My friend, Abby, works for a popular clothing retailer. It's a demanding job, for sure, requiring long hours, excellent customer service skills, and, of course, babysitting duties. Think I'm kidding? I'm not.
That's because many parents believe that a day of shopping means they can completely ignore their kid and not care a whit what he or she is doing while they browse the racks. After all, isn't that what the store's staff is for?
Not only are parents increasingly unconcerned with what their little darlings are up to, they don't want to hear it if you catch the child, say, rummaging through the fake snow in the store's winter scene window. Or taking a nap on a display shelf. Or dismantling a mannequin -- all of which have happened to my friend while working the floor.
Sure, it's easy to get distracted when the most gorgeous sweater you've ever seen has been marked 50 percent off, but it's important to keep a close eye on your child while out shopping. Not only could they destroy merchandise, but they could also easily get hurt. And is it really the store's job to babysit?
Abby, who has worked retail for 20 years, says no.
"The store is not a playground," she says. "And kids get hurt because they're running around. If a worker approaches your child and tells them to slow down, it's for their safety and the fact that we don't want them to get hurt. Why is it the workers seem to care more than you do?"
One little girl recently was running through the store and wacked her head on a corner of the table. Another time, a young boy obviously had to go to the bathroom. His mom ignored him "and finally the kid just peed on the floor. And we got to clean it up. And no apology was given."
Abby's company, upon hearing these stories and others, finally agreed to let the store create a small activity area for kids. Staffers stock the area with dollar store coloring books, crayons, reading books and stickers. It's been a life-saver, she says. "When a child comes in and we can tell it's going to be one of those situations, we say, "Do you want to color?"
Retailer workers are often prohibited from telling parents their kids are acting up, either because they don't want to lose the sale, generate ill-will, or both. But here's what they would tell you if they could:
Keep your kids close -- "Don't just walk in and let them take off running," Abby says. "Hold their hand, have them in a stroller. Be responsible for your blood." If you see them running, stop them. Don't expect the employees to do that for you.
Stop destruction --- "When you see a child dismantling a display, stop them. Don't just stand there and watch," she says. "Displays are not toys and mannequins are not people. Hanging belts are not swings. Hanging bars in the fitting room are not monkey bars, and shelves are not beds."
Don't leave them -- The store is not a drop-off day care, even if it has a children's section with activities. "It's not meant to leave them so you can go shopping for yourself somewhere else," she says.
Don't be defensive -- If your child is misbehaving, and a staffer actually approaches you about it, be polite. "Know that it's for their safety, and we're not being disrespectful," Abby says.
Retailers are there to help you find great looks, grab you dressing rooms and ring up your sale -- not chase your little one around. Keep that in mind the next time you have Junior in tow at your favorite store, and the shopping experience will be better for everybody.