Parenting & Family

At what point to intervene when parent mistreats child in public and what to do?

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Jan 11, 2008
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At what point to intervene when parent mistreats child in public and what to do?

Earlier today I was at a store. I was in an aisle and heard some horrible and loud terrible screaming. I left where I was to see what was going on. There were already a number of people watching.

I don't think my description can fully describe how horrible it was. I'm not sure what had happened but it appeared a boy, who couldn't have been more than about 4, had lost a chain of his mother's that she was screaming was worth $150. She was shrieking at him to find it, that she wasn't joking. I've never seen a mother lose control this severely in public ever before. As her rant continued, the little boy finally ran away from her, sat down on the floor in an aisle, buried his face in his hands and was just crying and crying. I wanted to go up to him and comfort him. His mother then came up the aisle, grabbed him by the forearm and dragged him up and continued ranting. Someone then said something to her, that resulted in a bunch of swearing and her running her stroller over that person's foot.

She made her way out of the store never letting up on this little boy.

What to do in a situation like this? Who do you call? If anyone had been called, they wouldn't have gotten there before she left. Someone did try confronting her, to no avail. I wouldn't have been surprised if she physically attacked someone for confronting her and in comparison to her, I'm really small, so don't know if that would have helped in this situation.

There are so many people that would give anything to have a child (that was me for many years, until I was fortunate to have my daughter). I can't imagine anyone treating their child this way (and on mother's day too).

I generally feel it is not my place to comment on or criticize how someone takes care of their child, but this was different.

I can only imagine how she treats him at home if this was in public. I just feel terrible and can't get the picture of the little boy sitting on the floor crying out of my head.

I know I'm not alone in not knowing what to do as there were so many other people watching (with horrified looks on their face) and none of us knew what to do at the time when it really mattered.

What is the right thing to do in a situation like this?
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85 replies
Deal Expert
Oct 6, 2005
16731 posts
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I would stay away - it's not my child and therefore not my issue - especially since you didn't see a clear case of child abuse (yelling and screaming do not count).
Deal Fanatic
Mar 12, 2010
6092 posts
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SW Ontario
Maybe someone else has an idea. But there isn't much more you can do unless you knew where they lived. Maybe licence plate would be enough, you could report it to CAS (or the police who will investigate with CAS).

Doesn't sound so much like physical abuse, but probably mental/emotional abuse could be happening for sure.

And you are right. I see people like this all the time that should not be parents while many of us caring people in the world are struggling in that regard like you were.
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Dec 30, 2006
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coolspot wrote: I would stay away - it's not my child and therefore not my issue - especially since you didn't see a clear case of child abuse (yelling and screaming do not count).
Really?? Based on the the OP's description (if it is accurate), that is mental abuse.



Would I intervine? If it was to that extreme, I would step up and if I was with my wife, I would have her call 911 out of fear that her anger could lead to something physically happening to the kid. If she ran over someones foot with the stroller, that does count as an assault.

I have actually done something similar in the past while I was with my wife and child at a city event. I actually saw a childs grandmother screaming and yelling at the little girl (also about 4 to 5 years old) and it did get physical. She pushed the little girl hard tot he ground. That is when I told my wife to call the police and I stepped in front of this grandmother and the child. The kid was pbviously scared. The grandmother started trying to excuse her behaviour. Another woman came to support me as she saw what happened and has seen this woman abuse her grandkids before.
I do not know what came of it as the police could only refer it to CAS, but I do not regret stepping in and doing something about it.
Deal Expert
Oct 6, 2005
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D-Roc wrote: Really?? Based on the the OP's description (if it is accurate), that is mental abuse.
Everything in Ontario is considered child abuse, even 'withdrawing attention, giving the child the "cold shoulder"'

So I guess we're all abusing our children when we give them a time-out or send them to their rooms.

It's no wonder why so many kids have behavioural problems these days, we're so lax and lenient on them: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/En ... abuse.aspx
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Dec 30, 2006
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coolspot wrote: Everything in Ontario is considered child abuse, even 'withdrawing attention, giving the child the "cold shoulder"'

So I guess we're all abusing our children when we give them a time-out or send them to their rooms.

It's no wonder why so many kids have behavioural problems these days, we're so lax and lenient on them: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/En ... abuse.aspx
Not everything is considered abuse.

So ignoring your child is perfectly fine with you? That is what they mean by the "cold shoulder".
Deal Expert
Oct 6, 2005
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D-Roc wrote: So ignoring your child is perfectly fine with you? That is what they mean by the "cold shoulder".
Yes, if they're throwing a tantrum, absolutely.
Deal Fanatic
Mar 12, 2010
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SW Ontario
coolspot wrote: Everything in Ontario is considered child abuse, even 'withdrawing attention, giving the child the "cold shoulder"'

So I guess we're all abusing our children when we give them a time-out or send them to their rooms.

It's no wonder why so many kids have behavioural problems these days, we're so lax and lenient on them: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/En ... abuse.aspx
Lol. That's taking it to extreme. Obviously the problem is with repeat /constant ignoring. Things like this are investigate by CAS with repeat visits. They take their jobs seriously generally. And although the law can limit what they can do, they generally are thorough and reasonable.
Deal Fanatic
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coolspot wrote: Yes, if they're throwing a tantrum, absolutely.
That is not what the guidelines on the Ministries page is referring to.

And that is called ignoring the behaviour. Not the child.
Deal Fanatic
Mar 12, 2010
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coolspot wrote: Yes, if they're throwing a tantrum, absolutely.
In that case that's fine.

And far better than screaming at the kid in public.
Deal Expert
Aug 22, 2011
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Want to do something, politely ask the mom to calm down and help find the gold chain!
Deal Fanatic
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I am curious why a four year old was holding on to a 150.00 gold chain in the first place.
Deal Addict
Jun 9, 2003
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It's tough, because every parent has a bad day and nobody has seen what that entire lady's day has been like. On the other hand ,this behavior does sound excessive.

What I don't get is that some people still somehow believe that being confrontational (e.g. asking/telling the mother she should stop because she is in the wrong) is going to help. Do they actually think she will suddenly calm down and express remorse? She's emotionally invested in her position at that point so if anything confronting her will make her double-down and potentially embarrass her. And guess who will face the consequences for her feeling that way? That's right, the kid. So some "heroic" actions actually cause more harm than good.

I'm not an expert myself, but my wife works in mental health and I know a few people who are experts in mental health and social work. The approach these people taken in situations like this is much calmer, less confrontational, and that's because that is what has the biggest chance of working in their experience. The goal in a situation like this is to perhaps distract the mother, gently. from her rant, and give her an out that lets her save face while de-escalating the situation. Sometimes it's not possible, but as someone mentioned, perhaps offering to help look for the gold chain would be a start.
Deal Expert
Oct 6, 2005
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D-Roc wrote: I am curious why a four year old was holding on to a 150.00 gold chain in the first place.
Small potatoes when children are given $500+ iPads and iPhones to play with!
Deal Fanatic
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Dec 30, 2006
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coolspot wrote: Small potatoes when children are given $500+ iPads and iPhones to play with!
Ipad and gold chain are two different things.
Deal Addict
Sep 5, 2009
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If I felt the child was in danger (and I would have felt that way in your case) I would have called 911. Leave it to the police.

I know others will say I am overreacting, but if a crowd of people gathered and the mother assaulted a stranger with her stroller then I would have reason to believe the child is in danger.
Deal Guru
Nov 21, 2011
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The least you could do is offer help or just say something like "where did you last see it"? Not doing anything because" it's not obvious child abuse "or whatever garbage is pathetic.
Deal Addict
Jan 2, 2015
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I have been in a similar situation. Mother was screaming at a young child for not listening. She was at her wits end. She freaking out and yelling, and looked up and saw me looking at her. She looked like she was going to tell me off too. I just said,"we have all been there. what could I help you with". That was enough to calm her down. I think getting upset at the mom will just make things worst.
Sr. Member
Jan 8, 2009
828 posts
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GTA
I agree with the last two posters. Asking if you can help look for the chain or if you can watch the child while she looks would be the best option. Anything to give the woman a chance to calm down and deflect attention from the kid. Confronting her will only get you attacked or make things worse for the kid.

I've said a few times to people when their kid is going nuts and they're going nuts in turn, "oh, I remember that age". In truth, I never flipped out on my kid like that and my kid rarely took a tantrum (in which case I removed her from the situation or sat down and held her until it died out) but a parent in that situation needs to hear some empathy, not judgement, and again, it deflect the real attention from the kid for a bit and lets everyone cool down.

p.s. If a parent were hitting a child or I was afraid it was headed that way, I would not hesitate to find a salesperson and ask them to alert security. I would not interfere myself. Same with adult domestic abuse situations.
Deal Addict
Feb 20, 2008
2583 posts
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When the lady ran over the other person's foot with the stroller, she committed battery. Someone should have called police at that moment. Police would have then made a decision about the child's welfare.

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