Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
January 1, 2011

Question: How do I deal with unruly kids and the parents who bring them into my store to entertain them? I am especially concerned about kids picking up all my crystals, rearranging the shelves, and mishandling the gemstones. What can I do?

Answer: It amazes me when parents take their children into retail stores and let them run loose. I always have to take a deep breath and realize the parents probably weren’t taught proper manners themselves. That said, what you describe is unacceptable behavior, and you need a way to stop it from happening in your store. Your staff and other customers will thank you!

Your first step should be to gather your staff, and let them know you don’t condone this behavior. Take a firm stance that communicates the time for change has come. Next, give your employees some tools to handle unruly children and oblivious parents.

In our store, we have a small round table and two child-sized chairs with colorful wooden blocks (which we occasionally sanitize). For some children, this area provides enough distraction that they will sit and play while their parents shop. For others, it is totally uninteresting and ineffective.

In that case, we ask parents to please hold their child’s hand. Each of our staff members is trained to take the child to their parents and kindly say, “We ask all parents to please hold their child’s hand when in the store because so many items are breakable.” We hope that lets parents know we are not singling them out or criticizing their parenting skills. Some parents take offense anyway, so be prepared for a look or sneer. Just smile and walk away.

If the same child continues to create havoc, we repeat the procedure. The third time, or when something gets broken, a manager asks the parent to please not bring the child back because we are not equipped to provide for the child’s needs. If the customer gets huffy and chooses not to return, so be it. They usually change their minds, though, and continue to shop with us—but only when they can come alone.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to