Public Display of Frustration: When to step in

Q: While grocery shopping the other day, a woman called her child an “idiot” in front of me. He was attempting to maneuver his two younger siblings who were in a double-seated stroller. Because the brake was on, he was having a difficult time. All of the sudden, his mother yelled, ‘The brake is on you idiot! Pull them up to release the brakes.” I was appalled and I really wanted to say something to her. She had so many children and so little patience, but I ended up leaving the aisle before I blew up at her. Could I have handled the situation better or made any sort of difference in her child-rearing?

A: I empathize with your desire to take her to task for no one likes to see children abused. However, you really can’t “blow up” at a stranger, for her correct response would be that it is none of your business. It is tricky, because our first instinct is to deal with or report abuse of any kind, but there is little a law enforcement officer could do, either, in response to the kind of verbal abuse she was displaying. It was best, as hard as it was, to move on.


  1. Country Girl

    While I agree, you don’t want to directly intervene in her parenting, there are small things you could potentially say or do to make this mother realize herself that she is acting inappropriately which are far more effective than blowing up at someone. Things that come to mind are a shocked/taken-aback look or (if they are directly next to you) you could even smile to the boy and say “Those breaks are tricky aren’t they? I even have trouble with them myself sometimes.”

  2. Proetiquette

    I agree country girl. It’s about letting the little boy know that there are others that do not think he is stupid. But sometimes it is best to walk away before doing something not quite so graceful.

  3. Curious

    Just out of curiosity, Emily Post, why is it alright to discreetly correct a co-worker on mismatching shoes/belts but not proper etiquette to say or do something when you see people treating children badly? If it is none of our business to interfere with a mother and her child, then how can mismatched shoes/belt be any more of our business?

  4. Heather

    I like the suggestion about saying “those brakes can be tricky.” I also think you could step in and help with the immediate problem, rather than addressing the mother’s parenting (because let’s face it, we all have moments where we say things we regret). So, you could say “Here, may I push the stroller out of the way for you?” or something similar, and lend a hand instead of adding to the tension by making a comment about her words.

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