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Retailers offer advice to deal with unruly kids

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Dear Abby: I managed a retail store for 10 years, and I can relate to the shop owner who signed herself "Had It With Overindulged Kids" (June 28). She could turn things around by creating a designated play area and market to the children by taking any opened items and placing them there for a children's testing ground.

I had a "play table" with toys to keep them busy while their moms shopped. I put a gated area around it and a dads' bench in front of it so they could watch the children.

They are your customers. So cater to them and be thankful the parents shop in your store. Learn the children's names and suggest new age-appropriate products. If you don't have the time, hire someone who loves children and has the patience to play with them in a controlled environment. – Joyce from Michigan

Dear Joyce: Thank you for the helpful advice. Customers and retailers alike shared their experiences. Many of them questioned whether the children always misbehaved this badly in public and blamed their behavior on today's parenting skills – or lack thereof.

Here's a sampling:

Dear Abby: I shopped at a local store for years, but gave up when the place seemed overrun by unruly children and distracted parents. Out of desperation, I took a job there and vowed to find a way to make the parents rein in their youngsters.

One: I posted a sign that read, "IF YOU BREAK IT, YOU BOUGHT IT." If they refused, I didn't push the issue, but I did gesture upward. They would always look up, and when they did, I'd thank them for smiling at our cameras.

Two: Any child found unaccompanied would be escorted to our customer service area and the parents paged repeatedly until they showed up.

Since I instituted these policies, the condition of the store has improved, the morale of the employees has improved, sales have risen, and old customers who left due to the old circumstances are returning. – Survivor of Retail Hell

Dear Abby: I was in a shop where a sign behind the counter read: "Unattended Children Will Be Sold!" It was enough to get most parents' (and kids') attention while eliciting smiles at the same time. – Nonna of Five

Dear Abby: You mentioned posting a sign at the cash register. No, Abby, it should be at the entrance, so parents see it at the time they walk in.

Or how about a different sign: "Well-Behaved Children Will Win a Prize," then rewarding such children with a small gift? It would be worth the expense of small tokens of appreciation compared to the cost of broken merchandise.

I sympathize with "Had It." Parents often take kids on outings, believing they're spending quality time with them. But I see parents ignore their children and spend their time on electronic gadgets, leaving the unsupervised youngsters to run amok. Too bad for the children. – Gloria in LaFayette, Calif.

Dear Abby: I like the sign a friend of mine put up in her store: "Unattended children will be given espresso and a puppy and returned to their parents." – Marjory in Blowing Rock, N.C.

Dear Abby: I owned a small business with designated play areas for many years. One mom came in repeatedly with her two small sons, who were completely unruly and disruptive. I spoke to her several times, but I was wasting my breath. Here's how I solved the problem:

When Mom checked out, I added the items the terrible twosome destroyed to her bill. When I told her how much she owed, she insisted it must be a mistake. I said, "No mistake; these items belong to your kids." She paid the bill and remained a customer, but the kids were never with her again. – Had Enough, Gainesville, Fla.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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