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The Case of the Out-of-Control Child

A kid wreaks havoc while his mom talks on her cell phone. How should store owner Kaitlin handle the situation?




KAITLIN WAS PUTTING out the last of her Global Pet Expo orders. “There’s nothing better than a packed toy display,” she thought, hanging the final brightly colored squeaky plush on a peg.

Kaitlin had even brought in more gifty items to build that part of her business. New coffee mugs and picture frames showed well on the shelves surrounding her checkout desk. It all made for a complete buying experience for people and their beloved pets.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

The doorbell chimed, letting Kaitlin know a customer had walked into her store. She went to the front and said to the person, “Good afternoon. How can I help you today?” The doorbell chimed again. Kaitlin looked to greet the new arrival, too, but noticed the woman was deep in conversation on her cell phone and had a young boy at her side. As soon as the door closed behind them, he ran to the toy area.

Squeaking soon started. Once Kaitlin finished ringing up the first customer’s purchase, she headed toward the noise, finding dozens of toys on the ground and the child reaching for her store cat, Ghost. The woman stood nearby, still talking on her phone and ignoring the boy’s actions.

Before Kaitlin could ask his name to redirect the child’s attention, he ran to another display, grabbed a long ball launcher and began running toward the checkout counter, hitting shelving and products along the way. She waved at the woman and said, “Excuse me.” They made eye contact, the woman pointed to her phone as if to say, “I’m on a call,” and then turned her back on Kaitlin and the boy.

Kaitlin rushed toward the checkout counter and put herself between the boy and the breakables, yelling over to the woman, “Ma’am, I am going to need you to get your child before he hurts himself.” The woman covered her phone and said, “He’s just playing. I’m letting him pick out a toy for our dog while I finish this call. I’ll be done in a few minutes.” She then continued her conversation. Kaitlin was at a loss for words.


The Big Questions

  • Should Kaitlin continue chasing the boy through the store and tell him not to touch anything until his mom gets off the phone?
  • Tell the woman to get off the phone and pay attention to her child?
  • Let the boy continue to wreak havoc and charge for what he breaks?
Amber H.
Weatherford, OK

I would ask the mother to remove her child from my store until she is done with her call and willing to supervise the child.

Jennifer L.
Wenatchee, Wa

This happens, but I wouldn’t say enough to warrant overreacting and potentially losing a customer. We have a lot of staff on at all times, so one of us will generally step in and distract the child until the parent is done “shopping” or whatever they are doing. We might show them the cat room or politely explain that they need to slow down, be careful. But we like to make all kids feel welcome and have fun. We offer them popcorn, a free fire hat, and even a kids shopping cart to fill up. They will be pet parents themselves soon enough, and we want them back as customers. As for the parent, hopefully it gives them a needed break and they appreciate our help and don’t make it a habit! I don’t see it as much different than people who don’t watch their dogs and they pee on things. That happens much more often.

Michelle M.
Osprey, FL

What I would want to do and what I would do are two separate things. I would want to put the leash we have behind the counter for loose dogs around the kid’s neck — then fill one of our Nina Ottosson puzzles with M&Ms to keep him occupied. What I would probably do would be to interrupt the woman’s call and say she is responsible for anything he damages. And could she please take him outside to finish her call if it’s that important. She also needs to be reminded about child safety around unknown pets and that you don’t reach for cats who do not know you (and some that do).

Stephanie S.
Amarillo, TX

I have a box of color-changing pencils. I immediately engage the kids and tell them that if they hold the pencil in both hands really tight and warm it up, magic happens. It helps most of the time!

Rachael C.
Mandeville, LA

Distraction is usually the key. We have a koi pond. I distract wild children by offering to let them feed the koi, which they usually love to do. I tell them they have to feed one pellet at a time. That generally keeps them busy until their parents can pay attention. It usually thrills the parents, too, so it’s a win-win. If they’re being wild around or to our animals, I very firmly explain that we do not allow anyone to mistreat our animals, and I had better not see it again. I get right up in their face so I have their attention and it doesn’t cause a scene. I’m not mean, but they know I mean business. I have yet to have that fail.

Sylvia Glee T.
Adamsville, TN

There is an old saying, “Mind your children or don’t mind if I do.” We had the same scenario a few years ago with a very competent manager, Jean. An out-of-control child was pillaging the shop while his mother ignored his antics. Jean, an excellent dog and horse trainer with a firm but pleasant voice, told him he couldn’t behave that way in our store. His mother left with her son in a huff. Jean apologetically told me she thought she had run off a customer. I told her that I didn’t need that kind of customer and that she had handled the situation entirely to my satisfaction.

Kathryn M.
Richmond, MO

I would ask the kid his name, then ask what kind of toys his dog likes. Hopefully that will direct him back to the toys. Next I would help him pick out the perfect one and have him take it to his mother. Hopefully this ends the craziness and gets them out of the store. But demanding she get off the phone or chastising the child will most likely end in losing a client or getting a bad review. Which sometimes you have to accept when putting your foot down because someone is being unreasonable.

Becci S.
Scottsdale, AZ

If I was free, I would help him select a toy, while keeping disarray to a minimum, and then require mom to pay and move them out the door. If busy, I would interrupt the phone call to let the mother know that her child needed supervision and politely remind them that they are dog toys, not toys made for children. I wish I could post a “No Children Allowed” sign in my store as so many venues have such signs against dogs. Ha ha.

Doug S.
New City, NY

Children as well as pets are always welcome in our store. But the golden rule, that all entering see on a sign, is that they must be well behaved and owners must be in control of them. This person’s behavior was quite rude but so typical of today’s “new age” parent. We are not a babysitting service, and you cannot abuse staff or merchandise because of your lack of monitoring. Put the phone down. Social media or your call is not important. Being a good parent and good citizen is.

Karen C.
Delavan, WI

This is certainly a real deal! We are faced with this often. We do address the parents and, if needed, the children directly. We explain that safety is a priority! Many people come in with dogs and kids, so we have to have everyone on their best behavior. Our liability is real! In this case, I would have persisted with the client until she got off her call and addressed her child. If it costs us a customer, we will take that chance. We want our store to be a safe, friendly place for adults, kids and dogs!

Jennifer Moore B.
North Ridgeville, OH

Treat the child like an untrained puppy. Take the ball launcher out of his hand, redirect his attention to a nonbreakable toy, enlist his help to rehang the toys, talking about his dog and what toy the dog might like. Ask lots of questions. Keep redirecting to nonbreakables. Once mom is off the phone, make sure you add any broken items to her bill.

Barbara C.
Thornwood, NY

I definitely would not let the child continue to wreak havoc. Typically, an inattentive parent will not want to pay for damages. I would try to redirect the child, ask him to come look at the animals or ask if he wants to feed the dogs (or in this case the cat) a treat. I would ask him about his dog. If all that fails, the parent must get off the phone for the child’s and the store’s safety, even if this means sadly losing a customer.

Brett F.
Owego, NY

Kaitlin should follow the child around the store, pick up every broken item and add it to the mom’s tab. I won’t police your kid, and you’ll pay for what he breaks. Same as if a dog marked items.

Beth K.
Irwin, PA

I have told children that they can’t touch breakable items (even bagged bakery treats) because I can’t sell them if they’re broken. So far, it’s been enough to get the attention of the parent, who then addresses the child. In this case, I don’t know that I’d be so nice as the potential for the child or another customer to get hurt isn’t worth the risk. I would take away the toy, telling him that we don’t allow that kind of behavior and that I don’t want him to get hurt. If that didn’t stop the child, I would tell the mom to get her child under control before he gets hurt. I’d rather lose a sale than have a child get injured or lose tons of merchandise. Mom is probably going to be angry no matter how you handle it, so do whatever it takes to stop the behavior.

Dawn T.
Vero Beach, FL

No, it is not her job to chase the boy through the store, and even if she did tell him not to touch anything, he probably would not pay attention. It is best for her to kindly tell the woman that her child is wreaking havoc while she is on the phone, then strongly suggest that she and her child exit the store until she is off the phone and able to pay attention to him. In the meantime, yes, for every item he breaks, place it on the counter for the mother to pay for. This enables her to clean the products up and pay attention to the customers who are there to really shop.

Mars, PA

Kaitlin should help the kid pick out a LARGE pile of appropriate toys for his dog while his mom is on the phone. In the future, she should keep in mind that pets often come with families, which often include kids. She should arrange her displays accordingly if she wants to run a family-friendly pet store. Otherwise, open an antiques shop.

Kristina R.
Falls Church, Va

With today being so fragile in the way you can act, talk or look at a child, I would face the client head on: “Ma’am, I know this call must be important, but so is my store. I’ll need to ask you to leave if you cannot help your child clean up the mess he’s made in my store. I’m happy to help you both pick our a toy for your puppy.”

Penny M.
New London, NH

I would take the child by the hand, walk him over to his mother and place his hand in hers. Then I would inform her that she needs to hold his hand until she gets off of the phone, that my store is not an amusement park. If she cannot do that, please go back to her car until she can pay attention to her child.

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