My problem is this: when I go to the supermarket or other public places, I often see parents struggling with their children. This means children whining and crying [often loudly] and parents yelling and hitting. I just ignore it but I’m not comfortable with it. Do you have any suggestions.
Good question. Here’s a couple of principles I follow. Children do what they do; adults must give a hand. And we should always interrupt mistreatment. And we should do it kindly.
Here’s some examples that worked. As I was finishing shopping, I could hear the youngest of a family of 3 children crying loudly and the parents scolding him harshly to quiet down.
I was in a hurry but I had my policy (interrupting mistreatment) so I went over to the family and said something like, “I don’t mind your child crying. You have beautiful children but shopping is hard for us and for them. I remember when my children were young. They want so much and we can’t give all of it to them,” and then proceeded to give a little information about the usefulness of crying to unload the feelings that come up when children hit against hard (though necessary) limits.
They all looked at me with surprise and told me that they yelled at the children because people often came by to give them disapproving looks or words when their children cried. They were grateful and after I finished checking out the dad followed me to thank me again.
This is another example. I went to our local library and saw a huge dad–he looked like a marine!–bellowing at a small girl who was trying to balance on a wall, “What don’t you understand about the word no!!” The girl looked scared. I walked over and put my hand on his shoulder and said my usual interrupting line, “It’s hard being a parent.” He just melted and started talking to me about some of the difficulties and I listened. When I left, he was speaking in a kind way to his daughter.
As a leftover, I guess, from a time when parents had the right to do anything to their children, we tend to ignore mistreatment towards children that we would not ignore if it were directed towards an adult. I think it’s useful for both adults and children to interrupt it.