The Tribune's "One Burning Question" actually had a decent question and answer yesterday. Quite honestly, I wanted to punch the rude woman written about in the letter.
The Letter Writer (LW) took her toddler son to the doctor. While in the waiting room, the toddler went to grab a toy. A freako parent nearby grabbed the toy first, then handed it to the little boy and said, "What do you say?"
Erm. I'd say, "Smack you in the face for trying to parent my kid while I'm standing there." Also, freako clearly didn't need to grab the toy since the little boy was already reaching for it.
Clearly, this incident was an over-the-top case of a helicopter parent trying to helicopter parent all kids within a 10-foot radius.
But what if there were a real problem going on, say the parent is nowhere near and the kid throws a toy at you? (This has happened to EB.)
I checked with a relative of mine who happens to be a pediatric specialist, and her rule is a good one: If the parent isn't around, or nearby to witness the action and respond, it's okay to say something to the child (not hitting, mind you); just say something like, "That's not nice," or whatever.
But if the parent is there, step aside and let the parent do the parenting. You don't tell someone else's kid, especially in front of their parents, "What do you say?" But if something harmful or egregious happens (kid hits you with a toy), gently point it out to the parent.
But your job is not to discipline someone else's kids. Sure, these minor offenses (like a skipped "thank you") will occur from time to time...that's when you can demonstrate grace and just let it go.