Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
I. PREVENTING THE ATTACK
There are a number of ways to defuse a potentially violent outbreak against children.
- We can be aware of conflicts-in-the-making, and make friendly contact with the harassed/angry parent. This makes him/her feel less alone, a sympathetic ear.
- It helps to wear a button or badge or some identification with a non-violent organization. I wear a "Child Abuse" blue ribbon If it is not noticed, I point it out myself. This tells them there is someone nearby who is against spanking & slapping children, and best to consider this before attacking. Too often aggressive parents get smiles of approval when brutalizing children.
- Complimenting, as in, "You certainly are fortunate to have such beautiful girls. My children are both boys ...." All the more essential if the children are overtired, fussy.
- I carry a small bag of peanuts, and, after smiling & asking parent’s permission, offer a few to a fussy child. In one store I buy two small bags of popcorn (10 cents, cheap) and shake them out into children’s outstretched hands.
II. IF THE ATTACK IS JUST BEGINNING
- Stop and stare disapprovingly, and don't leave until after the violence has stopped. Often the hitter will feel self-conscious, especially if you pull out a scrap of paper and begin scribbling on it. It can be disconcerting to a hitter, who knows, really, that it is wrong.
- If the parent is loud and threatening, tension can often be lowered by an offer to help entertain the children as you walk along with them. This is best if you're a female. I explain that I'm a parent too, (now grandparent). "My children used to act up like that when late for their nap. Hitting makes things worse."
- If there is someone else with the parent, ask them for help in calming the attacker - and/or comforting the child.
- Call for the manager to stop the attack. There may be a store policy against violence. If the manager denies hitting a child is violence, set him straight - would it be violence if he/she were being hit?
- Interrupt with, "Excuse me, may I watch the children for you while you shop? That will be easier for you. I know how difficult it can be to ..." The usual response is a hostile, suspicious glare, but no matter - the attack is broken up, and they know it is not being ignored.
III. DIRECT INTERVENTION
Do not get physical. If necessary, say you're calling the police, and do so.
- Best to be calm, and speak with confidence and authority. Sometimes a direct command to "Stop the hitting!" will snap the attacker out of the hitting mode. They are not home, where they can do anything they want to the child. When in public, they run the risk of being stopped. The distraction can save the child. .
- Meet the defensive, "This is none of your business!" with a very emphatic, "It is the business of every citizen to prevent children from being abused." The ensuing discussion about what is abuse and what is not can defuse the situation.
- Refuse to be intimidated by bluster or threats. "I am NOT your child," is a response to be respected. Remember: Every bully is a coward. That's why they're a bully.
IV. AFTER IT STOPS
Wait for things to calm down, then later hand the hitter a gift of literature:
If warranted, call the child abuse hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD and report the incident, together with the license plate number of the offender.
- Jordan Riak’s “Plain Talk About Spanking” (a free copy will be mailed to you by e-mailing email@example.com.).
- Norm Lee's Parenting Without Punishing (free e-mail subscription by request to Ashley@eaznet.com. Ask for PWP.
- Keep business-card size cards with above sources of non-violent parenting info in your pocket to hand to stressed and violent parents.
Your interrupting child abuse AT THE TIME IT IS OCCURING does so much more than curtail further corporal punishment at that moment. It tells the child that he/she is worth defending; it shows the hitter that it is wrong and that child abuse cannot be done with impunity; it sends a clear message to every onlooker that similar action can - and should - be taken by everyone. Conversely, silence is taken as assent.
There is lasting impression made in modeling true action. A spanking or slapping or shaking is often considered “normal” and quickly forgotten. But someone STEPPING UP to stop it is an unusual and courageous act that will remain in everyone’s memory: the child’s, the parent’s, and the onlookers.