I bet this has happened to a lot of well-meaning people.

You see a parent – usually a mother – being very exasperated with her child in a public place. She may do or say things that you know are damaging, especially to that child’s emotional wellbeing. You feel condemnation for the parent and anxiety for the child. But you don’t know what to do. You weigh up the options.

  • Leave the scene – it’s too upsetting
  • Bury your head in your newspaper or phone – it’s nothing to do with you
  • Look away – she’s clearly out of control and possibly dangerous
  • Leave the scene – you have a meeting to go to and this is not a priority on your time
  • Glare and hope she is shamed into stopping
  • Mutter to the person sitting next to you – possibly loudly enough for her to hear
  • Tell her what you think of her behaviour – perhaps as you are leaving the scene
  • Tell her you will report her to the authorities
  • Phone a helpline and let them know what is happening.
  • Remember what it is like to have a demanding or difficult child and have some sympathy

I take the view – along with the child protection charities, NAPCAN in Australia and the NSPCC in the UK, that we ALL have a responsibility for the welfare of children. If a parent is doing something in public that raises an alarm, you can bet there is more of the same – or worse – happening behind closed doors. If you walk away you may feel anxious about the child and badly about yourself. But some interventions are better than others – and some will probably make things worse. You need to use positive strategies.

Try this

Here are some suggestions for the next time this happens. What you actually do will depend on the context – supermarket, bus, park or in the street

1. Know the name and number of a support agency, helpline or website – carry this information with you on something you can give out. You can go and get this right now so you have done something already. Be prepared. You might like to start here.

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/parents__families.html – Australia
NAPCAN in Australia has a whole raft of leaflets including:
Alternatives to Smacking http://napcan.org.au/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/smackingalternatives.pdf

2. Position yourself near the parent and child. Before they have a chance to walk away, say something supportive of the parent.
They drive you mad sometimes don’t they?
You’ve got a lot on your plate there

3. Then without waiting for a reply turn your attention quickly to the child. If you can get down to the child’s level this is even better. Smile at them as you speak and say something like:
You’re having a bad day, little one aren’t you?
You are going to wear yourself out crying like that

4. Turn back to the parent and say something positive about the child
She’s a determined young lass you’ve got there
He’s got such lovely eyes

5. Make a suggestion about what the child might need.
Perhaps she’s tired – they can lose it when they are exhausted – bit like us really?

What you will have done by now is interrupt the abusive tirade at the child. You will also have shown care for both. It is less likely that the parent will attack you for this and she may be prepared to engage in a brief conversation.

What happens next will depending on the time you have but at some point you can hand out your information and say:
Look, if you need help at any time – parenting is really the toughest job – then these people might be able worth contacting. I know quite a few mothers who have.

Good luck with it.

It’s not much is it – but better than silence. Rather than wind the situation up with condemnation, you will have given the parent a slightly different way of seeing their child and some ideas of what they might do if it all gets too much.

Good on you.