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A cartoon of a mother dragging her crying child out of a toy store.

If you see a parent smack or yell at a child in a public place, avoid making negative remarks or giving looks of disapproval to the parent.

Parents, kids, and fits

By Martha Erickson

From eNews, August 19, 2004

When you see a parent smack or yell at a child because the child wants to get out of a grocery cart or is greedily reaching for something on a shelf, would you stand by idly or would you give the parent a piece of your mind?

Most of us have been in that situation at one time or another. And we're often not sure what to do, we do nothing and feel bad later. A few years ago, Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA), a national advocacy organization based in Chicago, surveyed 1,250 Americans about how they have responded in similar situations. Forty-four percent said they had failed to respond upon observing child abuse, and half of those reported they had no idea how to respond effectively. Of those who indicated they did respond, 55 percent said they had given a disapproving look to the offending adult and 63 percent reprimanded the adult verbally.

Granted, it feels awkward, and sometimes even dangerous, to intervene in a stranger's interactions with a child. PCAA recommends several ways to respond that are respectful of both the parent and child and that recognize the struggling parent's own need for support and encouragement. Here are some examples:

For more information about preventing child abuse, see

Martha Erickson is a developmental psychologist and the director of the U's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium.