Public Displays of Aggression

We’ve all been there – so what can you do when you witness an adult behaving aggressively with a child?

> Read the “Public Displays of Aggression” Fact Sheet in English
> Read the “Demostraciones públicas de Agresión” Fact Sheet in Spanish
> Listen to the Parenting Today radio show: Harsh Interactions with Children (mp3)

1. Avoid Negative Remarks or Looks: When you intervene, try to keep the conversation positive.  If you’re not comfortable with intervening, at the very least avoid making comments or staring at the interaction. This can make the situation worse by making the adult or child feel even more uncomfortable, embarassed or angry.

2. Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child: When you first notice the situation, try to begin talking to the other adult. Empathize with the frustration of parenting or of the specific situation. Ask if there is anything you can do to help.  For example you could say: “Children can be really difficult sometimes”, “I know it really bugs me when my child does that too” or “Is there any way I can help?”The goal is to start a conversation that moves the adult away from the negative interaction they were having with the child.

3. Divert the child’s attention: Just as you would with the adult, try to divert the child’s attention to something else. If you can talk about anything positive that the child is doing, use that as a way to start the conversation.  Try something like: “You look like you’re the same age as my daughter – what grade are you in?” or “I love your sneakers – are they your favorite color?” This can help you gauge if the child seems alright and/or if you need to take any further steps.

4. Look for an opportunity to praise the adult or child: If you see anything positive occurring in the situation, make sure to point it out. By finding a way to compliment either the child or the adult, you can potentially diffuse the situation and reframe it for the adult. For example, if you’re talking with the adult and the child has been waiting quietly say something like “thank you for waiting so patiently while I was talking with _____”, or if you notice the adult doing something positive make sure to point that out.  On the flip side, do NOT directly criticize what the parent is doing. You want to prevent the child and the adult from feeling judged or looked down upon in a public setting.

5. Use humor, experience or friendliness to break up stressful moments: As long as it is done in a way that doesn’t belittle either parent or child, acting in a lighthearted way can offer perspective, a change of pace, or the reframing that can help diffuse a situation.

6. If the child is in immediate danger, take action: If the child is at risk of being physically harmed or in need of any assistance, offer it to them as soon as possible. This includes taking actions like calling over a security guard or calling the police if the situation requires intervention.