Posted by: kateraidt | February 9, 2010

What to do when you witness a child being physically or verbally abused in public

Last year when I was writing my book, I saw a story on the news about a woman named Sarah. Sarah said, “One day I was verbally abusing my daughter at a grocery store and a stranger confronted me about my behavior towards my child. That was the wake-up call I needed to get help.” Because a total stranger had the guts to stand up to an abusive parent, Sarah has not only rehabilitated herself, but she has also mentored hundreds of other women in the Austin area as well.

Today I was at the YMCA registering my daughter for soccer. As we were preparing to leave I heard a loud POW POW POW followed by a child screaming. I turned my head to find a mother spanking hitting her 3-year old as hard as she possibly could. Several staff members and myself looked at each other in disbelief. As the mother was leaving I said (in the most calm and professional voice I could muster up):

ME: Ma’am, is that the proper way to treat a child?
MOTHER: (hysterical) YES-IT-IS! SHE DESERVED IT!
ME: Ma’am, no child ever deserves to be hit. Ever!
MOTHER: It is completely necessary for me to hit my child! You have a big problem, lady! Something is wrong with YOU!
ME: There are a dozen alternatives to disciplining a child other than hitting.
MOTHER: It is none of your business what I do to my children!
ME: When you are in public, IT IS EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS!! When I witness a child being abused, it is ABSOLUTELY my business!

Then the woman stormed away. As I turned around the entire YMCA had frozen in silence. One staffer said, “Even though the lady was irate, I know what you said to her will make an impact on her.”

Sadly, this is the 4th time in less than 2 years that I have confronted an abusive parent in public. These are the reason I have chosen to calmly but assertively stand up to physically or verbally abusive parents:
1. If they are willing to treat their children so inappropriately in public, what in the world are they doing to their kids at home?
2. The reason parents physically and verbally abuse their children is because NOBODY has probably ever confronted them about it.
3. The children need a voice and someone to stand up for them
4. I feel if I witness child neglect and choose to walk away without doing anything, then I am just as guilty as the parent whapping their child.
5. The parents I confront just might be the next SARAH
6. I truly believe that if a child is being harmed in public, then yes, IT IS EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS and we must get involved.

Do I fear being harmed by an irate parent? Well, I’d rather die trying to save a child than from the swine flu.

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Responses

  1. The problem here is it’s hard to know exactly the effect confronting this person will have on them. However, for the childs sake you have to take the risk. Here I’m not talking about the parent becoming abusive towards you, but rather having the parent’s newly found guilt turn into rage (possibly even towards the child).

    It’s a double edged sword at best, and I believe you made the right decision, hopefully it’s a wakeup call and not a catalyst for further abuse – but we will never know.

    The key thing is, you tried, and a lot of people would not have, on this I commend your efforts.

  2. I agree with you about standing up for the child, however all of the aggression and anger that the mother felt towards you all to often will be transferred to the child when they get home.

    I think if people could get tag numbers, names, plus a description of the abuse and call he Dept of Children and Family Services maybe they could go to the home seeing the extent of the abuse taking place.

    Unfortunately the abuse at home as you said is usually more violent than that done in public.

    I also think that if the incidence you witnessed was captured on video by the establishment you were in, it should be kept for possible evidence if it should come to that

    Thanks

  3. I had this happen at a soccer game I was coaching. The other teams coach was yelling at his kid, he threatened to take his belt off and kept bullying him verbally. He grabbed the kid 3 times by the arm and the kid pulled away, yelling “get off me”. At each point the father would turn around and then spin back around in an aggressive manner, demanding his kid go to the car. The child refused to leave, so the dad roughly grabbed his upper arm and put him in a choke hold and started walking off. At that point, instinctively, I yelled that he needed to stop and that we would call the game off if he continued. He got nasty and yelled at me and then my husband got into it with him. They became aggressive with one another, but did not get into a physical fight. I feel really bad for saying anything, because the poor kid probably got it at home and now my husband isn’t allowed to coach in our county anymore. It’s hard to know what to do, but I hate seeing abuse, as a nurse I see what happens when the child gets to the ER.

    • HI Jenn, Thank you to you and your husband for standing up for this little boy. I feel you did the right thing!

  4. I have repeatedly seen the neighbor lady next door to me, verbally and physically abuse her two pre teen children.. She is a single mom and She is really creepy. I can hear the girl screaming/crying in her room a lot…what do i do? Im so scared for these kids one boy and a girl. The kids share a room, so not sure if the older brother is abusing the girl as well? But he seems like a really good boy, but the mother is a real monster…

    • In a situation like this, I recommend calling Child Protective Services. They will make a visit to the home and see if the children are being harmed. If the situation doesn’t change, call CPS again or call 911. I knew a woman who was harming children and it took several people calling CPS SIXTEEN TIMES before anything was ever done. The more call the police or CPS receive on a person, the more active they are in taking action. And let’s all pray for this family!

  5. Today I saw a woman lifting up and dragging her child across the floor of a department store by one arm. The child was African American, the woman was white. The girl could have been her adopted child, step child, a niece, a granddaughter…..who knows. To me, it just looked like a powerless girl, screaming and backing away from the woman trying to make her move forward. It was obvious that she did not want to go with that woman. I asked the child if she was ok. She stared at me afraid to answer. The woman yelled at me at the store and said that was none of my business and this was her child and she was just throwing a tantrum. I continued asking the child if she was ok and I ignored the woman. The child never answered. After she turned loud, I told her that this was no way to treat a child and it was completely inapropriate. She said the girl did not want to leave the playground and was throwing a tantrum. I had been at the playground a couple of minutes ago with my 4 yr old and I didn’t see her. I probably should have called security within the store immediately but she would have left unnoticed before they arrived. Additionally, I had my own daughter with me and my parents and I didn’t want to endanger them or put them in a dangerous situation because I didn’t know if the woman was armed, crazy, dangerous or all of the above. The woman was very loud and I think that helped others to notice. It probably embarrased her as well because I continued to tell her that was no way to treat a child and I told her I should call child services. People started noticing her, specially the ladies that work inside the store behind the cosmetics counter and I am sure they will remember who she was if they are asked. I did contact security at the the mall and told them if anybody reported a 6 yr old African American girl wearing a pink puffy jacket, to take a look at the security cameras within the store. I also tried to contact missing children but the lady that answered told me they couldn’t record “possible kidnappings”. I wish I could have done more for the little girl. I felt aweful just watching that woman take that girl with her. I keep thinking it could have been my 4 yr old and I would have wanted someone to help her out. Thanks for giving me a space to share these feelings. It makes me feel a bit better. Perhaps parents should teach their kids to yell “this is not my mom (or dad or relative)” when a situation like this arises, instead of screaming or crying. I am sure more people would come to their rescue. After I came home, that’s exactly what I taught my daughter: “if someone you don’t know grabs you, you start yelling: Help me, this is a stranger, I am being taken”.
    She was as shocked as my parents to see this happen. I just hope the little girl is ok.

    • You are awesome! I wish more people would speak up when a child is being hurt physically or emotionally. Good job!

  6. […] another parent hitting their child. I was confronted with this experience yesterday, and discovered I indeed had a voice in this very challenging  and incredibly sad […]

  7. Hi Kate, I just today posted on my blog a story about how I witnessed child abuse and did nothing. It still haunts me to this very day. All best, JD http://gaymanranting.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/subway-to-hell/

  8. My mother told me other day that whilst she was walking on the street she saw a beggar woman hit her child’s face with a shoe to make him cry in order to get more sympathy when she asks for money!
    I was furious when I heard this and I don’t know whether I should just simply call the police or talk to her

  9. I am currently in a situation where a mother of one of the girls on my daughter’s softball team is unbelievably verbally abusive to her daughter. Calling her names and degrading her. The child is only 8 years old. All of the other parents have noticed but no one says anything. I can’t hold it much longer, but I do not want a fight to ensue in front of the other children. What do I do?

    • Hi Linette. Thanks for sharing your story. I recommend CALMLY and KINDLY saying something to the woman like, “The way you speak to your daughter is unacceptable and very abusive. Please give your child a lot of love.”
      I have found (with all things in life) that sometime is just takes ONE person calling someone out on something that makes a difference.
      If this woman says “It’s none of your business”, you say “When a child is being verbally or emotionally hurt in public, IT’S EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS!”
      Good luck….and keep me posted!

  10. So do you have kids? I’m curious, and what are all these “ways” to discipline without spankings. Rather than just calling them on it, maybe you can share some other ideas. i have been to breaking points where EVERY discipline was exhausted, he was tired and just pushing every button for FUN. So, when everything else has been done, what are these magical things you mention? I don’t disagree, I just feel it’s easier to judge when “your kids” are perfect, or you’ve never hit the same breaking point as other parents? Maybe you could make us a list. Then you can print it out and give it to these parents. Some may be abusive, some just exhausted and could use some tips.

    • Hi Sarah, Sorry to hear about your situation. Yes, I have two children. I am fully aware of how kids push our buttons and how parents can lose their cool. My family is no different than yours. After working in child development for 10 years, I have learned a LOT that helps eliminate behavior issues with all ages. It’s very simple, but takes effort on your part. The 3 biggest reasons kids misbehave is 1) They are sleep deprived 2) They don’t have a healthy diet 3) They are not getting enough nurturing from mom and dad. In many cases, the child is lacking all 3 of these things. The more you can be PROACTIVE parent and not a REACTIVE parent. Most parents wait and react after their child misbehaves. You need to do everything in your power to PREVENT the misbehavior in the first place. Make sure your son gets 10-11 hours of sleep (or more) every single night. No excuses. Keep junk food, sugary drinks and processed foods to a minimum. Pack healthy sack lunches. Make healthy dinners. No excuses. And give him lots of hugs, lots of time and attention and tell him every day that you are proud to be his mom. No excuses. About spanking: Not only does it not work (you might think it does in the short term), but it makes misbehavior even worse. The kids with the worst behavior are the ones who are hit. It’s no different than how you would feel if an adult hit you every time you did something they didn’t like. it would destroy your relationship with that person. Your child needs you to be a leader and a nurturer. So what do you do when your child acts up? You sit down with him and have a calm parent/child conversation with him. No excuses. It may be difficult in the beginning because your child may fear you and not trust you. But don’t give up. You need to re-build your relationship with your child from the ground up. I never spank my kids. But they definitely know who is boss, they respect the rules of our house and there are consequences when they aren’t respectful. Because my kids get a lot of sleep, a healthy diet and a lot of nurturing, the bad moments are very rare. You have to believe in preventitive measures and give your son a lot of love. Maybe hug him when you feel like hitting him. Start this immediately and don’t ever give up.

  11. Yesterday, I walked past a very large man who was returning a DVD to a RedBox outside of a grocery store. There was a child a few feet away from him, probably only about 10 years old. He was saying to the man, “What did I do?” The man replied, “What do you mean?” The child asked, “Why did you hit me?” I happened to walk by right at this moment. I believe the man became embarassed when the child asked this in front of me, so after I passed by. I heard the child begin to cry, but he was really trying not to. The man said, “If you want me to hit you, I’ll hit you.” Then he said, “Stop causing a scene. Get the F*$% in the car.” He was very loud, so I heard everything. I was loading my groceries up. I feel bad because I don’t think he would have hit the child as hard if I hadn’t walked by at that moment and heard the exchange. I looked over after the child got in the car. I could see he was hunched over in the back seat. The man got in the car and sped away. I thought about following him and getting the license plate number, and then calling child services, but I was afraid if I did anything like that, he would probably take it out on the kid. So I prayed for him instead. I had a hard time falling asleep last night, thinking about it.

  12. You have inspired me so so much.! Thank you and I truly admire your bravery.x


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