When You See Child Abuse In Public

Shopping can be stressful and frustrating for parents and children alike; planning ahead can relieve some of that stress.

By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | October 14, 2015

We have all seen parents losing it in public with their children, but what can anyone do to help?

We were shopping once and passed between the electronics and clothing just in time to see a very large man loudly berate, then lightly tap his son on his head. The boy, maybe ten, raised both his arms to protect his head and tried to duck as the man then attempted to kick his behind. The man looked around and discovered he had an audience then mumbled something about “a brat” and shoved him along.

There were about five or six other shoppers staring him down. His stature made the boy look so small and helpless, looking as if he wanted to disappear with his shame. What could the boy possibly have done to deserve such humiliation? We all watched the father retreat with his family as we stared in disbelief, not knowing what to do or say. All I could think was, ‘I wonder what happens at home behind closed doors?’

What can you do when you witness a situation like this in public? You could whip out your cell phone and call… whom? By the time anyone shows up we would all be standing there looking silly because the man herded his family away quickly. Even if the proper authorities arrived in time to meet the man, would they do anything? They might not do much since there were no visible bruises or marks and what you saw was merely a brief snippet of time.

What else could I/we have done? Twenty-twenty hindsight offers options for you to think about for next time:

Empathize with the parent:

“Shopping can be so exhausting— maybe everyone needs a break.”

“It’s okay to have a bad day— it’s what we do that counts.”

“I don’t like spending money either, but it’s only once in a while.”

Compliment the parent:

“Your son has your eyes! Wow, shopping is such a drag.”

“You’ve handled shopping great so far— it won’t be much longer now.”

Look at his shopping cart and say, “Looks like you found some good deals today!”

Confront the parent:

“That will not make you or your son feel better about shopping.”

“Losing your cool may not be best way to handle a stressful situation.”

“You can always apologize to your son but you are not setting a good example.”

Only you can judge the situation to but your focus should be on the outcome for the child. Try to provoke thought, not anger. It is good to distract an abusive parent and hopefully cool the situation, but never put yourself or your own children at risk. Try to enlist other witnesses to stand together to show the parent others disapprove as well. The child will begin to understand what the parent did or said was wrong. If you feel the parent is only moving the abusive situation to another location you could try to get the license plate number for the authorities. If you feel there is imminent danger dial 911 and tell them factually what happened. (Statements of emotion are not helpful: “I was so mad/scared/sorry for the child.”)

This situation plays out in stores every day. The abusive parent just happened to be a father but many mothers fall victim to the same stresses of parenting (and shopping) as this man. If you have ever found yourself saying abusive comments or striking your child out of anger, please get help. It is much more fun being a parent when you are not hitting your children.

Plan ahead for a successful shopping trip:

• Limit the amount of time spent shopping in stores.
• Explain to children where you will be going, what you will do/buy and how long you will be there.
• Bring a small snack and bottle of water in case of hunger.
• Make sure the child is not tired or sick before going.
• Exit the store as quick as is reasonably possible when kids get cranky to avoid a meltdown.
• Be willing to put merchandise down and leave the store.

Understand these things:

• Shopping is boring for kids, even for a few minutes.
• Young children do not have self-restraint or patience.
• Young kids have little concept of time; to them five minutes may seem like an hour.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Tinker.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
This entry was posted in Anger, Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to When You See Child Abuse In Public

  1. saymber says:

    I called the cops on one situation I witnessed off the road behind my house. I said to the Dad not to do something he’d regret. He wasn’t receptive but I’m hoping his son heard me. I found out they live in the neighborhood next to us….I won’t stand by on stuff like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      As citizens in New Jersey, we are required to report possible abuse. It is the professionals job to decide how to proceed, or if there may be no problem at all. I hope the father thought about what you said and realized that others knew. Encouraging him to think about his actions or to get help can mean so much. Thank you for that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • saymber says:

        As a person who grew up with some “tough love” I’m sensitive to it and when I saw this larger man hitting his son who was smaller and yelling at him like he was I just couldn’t stand by and do nothing. When the kid took off running away from his Dad too – that concerned me. The Dad is a plumber….not going to hire him after seeing that! I know people get frustrated with their kids and it can escalate quickly if the parent is tired, pissed about life and doesn’t have a healthy release mechanism in place. As human beings we have to step up and help each other out when another can’t see the escalation and where it can lead. Good topic Jackie.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

        Thank you, Saymber. I also grew up with abuse, getting beatings with belts and switches. That is why I do this blog and volunteer to support parents to find better, non-violent ways to discipline children. Our parents did not have the knowledge or resources that parents now have. I have wondered a thousand times if my mother had had a Parents Anonymous Support Group like I did, would she have been a better parent. I think she would have been.

        One thing I have found is that if you befriend an abusive parent, you can share parenting tips with them so they have that knowledge that works better. You know, I think I should write about that. My mother told me after I had my own children that my brothers and I were really good kids – all along she thought she had the worst kids.

        Yes, thank you! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • saymber says:

        Definitely write about it! Leading by example and positive modeling can really change things!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

        Saymber, I just tried to go to your blog but there is a message that says it is no longer available. Do you have another?


      • saymber says:

        https://saymber.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/16-oct-2015-going-to-see-crimson-peak-movie-tonight-corner-to-corner-crochet-afghan-and-drawing/ – It’s As I See It now – got rid of the other one I had when you first started following me I think. Hope this link works! Thanks for caring and stopping by.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

        Okay, that makes sense. I don’t know why I didn’t connect one with the other. 🙂 Thanks!


  2. Gronda Morin says:

    When I had little one’s, I avoided shopping with them whenever possible. I had one experience which cured me from even trying. I was shopping with my daughter when I decided to try on a dress. I took her into the dressing room with me and closed a door which had an opening at the bottom. As I took mu clothes off, my little one scooted out of the dressing room from the open bottom area. I was screaming, dressing quickly as I exited, and of course I called for security. To say that I was panicked would be an understatement. Within a half hour, we found her playing in a toy store.I was cured!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

      Oh no! That must have been awful! *smiling* When mine were that little I tried to shop late after the kids were in bed and their father was with them. I could move faster and shop in less than an hour.

      I think we can all share a horror story… My last child had an unexpected meltdown in a craft store; she screamed for the whole store. The store opened a checkout for me alone to get us out of the store. I was very angry and embarrassed to say the least. When I got my daughter outside she was happy as could be. I was lucky to have an elderly friend with me; that helped keep me calm.

      Thank you for sharing this!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another fine post, Jackie.
    No form of abuse is ever acceptable, be it to people, animals, structures or nature.

    much love to You


    Liked by 1 person

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