child to accept candy from strangers.
3. You have no idea what dietary limits my child has. What if what you just gave him makes him sick?
4. You are undermining my authority as a parent. I said no, that should be the end of it.
Always respect a parent's wishes. They know what's best for their child. You have no right to grant permission to have or do anything of which a parent has explicitly denied. It teaches a child that if mom says no, someone else will say yes. You have now shown this child to ignore his mother's authority.
Mind Your Business
You are at the grocery store and you turn the corner down the cereal isle. You hear a woman speaking sternly with her child. She says, "Stop it, right now. Do NOT make me take you outside." The child seems to be recovering from hysterics or at the very least a crying fit. You don't like what the mother is saying to the child so you stand by and watch or decide to talk to the child to lighten the mood. Here is what the mother would like you to know.
1. You have no idea why this child is in trouble and you are therefore incapable of determining the appropriate tone I should take when resolving this issue.
2. I finally get my child to calm down after throwing an epic temper tantrum after I have told him for the fourteenth time in three minutes that he could not have any sugar cereal. Here you come giving him an audience, thus encouraging him to drag out the tantrum even longer.
When you come upon a child that is in the midst of discipline, play deaf and blind. This deprives the child of an audience. It is very embarrassing for the adult to have to publicly discipline their child. In today's society, a mother is constantly concerned both about someone accusing her of abuse, and someone confronting her for not disciplining her child enough. A mother is not free to be a mother under those circumstances. As long as there is no abuse taking place, you should allow the mother the freedom to do what she feels is necessary to solve the problem. Some discipline must take place publicly to discourage public meltdowns by the child. Ironically, it is those who join in on the discipline and take the mother's side who offer the most help.
I once came upon a mother with twin toddlers and a son about two to three years older that them. He was not listening to her instructions. I stayed out of the situation to allow her to parent. But then the child knocked all of the cans on the shelf to the floor in a raging fit. The mother looked like she was about to literally break his neck for it. I intervened. "Pick-it-up...nooow." I said in my Amittyville Horror voice, leaning down over the child. "Don't you ever embarrass your mother in public again." The child was caught off guard. Strangers were supposed to step in and save him from punishment not call him on his bad behavior. The mother was grateful and the child behaved for the remainder of the shopping trip. I stepped in because I could see that the power struggle was about to escalate to a potentially unhealthy level. But in intervening, I maintained the mother's authority and reaffirmed the expectation of the respect he owed her.
You see the cutest kid you have ever seen walking down the street with her mother. You can't resist the temptation to talk to her. You say hello, and ask her name. The more you talk the closer the mother holds the child. You sense that she doesn't want you talking to her child but you don't understand why. Here is what the mother is thinking.
1. You are a stranger. You have no business approaching my child.
2. How can I teach my child about stranger danger if you're in her face talking to her when you should be talking to me?
I know that some children are so adorable that you just want to love them, and pet them, and call them George. But your actions are that of a stranger. A small child lacks the ability to reason whether a person is a dangerous or safe stranger. Approaching a child and asking their name is placing them in a situation they are not equipped to handle. You are also forcing the mother to decide between being rude to you or allowing you, a stranger, to talk to her child. Consider the safety of the child before you approach her. Tell the mother how cute you find her to be. Ask the mother what the child's name is. Leave the child alone.