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Thoughts For Thursday: Watching A Mom and Her Son

May 26, 2011 · 96 comments

in Thoughts For Thursday

I was at Jet’s Pizza, picking up dinner, when I sat on an uncomfortable bench with a little boy and his mom.  The child was four years old, and I am guessing his mom was around 22.  This little guy was just sitting on this bench looking out the window, while his mom was in her own little world, writing in a notebook.  The mom’s purse was wide open on the bench next to the boy and he did what most kids would have done, he reached into the purse to grab something.  (I was tempted to dig around in the purse myself I was so bored.) The mom then got furious and was yelling at him about how he doesn’t respect her purse, and she started slapping at his little wrist repeatedly.  It totally broke my heart.

Had you seen this, what would you have done?

My Response To An Uncomfortable Situation

Thoughts were racing through my head.  I wanted to just yell at her about how she shouldn’t expect a four year old to be able to sit perfectly still for 15 minutes with absolutely nothing to do.  I also wanted to suggest that maybe she should be interacting with her son a little bit instead of slapping him and expecting him to be amused by just staring at a parking lot. But, then I worried that if I yelled at her, she might take it out on her son when she got home, and that is the last thing I would have wanted.

I sat there just stewing  and trying to figure out what I should say.  Suddenly, the mom’s notebook fell to the floor. Without being asked, this little boy climbed down off the bench, picked up the notebook, and handed it to his mom.  It was then that I saw my opportunity.  I told him what a nice little boy he is to help his mom without her even asking for help,  and I told him that he seemed really smart.  The mom then said to me “If you like him so much, you can have him”.  I wanted to cry, I felt so bad for this child.  I then told the mom that I would love to have such a nice little boy and would consider myself very lucky.  She told me that he isn’t always so nice and I said “what child is perfect all the time?”.

The three of us started chatting  more and I noticed a button that was pinned to the little boy’s shirt.  It said something like “I Am Smart”, “I Am Important”…  I told the boy that the button seemed to describe him perfectly.  Then the mom started telling me about how they had just been at special program where an entertainer who specializes in building self-esteem in children performed.  She seemed to love this event, and showed me the leaflet in case I was interested in attending myself.

I found this mom to be quite interesting.  One minute she was attending a self-esteem program that she felt would be beneficial to her child and to herself.  The next minute, she was slapping that same little boy for behaving like any typical 4 year old would.  Maybe this mom is a work in progress and realizes she needs help.  Or, maybe she just went to this event because a friend talked her in to it and she really didn’t buy in to any of the self-esteem stuff.  I chose to believe the former, although I guess I will never know the answer.

When my pizza was ready, I told the mom that she really had a wonderful little boy and to have a nice evening.  Thinking about it on the way home, I was really glad I did not yell at this mom.  Had I said what was really on my mind, she might have missed what I was really trying to say out of defensiveness and anger.  Hopefully, she will look at our interaction as a positive experience and maybe she will appreciate her child a little more.  Or, maybe not.  The whole event reinforced my belief that people are more likely to respond to positive reinforcement than to negative, and I am hoping she actually heard my message. However, I don’t think she would have ‘heard’ a thing I was saying if I had been critical of her parenting skills.

Have you ever witnessed a similar situation?  If so, what did you do?

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

beth May 26, 2011 at 7:45 am

Great reaction! I don’t know what I would have done.

I was walking through a parking lot once and a mom/grandma and a 2 yo boy were walking towards me. She was yanking at his hand and yelling at him saying, “I’m in charge, not you!” I then noticed that his nose was bleeding profusely……

I was in shock, contemplated saying something but didn’t know what. I did nothing and think about this situation often. What if he had just fallen? What if she had hit him? What could I have done considering I didn’t see what happened? It haunts me.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Oh Beth, don’t be haunted. What could you have really done? Like in my situation, you don’t know that if you had said something if the mom would have taken it out on the child later. Seeing that poor child bleeding must have been awful.

Had I seen this mom and son for a brief moment like you, I would not have said anything. I had the benefit of sitting there for about 8 minutes with them, so I had time to think it all through.

Remember, if that mom had hit the child and caused the bloody nose, she would have definitely taken her anger out on him if you had confronted her.


Nicole May 26, 2011 at 8:31 am

Around here parents hitting kids in public is pretty common. Not so much the verbal berating. But there’s an idea that they are hitting their kids for their own good. That leads to ridiculous situations like a 3 year old hitting his mom on the arm, then the mom hitting him back on the arm saying, “Don’t hit!” And the 3 year old laughing doing it again thinking it’s a game… back and forth until it actually hurts someone.

I don’t do anything. Don’t want to get one of Dave Ramsey’s lectures back at me about sparing the rod.

Of course, in Los Angeles they think you’re abusing your kid if you give a time-out following supernanny’s instructions to the letter.

Your way of engaging with the mom sounds great, and what an interesting workshop… the opposite of Dweck’s research on self-esteem, but hopefully better than what the mom is doing now.

One of the things I love about our Montessori is that they showed us how to guide and discipline without having to use hitting, time outs, Catholic guilt etc. Early on there’s a lot of distraction. Kids generally want to be good, and in a culture in which they are respected and expected to respect their classmates eventually everyone conforms. We use their words and phrases and ceremonies whenever there’s conflict. Punishments make sense– you can’t play with a toy nicely, the toy gets taken away. If you hurt something you must make it better.


Sandy H @ Journey To Our Home May 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I like this comment- swatting/hitting a child at the same time saying Don’t HIt doesn’t send the message. Do as I say, not as I do. Some kids learn by watching. And watching a parent hit someone sends them the message it is okay.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Yikes, I would hate to see a parent and child in a slapping match. I have seen plenty of kids hitting their parents though and the parents just dismiss it. That drives me crazy too. I don’t want them to hit back, but I would like the parent to at least say that behavior is not right.

Distraction has saved me millions of times. I have also learned that keeping a child well rested and fed is incredibly important even in the teen years.


Jeff @ Sustainable life blog May 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

That’s a very nice story, and when I started reading, I wasnt sure how it would end – you handled yourself well and I hope that you made an impression on one (or both) of them!


Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter May 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

I agree. Very well handled indeed. I think it is good you didn’t fuel the fire. It often just makes things worse.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Miss T. you are right, I very easily could have ended up fueling the fire if I started lecturing this mom. It took everything I had to hold my tongue. I am kind of shocked because I usually can’t keep my mouth shut. However, my concern for the little boy and the thought that she might take her anger out on him kept me quiet.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Thanks Jeff. Hopefully that mom might think better of her son and appreciate what she has.


Money Reasons May 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I don’t know if it helped the mom or not, it really depends on how smart the mom was. But I do know that it sounds like you handled it perfectly.

I find if you push to hard with your beliefs on a person they may take a hard defensive position. The funny thing is I don’t think the young mom even realize how ironic the entire situation was… and sad…

It might not be her fault entirely, perhaps that’s the norm in her family and her acclimating her son will build up mental calluses for other family members.

Hard to say what the deal was, but at least the boy hear you compliment him and hopefully the mom grasp at some level what you were trying to convey.

Kudos to you for the way you handled it and your wisdom, great story to boot!


Kris May 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Thank you for the encouragement MR. I hope I encounter them again at some point to get another perspective on their situation.


krantcents May 26, 2011 at 12:41 pm

You handled it a lot better than I would. If you criticized her, she would have been defensive or just shut down! Either she should have paid better attention to the little boy or had something for him to do.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Krant- you are right, she should have been better prepared so the little guy wouldn’t just have to sit there and stare out the window. He seemed like such a nice little fella, and very pleasant to talk to.


retirebyforty May 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm

I think you did great! We have a lot to learn about raising a child, but patient is one thing that’s needed. It’s hard sometime though.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 10:47 pm

RB40- well thanks for the nice words. It is so hard to know what to do in those situations.

Patience is incredibly important as a parent, and I have found that the need just gets greater as they get older.

Enjoy that baby!!


Sandy H @ Journey To Our Home May 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I’m terrible- when I’m bored I talk to random kids. I have a (almost 4) and 5 year old, so I know that a child can only sit for so long- as an adult I can only sit for so long. If I need entertained I completely agree that a child would need entertained.
So, I probably would have been talking to this kid before he reached into his Mommy’s purse and maybe the situation wouldn’t have gotten so out of hand.

But she did seem to be sending mixed signals. Telling you all about her recent seminar but at the same time really not listening to their advice. Kinda interesting.

But then again- I wish I could be perfect all the time, and I’m not. I’ve carried a kid kicking and screaming across a parking lot and probably looked like a horrible mother to those who didn’t see my 2 year old hitting and throwing a huge tantrum inside the store. All I was concentrating on was getting him into his car seat restraints so he couldn’t hit me anymore or hurt himself if I put him down to finish his tantrum throwing. We all melt down sometimes.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Sandy, the purse incident started almost immediately after I sat down, so I didn’t really have a chance to initiate conversation.

My oldest child used to throw some pretty big fits and I am sure that I received quite a few stares over the years. However, this mom’s general view of this child did not sound very good. Between the slapping and the offering to give him away and saying how he isn’t always very nice and such, I just didn’t get the feeling this incident was isolated.


Theresa Torres May 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I admire your concern and restraint. I probably wouldn’t have done anything for fear of being rebuffed. On the other hand, if I’m feeling courageous that time, I might also have praised the child and make a little observation to the mother that maybe the child wants attention.
I’m also a work in progress mom and I’m often guilty of letting my emotions take control of me. This is a reminder that positive reinforcements will work much better in getting a positive response from a child.


Kris May 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Theresa, we are all works in progress. I was the queen of having my emotions rule the day when my kids were younger. Nobody is born knowing how to parent. However, I hate seeing a child slapped or hit.


Lola May 26, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Great job on turning an uncomfortable situation into a teaching moment. I would guess that the mom experienced that kind of discipline as a child and that’s what she knows. It’s interesting that she was so jazzed by the self-esteem seminar but didn’t seem to have picked up on any of the actualization!


101 Centavos May 27, 2011 at 6:27 am

You handled this about as well as anyone could, Kris – very diplomatic and reasonable, and yes, I agree that positive reinforcement yields greater results. A slap on the wrist isn’t the same as a public spanking, so your interaction was proportionate and positive.
At one of my kids’ soccer games, we’d seen some ugly stuff on the sidelines, parents yelling at their kids in a manner unbecoming of rational adults. Although I used the proper the proper channels to intervene (the ref and the team coaches), I was determined that the same thing would not happen on my teams after I started coaching my younger son’s team. The players’ parents were well behaved throughout the season, I’m convinced due to the cautionary lecture I gave at the start of each season.


First Gen American May 27, 2011 at 11:10 am

I shudder at what kind of mom I’d be like if I got pregnant as a teen. I didn’t have the skill or inclination to give my kids the proper care. Even now with all the parenting books and things, my children still run around wildly some days and I feel totally out of control. Overall, our kids have happy home lives, but I can’t say we do it perfectly 100% of the time.


Kris May 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Oh my gosh, had I been a teen mom, my poor kids would be a total mess. Yikes, I would have a 25 year old and possibly be a grandma had I had my first at 18. Scary!


Sandy @ yesiamcheap May 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Man, I don’t know what I would have done but I think that you handled it very well. It’s always hard to see something like that happening knowing that the poor child will probably get worse at home and you cursed out in the process if you say something, but it’s harder even to sit and do nothing at all. Sigh. I am not a mom because I know for a fact that i don’t have the 24 hour patience that is required for the job. Hats off to you parents. I’m not there yet and don’t know if I ever will be.


Kris May 31, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Sandy, I have always been the least patient person in the world. However, with my kids, it is like I am a different person. I could have never predicted such a change, it just kind of happened. (I am still pretty ‘type A’ about everything else.)

It is so hard to know what to do when you see the bad dynamics of other people’s families. I know I can say whatever I want to my family, but to interject and not know the consequences in someone else’s family is much harder.


Jacq June 1, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Kris, I have always kind of thought that I don’t know what 27 actions preceded that particular blow-out of that person. Having said that…
I’ve also been very conscious in the last 20 or so years that my latest communication with my kids could be my last. What do I want that to be? There’s a saying that I took to heart years ago – “be careful what you say to your kids, they just might believe you.”

I know that with my oldest, although we had good times and he was wonderful in general, I wasn’t always the mom that I could have been. So we grow up along with our kids sometimes. I do know that I have learned more about how to be kind to myself through having to parent my kids than I would ever have learned on my own. And they benefited from that too.

I would maybe give her the benefit of the doubt. If her child was helpful enough to give her the stuff that she dropped, that’s a behaviour that he’s modelling and I’d hope that she was just having a bad day – or a bad hour or something. It happens.

I’ve seen so many kids on plane trips where their parents weren’t prepared to travel with them. And I’ve given away or loaned more than my fair share of my kids’ stuff / souvenirs etc. to keep those kids amused so they wouldn’t start screaming.


Kris June 2, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Jacq, I too thought about how the boy immediately climbed down and picked up her notebook. She must have been doing something right if he was just instantaneously so courteous. He was just so adorable that I didn’t want a mean word said to him period.

So will probably learn over time that you need to always be prepared to keep a child occupied. Heck, I am 43 and get bored easily, I can’t imagine what it feels like to be 4.


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