In the world of parenting, it seems like everyone thinks they're an expert. The dreaded unsolicited parenting advice comes from strangers, friends and family alike: "Isn't she too big for a stroller?" or "I know a great way to stop that child from crying!" What do you do when confronted with unwanted opinions about your parenting style?

First, take a deep breath and realize that irrelevant, inappropriate and even offensive advice is everywhere—and that it's probably inevitable. All kinds of people have opinions on how to raise your child. How do you deal?

The Wakanheza Project, run by Donald Gault from the Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health Department, is an innovative effort to promote welcoming community environments. One of its goals is to help well-intentioned advisers understand that "offering your advice on what someone is doing wrong, or could do better, with their child will almost certainly have the opposite effect." The folks on the flipside—moms and dads on the receiving end of unsolicited parenting advice—already know this.

"Each of us [should] try to recognize how challenging it is to parent in public, and seek opportunities to provide support and kindness to parents and children," says Gault. "It is amazing how a kind glance, a nod of the head, or an offer to hold the door or let a family ahead of you in line can diffuse a seemingly escalating situation."

With this in mind, whether in public or at home, try these cool comebacks to tame a tense situation:

  • A cry for help. Your baby won't stop crying in the checkout lane, and you're at your breaking point. The last thing you need is someone butting in and telling you what to do. If a stranger suggests a way to get your wailing kid to quiet down, you'll probably be tempted to say something you'll regret. Humor can help defuse your (understandable) anger. Thank the person, and then ask her for her number. Say, "That's such great advice—can I call you every time she cries?" Instead of handing over their digits, she'll back off. Message received.
  • Spoil sport. Almost every new parent has heard, "Don't do that or you'll spoil her!" This is a popular tactic with mothers and mothers-in-law and it's usually code for, "I don't like what you're doing." Spoiling is so subjective that it's hard to argue with, so don't. Brush it off with a cheery, "Too late, might as well give her Royal Highness Princess Perfect Pants another cookie!" Have confidence in your own judgment and laugh it off.
  • Ages and stages. There's nothing more hurtful to a mama than hearing the words, "Isn't that child too old to be (blank)?" Before you answer, get a grip on your anger realize it isn't personal. Lots of people make remarks to new parents just to break the ice. Often, they have children of their own and may genuinely wonder if the behavior or activity that they're commenting on is age-appropriate. In this case you can say, "Oh, do you have kids?" If the answer's yes, listen and you might learn something.
  • Back in my day. Older people are frequent advice-givers, and being bombarded with outdated parenting tips can be aggravating. Before you lose your cool, consider the source. That random elderly stranger you met in the park is probably just lonely and possibly missing her own children or grandchildren. Give her a warm "Thank you" and move on. Or if you have the time, follow up by switching the topic and asking about her kids. She'll likely love the chance to open up.
  • Tantrum time. All tiny tots have tantrums, and when meltdowns happen in a public place, people often feel free to throw in their two cents. "My child never threw a fit like that" is a popular one. Once again, humor is your best defense! Say, "I know it's loud, but it's so easy to keep track of her this way" or "She's training for the toddler Olympics—freestyle screaming!"
  • If she were mine... When someone utters the phrase, "If that child were mine, I'd do X, Y and Z," take her up on the offer. Smile and reply, "She can be yours ... for five easy payments of 19.95!" Your nosy neighbor will get the hint.
  • Fussing about food. What your kid's eating is a sticky area of parenting. Whether it's weaning or fast food, everyone has an opinion. If someone shares an unwanted opinion about your snack choices, respond to the all-organic "sanctimommy" with, "Yes, I know that this orange juice has a lot of sugar, but the vodka doesn't!" She'll be too shocked to respond, and may think twice about imposing her dietary views in the future.
  • Miss Behavin'. It takes a bold person to comment on how you choose to control your child, especially in public. Your discipline methods are truly nobody's business. But if someone crosses the line, consider your response carefully. Lots of people don't think of punishment as a laughing matter. It's best to just say, "Thanks" (if you say anything at all) and move on.

There's no perfect comeback for unwanted comments. Most people mean no harm; they're just trying to help. Respond to their inappropriate advice with kindness, humor and understanding and they'll probably think before speaking in the future.