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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:
- Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child. For example, you could say, "My child often gets upset at the store too." By identifying supportively with the parent, you often can defuse the situation.
- Try to divert the misbehaving child's attention by talking to him or her. Shopping with a parent can be boring and frustrating to a child, and sometimes a little attention from fellow shoppers can help ease the tension.
- Look for an opportunity to praise the child or parent. You might say, "You're a brave mom to venture into a crowded supermarket with a lively toddler." Or you could say to the child, "You were so good to sit in that cart for such a long time. You must be getting really tired."
- If the child is in danger, offer assistance to the parent. For example, "How about if I unload your cart for you (or carry your groceries to your car) while you comfort your child?" Or you might just say, "You've really got your hands full. How can I help?"
- And most important of all, avoid making negative remarks or giving looks of disapproval to the parent. Anything perceived by the parent as criticism is likely to increase the parent's anger and make matters even worse for the child.
Martha Erickson is a developmental psychologist and the director of the U's Children, Youth, and Family Consortium.