When Adult Hits Child: What to do When You Witness Hitting in Public

Hi Dr. Marcie,

I'm on a train and a small being was being loud the whole ride and not listening to his mother. She finally yelled at him and slapped him a few times. He cried and then quieted down angrily.

Is there anything to do to help that small being if you’re the bystander? They were small slaps, not like call-the-cops kind of hits, but I still felt uncomfortable! 


A Concerned Big Being


Dear Big Being,

That is an amazing question! As a bystander, honestly, I’m not sure there is much you can do at that moment you describe. The intervention has to happen before the hitting happens. 

There were a few times when I was in public and saw a small being that was going to get in trouble, meanwhile they were simply seeking attention. I was in close enough proximity to the small beings that I could start playing with them. It worked like magic, since the small beings were just being loud because they wanted attention. Clearly, if you give attention, then attention-seeking behavior stops! (Tweet) If there is a way that you can intervene before a significant negative consequence occurs, then certainly go for it! I’m a big fan of teaching small beings how to behave, rather than punishing them for misbehaving.

We are in a culture where we don't really intervene in strangers’ lives unless things are really, really bad. This is unfortunate. Clearly, what you witnessed is a parent who doesn't know how to quiet her small being any other way. This in turn creates a child who doesn't know anything else. It’s heartbreaking and part of why it’s my mission to reach more and more parents and professionals. There is a more loving way to change behavior.

And if you’re doing your best and your small being is still tantrum-ing in public this does not give anyone the right to judge you. I hear this a lot from the families with whom I work: People offer unsolicited insights and opinions about how they should handle their small being and then serve up a good dose of judgment while they’re doing it. This is not a productive response to parents who are doing their best, yet still struggling.

Overall, finding a way to support each other, rather than judge would be a great step to changing our behavior as big beings!


Insight into Action!

I'm committed to helping as many people as I can learn how to deal with behavior in small beings, so I'm offering scholarships for my next program called Making September Count. It's geared for teachers and other professionals who work with small beings -- look out for a future parent program. Click here for details and to apply. If you know of a teacher or professional who would benefit, feel free to forward the offer to them.


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