Parental Control

Roger and I were on a walk with Rayah this evening when we came upon a father kneeled down with his child. At first it appeared as though the child was hurt, and he was consoling her. As we came closer, we heard her crying and pleading with him – whatever it was, she made sure he knew she wasn’t going to do it again. Then he started yelling at her. Screaming. SCREAMING.

My neck coiled and my eyebrows shot up. As we were (slowly) walking past, I turned around to look at them. He had his daughter — she was maybe three years old — pinned to the ground, in a sort of headlock, while he hovered over her and screamed at her about cars driving down the road. (This was on a walking path in our neighborhood park, bordered on one side by a residential street and on the other side by a creek.) The child’s mother stood there, cross-armed, observing. The little girl’s face was red and marked with tears. And this father – this father was so oblivious to anything around him, and screaming at her so forcefully, that it seemed abusive to me. He was frightening. The situation was so disturbing that *I* started crying. You guys! I started crying.

Now, full disclosure: I didn’t understand the context of the discipline. Had she gotten too near the street (about six feet away) when a car was driving by? Had she been disobedient the first couple times her father asked her to move away from the street? I don’t know. But I do know that this man was scary. And angry. He was belittling and intimidating his daughter. I have no patience for that. I wanted to rescue that little girl!

Roger and I quietly discussed whether we should do anything. We stopped and (covertly) watched, waiting to see if he would harm his daughter. We wondered at what point it would be appropriate to step in. In the end, we only watched them. I dried my eyes. The father eventually stopped, they marched past us on their way home, the little girl clinging to her mother’s side, as far from her father as she could get. I turned to Roger and said, “I never want to treat our children like that.” He had her pinned to the ground in a headlock. She was THREE.

And now I can’t get that scene out of my mind – the dad hunkered down, trumpeting his temper; the mom passively standing by; the little girl, back arched, bawling, twisting her wet face from her father’s.

I get that every parent has different discipline styles. I understand that I don’t know the full story. But I also know that something isn’t sitting right in my heart, and even though that family is long-gone, I’m curious: At what point do you step in? Or do you? How do you know when? And what should that look like?


  1. I am crying reading this. That is terrible and a tough one. I would like to hear others responses too. It just breaks my heart. I know it will probably be on your mind for a while, but it most likely would have turned ugly had you done anything…but at the same time, I know you wanted too.

  2. Yeah, we live in such a lawsuit-happy society that it’s hard to figure out where the line is drawn in the sand, when you’re intervening in a dangerous situation, or crossing the line into something that’s not your business. Personally I try to think of it in terms of: If someone were watching ME and saying, “Isn’t that lady going to step in? Isn’t she going to help them?” then I do something. I also try to think about if I would want help (and – this is really important – in what way I would want help). I would never want someone to scold me or belittle me, but rather just give me an objective check to make sure I’m having a sane moment and making good judgment calls. Because even the nicest, most responsible parents DO have those moments. Not that I’m saying I do…. lol.

  3. Some tips from the PA Family Resources Website on Diffusing Volatile Situations involving children:

    If you see a child being mistreated in a public place

    * Try to engage the parent in a non-critical and supportive way. Ask if you can help. The goal is to interrupt the intense conflict between the parent and child by adding a third person — you.
    * Stay calm and respectful. Ask the parent’s permission before trying to engage the child. “Can I help you by playing with your child for a moment?” “How about if I watch your child for a second while you take care of…” Tell the parent about how your own child may have acted the same way once — show you understand how frustrating it can be, sometimes, to be a parent.
    * If the parent gets angry at you and tells you not to interfere, don’t take it personally. You can help the situation best by staying calm.
    * For more suggestions on things you can do to help diffuse a volatile situation, please visit the or Be The Difference Campaign websites.

    I think these are good ideas/tips.

  4. la_Zacatecana says:

    Great tips, screweduptexan! To the original poster, I found myself in a similar situation as you recently, and I ended up behaving in the same way that you did. A mother was cursing and threatening her toddler daughter (threatening with physical violence, but not apparently on the verge). It is such a tricky situation, and I still don’t know whether I should have said something. With the tips posted above, I feel more capable of handling similar situations in the future.

  5. Thanks a lot! And i use Actymac DutyWatch. I like it because it’s easy-to-use and functional program (

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