What do you do if you witness someone publicly mistreating a child?

Received Tuesday, March 25, 2008-Perspective & Opinion
Southwest Playground, Van Cortland Park, Bronx.
Monday, (3/24) 5:00 P.M....
Actually, I'm sorry, I started to post a sighting but am increasingly certain that the person I saw was a mother and not a nanny. However, I do have a question:
What do you do if you witness someone publicly mistreating a child? I recently saw a woman screaming at two young children at a local playground - swearing and threatening to hurt them. I said, "Please don't speak to your children that way - I know it's none of my business, but you'll really hurt them. It isn't right." She seemed to tone her behavior down at that point, but I'm very scared that I might have made things worse for the kids. Is it better to stay out of such situations? Turning a blind eye seemed very wrong.
If you wouldn't mind posting my question, I'd be very interested in hearing what readers have to say in response.


Anonymous said...

You can call the local police or your areas version of Child Protective Services. I have done so twice on people.

However I STRONGLY urge you to make absolutely certain you are witnessing true abuse, not a harrried mother on an off day or a swat on the behind. Calling the police and Involving CPS can cause a world of heartache for the child you think you are protecting and the family you could be destroying. Of course, you should always always always, report any abuse you witness, it's important that the call is legitmate and the information not embellished at all.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes a Mom just gets over loaded and does things she shouldn't. I think you did the right thing by just talking to her.
If she had been slapping and jerking the kids around I would have called the cops.Maybe you gave her an eye opener when you confronted her,I hope so. Sometimes we need to see our selves as other see us. If by chance you ever see her doing this again maybe you should call because
verbal abuse is just as bad a physical abuse,if not worse. I don't think the cops would do much about yelling at your kids though.Hitting them ? They could arrest her.

Anonymous said...

Judging by fact that she did not turn on you says that she very well could have been having a bad day and realized she was out of control when you spoke to her. I would think that the kids are ok, it could have made her rethink how she was treating the children. All moms have their off days.

jen said...

I have to agree with all posters so far. If what you're seeing is just a harried mom, then don't bring the law down on the family. But if you sense that this is really something more serious, you really should call 911 so that a cps file will be opened and the family will be investigated.

Anonymous said...

You raise an excellent topic. I work in social services and this comes up quite a bit. Studies have actually been done on a parent's response to public comments. Most studies have found that if the commenter acts sympathetically toward the harried mother and says things like, "I know how you feel, my kids used to make me so upset when they were that age.." etc etc, there is a chance to break the momentum of the rage and bring the parent back to task. But scolding a parent, as tempting as it is, might stop the behavior, but you can bet as soon as the mother is alone with the children again, it's a "See what you made me do..." situation that has a harmful potential. Of course this sympathetic approach is for harried parents/caregivers, not abusers---the above posters make good points. Kudos to all for getting involved and not just shaking your head and walking away.

Anonymous said...

I think I am probably older than the rest of you in here. I remember my mother yelling at me if "you fall out of that tree and get hurt you are really going to get it" or if I get of this chair you are not gong to be able to sit down for a week" Those by the way were not idle threats. It seemed to be ok to make those threats in those days but these days it can really get you in deep trouble.
I rememberone lady that used a wooden spoon on behinds when we got out of control and teachers that used paddles or rulers to correct our errant ways. BUT what I remember most is being called stupid , a jerk and a few other choice words. I understand that my mother was over 40 and going thru the change and that her nerves were being tended by the "little yellow pills or seconal" at least now I do but then I remember the hurt I felt when she would do that.
The spoken word can be worse than any beating we can administer to our kids. I didn't mind the whippings because I knew it would be an over and done thing . But words stay in kids little minds.
Don't get me wrong here I am not trashing my mom but that is the way things were done in the 20's to the 90's. Probably long before that. Maybe if we see someone berating their child we can gently remind them that what they are saying will stay in their little minds for a long long time and it would be a terrible shame if those little kids grew up to be verbally abusive to their kids too. Maybe these people do not understand the they are hurting these little kids and making them feel stupid?
I hope this Mom was just having a bad day.

mom said...

What I will sometimes do if I see a marginal situation...like maybe where mom is starting to lose it, but not crossed over into abusive is say something nice to the child, or something nice to the mom about the child. Maybe someting like, "She's sure energetic. I love it. I remember that age...you're tired all the time, but believe it or not, when it's over you're really going to miss it." Or to the child I might say (so the mom hears), "You sure are talkative. You must be really smart." Or even, "Thats a pretty dress. Did you and your mommy choose that together?" Just something to show the mom that I see something good or valuable about the child that they are on the verge of having a nrevous breakdown over..without addressing in any way that I noticed she was getting upset. It's only happened a few times, but usually the mom smiles and says somethig nice to or about the child in response.

And yes, we all do have bad days. There have been times when I said something to one of my kids that was not abusive, but still I wished I had not said it later as I thought about it. Like maybe just being more mad than I should have been about something, or being short because I was tired, in a hurry, whatever. (If there's a mom on here who has raised kids without ever doing this please line up at the ocean for the water walking contest.)I aways made/make sure to apologize and tell them that I made a mistake which had nothing whatsoever to do with them because I was tired, or whatever. If they had truly done wrong and I had overreacted, I told them just that. Now that they are "older" and sometimes suffer their own "hormone surges," I always get an unsolicited apology from them when they are feeling better and have had time to rethink their own behavior. Its nice.