What to Do if You Witness a Public Display of Aggression Toward a Child


sad, crying child being carried away by a man

It has all happened to us—we are in a store, at the park, or any number of places where parents take their kids (so EVERYWHERE) and our attention is drawn to a parent yelling at their child or maybe even hitting them. Your gut instinct might be to pretend you didn’t hear it or to quickly change your path. But is that what we should be doing? Children are helpless, and as adults, we need to look out for ALL children. But we also need to reach out to the parent. Parenting is a tough job and we should all do our part to normalize that it is tough, and we that are all trying to do our best.

If you find yourself in a Public Display of Aggression situation, here are some things you can try to help diffuse the situation.

Keep it positive

If you do not want to get involved, at a minimum, keep comments to yourself and don’t stare. Neither action is helpful and can make the situation worse. If you choose to get involved, keep things positive and non-confrontational. You can simply try “Good morning” or “Hello” directed to the parent and child. That can go a long way.

Change the parent’s focus

As you walk by, or as you are standing in line, begin a conversation with the parent. By doing this, the goal is to break the tension between the parent and child, even if just for a moment. Saying things like, “Can I help you get your groceries out of your cart/into your car?” or “My kids do that all of the time” are some examples. You don’t want to criticize their parenting; you just want to provide a shift in the parent’s focus.

Change the child’s focus

Just as you may try with the parent, try starting a conversation with the child. “I like your dress,” “How old are you?” or “Are you helping mom shop?” are some suggestions. If they are younger, you may even find you can play a quiet game of peek-a-boo.

Show kindness

“Being Kind” is something we all want. Allow the parent in front of you in line if you can sense things are escalating. Hold the cart steady if they are struggling to get the infant carrier in the cart. If they drop something, pick it up for them. A simple demonstration of kindness might be the thing that changes the rest of the day for that parent.

If the child is in immediate danger, ACT

This one may require you to really step out of your comfort zone. If the child is at risk of being physically harmed or in need of any assistance, offer it to them as soon as possible. This includes taking actions like calling over a security guard or calling the police if the situation requires intervention.

You will ultimately have to decide what is best for you and your child(ren) if they are with you.  You do not want to have an escalated situation, especially if your children are with you, but you also want to be a role model for your children and show them you care. Use your gut instinct.

Remember, we parent the way we were parented unless we are taught differently (through our partner/spouse or through education of some kind—even a parenting class). But not all of us have the time or means to take a class even if we knew where to look. Sometimes, it does take a village.

To hear more, listen to my radio interview here: https://www.scanva.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/PT_-_Harsh_Interaction_wChildren.mp3



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