Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sucker Punched

I got suckered into reading this Newsweek My Turn article with the provocative caption "Hands Off My Belly" on MSN today--mainly I read these articles because they pop up when I log out of my hotmail account and I am curious as to what they are about. Anyway, this article is about a woman named Carrie Friedman who is annoyed at fanatical mothers for touching her stomach and asking when she is going to have children. She states that these mothers make it questionable as to whether or not to have children because they are very poor role models for parenthood. She gives a few examples of these annoying mothers such as those who do not pursue their own passions, those who tell her she must not know happiness since she is childless, and mothers who make kids an extension of their own narcissism. However, the most alarming description she gives of annoying mothers is that they do not teach their children manners:

Now let's talk a bit about manners, as in please teach your children some. The world has rules, and kids should learn them. And being well mannered does not infringe on their individuality and freedom.

I crouched to meet the eye line of an acquaintance's 4-year-old to greet her, and in response, she punched me in the face so hard my mouth bled. What was more baffling was the mother's reaction: nothing to the child, but to me she said very sternly: "You really shouldn't talk down to kids."

I also shouldn't be punched in the face by kids whose parents don't know how to set basic boundaries. Experiences like this don't exactly encourage me to hurry up and get pregnant.

I was a bit baffled by this writer's response to being punched in the face. Her take, "I'm in no hurry to get pregnant." My take: "WTF? You let a four year old child hit you in the face and then you are dissed by the mother and all you have to say is, 'Maybe I shouldn't have kids?' No, the correct response is, 'You are a very poor role model for this child who has assaulted me with your blessing. One day you will realize what a terrible mistake you have made. Please keep your child away from me or next time I will not be so generous to you.'"

I have seen too many children who are naturally unruly fail to see the consequences of their actions when they are young and their parents only realize their mistake when the child gets older and their behavior is downright dangerous. At best a child does not learn how to control their emotions and interact with others in an adaptive manner and is hard to get along with, at worse, the child's aggression spirals out of control. Neither of these outcomes is desirable. Not only should parents set boundaries and give children consequences should they treat others in a reckless or dangerous manner but those who are the recepients of such poor behavior should set the parents straight by being firm that they expect better behavior.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with disciplining another's child in this day and age of hysteria about Chester Molesters behind every corner--never mind that the vast majority of molesters and kidnappers are the child's parents--without getting the law sicked on you, especially if you are male. In hindsight, I was lucky to get away with icily telling two ill-socialized brats to keep their hands to themselves after they grabbed me inappropriately in public (butt and upper inner thigh). Neither parent did anything, even after my correction.

10:19 AM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two points: first, I agree with anonymous that it is very difficult to chastise another's child--and even more difficult to say something to the parent. That's basically a relationship-ending maneuver.

Second, as the mother of a now grown child, I emphatically agree with you, Dr. Helen, that children MUST experience the consequences of their actions! Parents MUST stop protecting their children (from the wrong things). If you would not leave work to take a forgotten lunch to your husband, then don't do it for your child!

10:58 AM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Working in DC, I'm exposed to a pretty good sampling of Mom, Dad, & The Kids in the form of our seasonal tourist population. In general, they're not a pretty sight.

I'm frequently tempted to ask certain parents, "How would you feel if somebody came to your town, your place of business, and let their kids act the way yours are acting now?" I actually tried it once, and the parent in question replied: "They're just kids." Ah, of course - that makes everything alright.

That said, there are other parents whose kids seem to be both well-behaved and having fun on their vacation. Wonder how they make that happen?

11:24 AM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Dragon Hawk said...

It would have taken monumental control for me not to smack the child in the face, then deck the parent.

However, I know that is also an inappropriate response. The lady should, however, have sued the parents.

11:36 AM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Derek said...

The more often I read stories about kids like this, the more I love my own. The oldest recently thanked the nurse for an inoculation - without prompting from mom.

This kid wasn't born thanking people for pokes with needles. It took time and effort on our part as parents. And we were still surprised by it.

I'm of the opinion that, absent educational intervention for the parents, four-year-old kids who punch anyone in the mouth, let alone adults, are the same kids who see a whole lot of the inside of the principal's office.

Anyone want to lay odds on how often the "beloved child" in the story lays into mom, dad, or a sibling?

11:36 AM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend of mine was in a checkout line at a supermarket, and a kid sitting in a grocery cart was kicking an older gentleman standing behind him. The line was crowded, so the man was unable to move away. After a while, he asked the child's mother to please restrain her child, whereupon the mother lit into him for daring to criticize her mothering. She didn't limit her child or restrict him.

The teenager standing in front of her proceeded to take the top off of a yogurt cup, dump the contents on the woman's head, and say, "My mother taught me the same thing."

If only it was always that easy.

11:50 AM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr Helen, Miss Manners might take exception to your suggested reply about the cold-cok from the four yo.

I know I do. The correct reply is one that does that uses manners to achieve the same goal of making the mother and child feel rotten, and extracts apologetic remarks and has the effect of instructing the recalcitrant little savage in the art in the the life lessons of "hands to oneself" and "one should care for the feeings of others".

Which might be an overly solicitous regard for the mother's embarrasment and tendency to go to hard on the little chap...and assuming the mother to have all the correct feelings.

Before she can correct him, you cry out
" Oh, but she can't have known what she was doing, you must be horrified, please don't be too angry at Georgie on my account, I know she hurt me and I'm bleeding, but he's just a little child", etc. ect.

Result - flusteration, for the Mother will want to appear to merit your concern for her feelings and her natural "good mother" attempt to instruct her young breed, and to not look a fool in front of her child she will apologise to you. The child will realize he is being forgiven for something awful.

Manners are so evil.

11:58 AM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Reminds me of a joke:

A 4 year old girl is warned that if she doesn't stop sucking her thumb, her belly is going to become huge.

Shortly after the warning she's on a bus with her mother and sees a pregnant woman. She walks up to the woman points an accusing finger at her stomach and say "I know what you've been doing."

12:07 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if Mom would even understand the "mannered" approach. Pearls before swine and all...

12:09 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a pretty spoiled kid, definitely ahead of my time. Mom was divorced and pretty tired all the time from working and kinda let things go. I remember her boyfriend saying "if she were my kid I'd beat the shit out of her" and wow did that have an effect: I hated him. And I think it was basically easier to just hate a kid than to criticize another adult directly.

12:16 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I don't think the mom would give a darn--anyone who has no empathy for their child punching an adult in the mouth probably has little chance empathy of an apology after the fact, unless she smells a lawsuit. The subtle threat in my approach is that something bad will happen to the mother personally if she does not restrain her child.

12:19 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I doubt the mother would respond appropriately no matter what was said to them or her child. My ex-wife has a sister who is a prime example of this type of parent.

Her youngest son is a horror and she excuses any and all misbehavior as a "faze", or "I wasn't there so I can't do anything about it" or a myriad of other excuses and rationalization. She spends much of her time in social gatherings trying to find someone else to "watch" her son, usually without any luck since most know of his poor behavior.

Her own older brother told her the boy needed "his butt kicked" but she just shrugs is all off with one of her many excuses. I told my kids it is acceptable to physically defend themselves from him if needed, including my daughter getting big brother to protect her if needed.

My words wouldn't have been as gentle as the ones you suggested.

12:29 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As ill-behaved children mostly reflect incompetent parenting (I do believe there are exceptions, but few of them.), the only expectation one can have of the parents' behavior is that it will continue and so, therefore, will that of the child - unless there is some serious outside intervention.

As "parent" is perhaps the most important job on the planet, it's too bad we don't have mandatory parenting classes starting in about the 6th grade. And I want to be in charge of the curriculum. Or Dr. Helen would be OK, too.

12:51 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

Last week an unruly 5 year old was creating a heck of a racket directly outside my home with a motorized scooter. I asked her to stop, she pretended that she didn't hear me. I took them matter to her grandma who told me that her granddaughter can do what she was she wants anywhere she pleases. So I called the police and attempted to have this 5 year old arrested, as we have some strict laws about the use of motorized vehicles around here. The police officer was hesitant to take a 5 year old down to juvie, but I haven't seen the child since this altercation. I'm through trying to reason with unmannered children and their parents/guardians.

12:54 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

Given the number of experiences like this that she seems to be having, maybe she should re-assess her social choices and try hanging out with a different set of people.

12:57 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

Battery is not a matter of manners in my book. It is a matter that demands defense.


1:07 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

That reminds me of a child in my practice that pushed his mother around and threatened to hit me when I asked him to help clean up at the end of the session. He drew his fist back and made a face. "What are you going to do, hit me?" He grunted an affirmative. "You are a little boy and I am a full grown man, you cannot hurt me." He swung at me and I caught his fist and held him up off the floor by it. "I will not let you hit me pal. Know that. It is not OK to hit people, and I won't let that happen here."

His attitude greatly improved after that, both at home and in my office.


1:10 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I agree, this is not about manners--manners would be the proper word if the child made a stinging remark such as "you look fat" etc. It is a serious matter to punch someone in the face who did nothing to you so hard that they bleed. The child also learns that adults are in no way authority figures, a poor lesson to learn at such an early age. However, the child is four and the fault lies with the parent for not intervening immediately. One of the problems here seems to be that people want to continue to be friends and be on good terms with parents of such children--therefore, they hesitate to say anything. I would think it more important not to take such abusive and unruly behavior from a child, but then, friendship with others who have no empathy and do not care if their children are cruel is not the most important thing in my world. Apparently, for many people, it is.

1:17 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My five-year-old and I were in a restauraunt. The little guy is naturally friendly, and he started trying to talk to an eighty-year-old man sitting nearby.

The man, after a couple minutes, apologetically said that he didn't deal well with kids. I restrained my little guy with a word, and another word when he tried again later. The little guy stay restrained.

That is how its supposed to work. It is something wrong with you if you can't deal with kids, but everyone has weaknesses, and others should take account of them just like you don't walk too fast when you're out with your old granny for a stroll. And there's something wrong with you if you can't get your kids to mind--perhaps you should do as Dr. Spock did, and dump Dr. Spock, and, btw, reinstitute spanking.

What I see is too much of 'get off my lawn' zero tolerance for reasonable actions by kids, and by actions that are not harming or annoying anyone (at least anyone who is not set to be annoyed already). In fairness, I think some of this is due to dealing with kids who are little renegades, and people overreact to innocent behavior. But, some of it is due to the Boomers becoming seniors, and thinking as they always have thought 'my needs are society's needs! What about me!?'

That said, this incident is clearly over the line.


1:37 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quick "I'm dreadfully sorry" followed by scooping up the tyke and toting him off to the bathroom for a proper spanking followed by a lecture, and a tearful hug (on the part of the tyke) seems the appropriate remedy here.


1:40 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Joe said...

There is another problem--people who will report you to the police if you discipline a child. This is quite serious. I've had neighbors threaten to call child protective services on us (in one case because my youngest at the time was sitting on the curb) and actually did call child services for another neighbor for a reason nobody could discern.

In many ways, when trying to raise a child you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.

(BTW, if you want a wonderful adventure in child rearing, have one that from birth knows parents can only go so far and constantly calls your bluff. Fortunately, my version of that got to nineteen still alive, without serving jail and not-pregnant, which is much better than far to many of her friends. The other day, her brother was smarting off at my wife and my wild-child daughter decked him--that's another solution.)

1:47 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a related topic: What's the appropriate response to parents who bring inappropriately young children to movie theaters, and then refuse to remove them when the kid starts screaming in the middle of the movie? This has happened to me in a number of recent movies, including:

Shrek 3 (1-2 year old, shouldn't be seeing any movie in a theater outside designated baby times)
Evan Almighty (4 year old, at 10 PM on a Saturday night)
Harry Potter 5 (3 year olds, 2 of them)

The worst was the parents who brought their mentally handicapped 5 year old daughter to King Kong. Reminded me of the Shepard Book line from Firefly: "If you do anything to her, you will go to a very special hell; one reserved for child molesters, and people who talk at the theater."

I bet these kids are the ones growing up to be the adults loudly discussing the movie behind my seat. The behavior, not the prices, are what's going to drive me to stay home and avoid the cinema. Rant over.

2:11 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As my children have grown older, I have become far less tolerant of behavior problems in other kids. I have no problem talking to a child if he's being aggressive or acting up. If that's a relationship killer, so be it. I don't want my kids picking up bad habits that I have to correct later.

2:13 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Spock said:

"Love 'em. Feed 'em. Leave 'em alone."

I think that covers most of it. Kids know how to do most of the job of being a kid.

The tough part of being a grown-up is that you need to stay just near enough...but not too close.

Let them take the small bruises. Your job is to step in the middle when something is coming at them that they simply can't handle and make sure that it doesn't come back round again until they can handle it.

Judgment call. It sucks. And we get it wrong sometimes.

But if you're mostly right, you'll find that the parental role of slayer-of-under-the-bed-monsters will diminish over time.

That can kind of suck too. Grown-ups can get hooked on being heroes for their kids. Bad habit.

Thing is, if you do things mostly right one day when you start to falter and the monsters start coming for you, your kids will be the ones who come back to beat them away. Sounds like a nice insurance policy to me.

2:25 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen, you may enjoy humiliating the mother with a tirade. However, you will be dismissed as a horrible, insensitive, child-hating crank who didn't act properly with a child and got just desserts of a tiny but cruel little fist in the kisser.

The fact that kids come uncivilized is no excuse for letting them stay that way. But the Miss Manners approach disarms, and disables the natural reflex to defend behavior, which many parents, being flawed and having wrong ideas, do to avoid shame and shift blame.

Pehaps that person hit in the face *did* get too familiar. Rotten little kids will punch you in the face for that. And of course shock and horror of the parent and a sharp remark to the child were in order from the parent.

However, you should expect misbehaviour, deliberate. or done out of misunderstanding the rules, and you should expect the parent to be very harsh.

If a child is acting up, you express concern about the child getting hurt, or being dealt with too harshly. Once a parent feels they are not being judged, and their child is not being judged, they judge the child, or fake it to avoid being judged by YOU. The child learns that you are not a crank and meanie, but someone they should not have hit. Because you let on that hitting is a horrible thing, yet you are defending them. Counter intuitive, I know, but THIS WORKS ON LOUTISH PEOPLE. All the time. It works on oblivious peopple, and it works on the merely selfish.

If a kid is kicking your chair, politely turn aroud, look at the shild address the child - apologetically. "I'm sorry, but your kicking is disturbing me" and make sure to direct your remark in such a way that the parents know it is as much for them as the child. This gets better results than "make your rude brat quit kicking my chair".

One of my favorite bits of advice from Miss Manners (paraphrased):
If a naughty visitor is jumping on your sofa, icatching the offender firmly by the arm, and say in a fake sweet voice: "Oh don't do that dear - you might hurt yourself" ... with the pressure of the hand on the arm suggesting just WHERE that hurt may come from.

2:27 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Get off my wire grass:

You state:
"If a child is acting up, you express concern about the child getting hurt, or being dealt with too harshly. Once a parent feels they are not being judged, and their child is not being judged, they judge the child, or fake it to avoid being judged by YOU. The child learns that you are not a crank and meanie, but someone they should not have hit. Because you let on that hitting is a horrible thing, yet you are defending them."

Perhaps you misunderstand me, I am judging the parent and their child, the behavior they are allowing their child to display is horrible. They should be judged as a horrible parent if the circumstance is truly as described by the writer in the piece--that is, she just bent down to say hello and did not antagonize or threaten the child in any way. Allowing your child to hit adults in the mouth until they bleed is horrible behavior. It does not warrant pussy footing around. Your example is a child jumping on a couch--I can see the verbal part of your technique working but the part where you put pressure on their arm? That sounds well beyond what I suggested. At least it stayed at a verbal level. We are so afraid of "judging people" in our society that everything is morally relative--that is, a child punching a person for no reason is seen as no more problematic then a child talking back etc. Goodness, we wouldn't want parents to feel bad for any reason,would we? And how awful if one was referred to as a "crank or a meanie" for being upset for being punched in the mouth. I can't think of a more awful name to be called.

2:55 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Michele said...

While we're here grading ourselves on superior parenting, let me say I will never again judge whether someone is a good parent based upon the behavior of their children. People shouldn't give themselves an "A" if they've never truly been tested. I judge a parent based upon how they react when their child misbehaves. We can't pat ourselves on the back for having nice kids. Nice kids just make the parenting job easier. And plenty of kids are actually born nice. I adore those kinds of kids too.

But I didn't have a child that understands the concepts of good behavior and manners the way other kids may instinctively understand them.
I will work tirelessly with my difficult child, and she will be able to make it somehow, and even if she doesn't live up to society's expectations, I was still a good parent, because I didn't stand idly by and let her go mindlessly on without repeated corrections, like the mother in the article did with her 4 year old.
I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think the proof is in the pudding.

3:13 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I think the response that Ms. Friedman should have used is: "Oh great, now I have to have a kid just to offset your kid!"

3:29 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Cousin Dave,

Good comeback!

3:31 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Mercurior said...

i can give you hundreds of stories, about badly behaved children, some personal stories, achild i knew used to kick and punch, and bite his mother, he gave her some black eyes, he was 4 years old.. he scared me and i am 30 years older than him.. kids setting fire to animals, and yet the parents say they are only children..

parents who take their child into an animal shelter and starts to poke the animals with a stick. theres flight stories, i was on one flight 3 hours, and this monstroud kid kept spitting at me, i told his parents they did nothing. there seems to be an increase in badly behaved children as the parents try to be their friends..

and theres hundreds more

3:34 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I agree with you, it is not necessarily the behavior of the child in question that is the problem, it is the response from the mother that says, "that behavior is okay, it was that awful lady who made you do it." Teaching the child to externalize blame is not good.

That said, I sympathize with your situation. Our children do come with their own personality or sets of responses that we have nothing to do with. However, as you point out, you are a thoughtful mother and would not respond by saying basically, "good for you" to the child. I have been around kids who have Tourettes or other emotional problems and their behavior is not within their control. Of course allowances should be made. A simple explanation to the party who has been hurt etc. by the child is all that is necessary. We do need to be aware that problems such as autism, Tourettes, sometimes mental retardation and other mental challenges make some children behave in non-appropriate ways. I am talking in this post about normal children without emotional problems.

3:43 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this lady wants to stop having to deal with these kinds of kids and parents, then she should probably move out of Los Angeles.

I know that there are some of these parents everywhere, but I would say that the proportion would go down a long as she doesn't move to Manhattan.

3:48 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Mercurior said...

anon 3.48, i dont know if your post was humourous, or not, but why should anyone need to move over a badly behaved child.

i live in the UK, i visit america, several states, and i see it all over, i have friends in almost every state, and they see it, i have friends in australia and new zealand and they see it.

3:55 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Cham said...

So now we have a couple of real spectacular suggestions:

1) Change residential locations

2) Using an apology to discipline children that are not your own, i.e., "I'm so sorry but please do not kick my chair.

I think I'm going to stick with my "Call the police and have the misbehaving child locked up" policy for the time being. Seems easier.

4:19 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess it's possible the Miss Manners approach might work in cases of rudeness or accidents. I think I'd have to draw the line at intentional physical assault, however. That you have to handle the Chicago way...

4:33 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen in response to your question: "I was a bit baffled by this writer's response to being punched in the face. Her take, "I'm in no hurry to get pregnant." My take: "WTF? "

er, yeah... perhaps if you read it like this: "I can see the fabulous parent you are, and I should take your advice about getting pregnant? Not."

I have several friends that are pestered constantly about when they are going to have kids by not just family but [im]perfect strangers... as if women have a duty to produce children or something...

It is the very people who give in to the call of that duty, but then are not ready to be parents who produce our 4-yearold boxer, sadly along with those that think children should rule the woild.

What ever happened to moderation, and the idea of decision making? You think you shouldn't have a kid? You're probably right. Think everyone MUST have children? You're probably wrong. Think the child should make their own decisions on everything? Wrong. Children need and often CRAVE guidence. You don't have to be overbearing, but you do have to set their limits, or they won't recognize them. Think children are a handy fashion accessory? Yeah, WRONG! There is a responsibility there to their lives, balanced with your own. Indeed with everyone elses...

4:34 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I share an office with two people who will flat out refuse to acknowledge you when you say hello (I'm not the only one who gets that from them).

These days I'm surprised when people thank me for holding open doors. It's to the point that I generally don't do it anymore because folks don't even acknowledge that I'm standing there being kind (something I'm not proud of).

I'm habitually kind with "Thank you"s to the folks manning the drive through at a restaurant, banks, etc. In return I'm appalled at the people who manage eye contact but don't say anything in response.

I'm sure it's always been this way in one part of the country or another, and I know it's worse being that I live closer to the city (not in the city by a longshot, but 25-30 minutes away), but geez. I'm far, far from a great person, but manners and common decency are not that hard and it amazes me that so many people get it wrong.

4:39 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen, maybe you are not gettingwha I am driving at? The point of responding in the manner I suggested (instead of the way that would relieve your anger and indignation), is that it works better at making the mother feel obligated to discipline her child.
Since you would be making your remarks in front of the four-year old, the way you act in front of the four-year old can make a difference the KID.

The point is to ACT like you care about mother and child, but to ,in fact, make them feel HORRIBLE.

Kid gets message - Hitting bad. Other people count. Big people rule over me til I am wiser.

Mom gets message - Naughty children should be rebuked, and the naughtiness does not have to be deflected or denied to keep my lovely image of myself.

Etiquette is a better, more effective way to twist the knife in a villian. Expressing concern for the embarrasment of the mother, as if you take it for granted, pointing out your own distress in the process of minimizing it, makes them realize you are in pain without you being branded a whiner or crank, protesting against too-harsh treatment of the infraction, sends the message that most people find children hitting adults to be UN. AC.

If you given the speech you said you thought was called for, all they BOTH come away with is the idea that you are a rude crank who hates children and demands unfair things of them. It becomes all to easy to focus on YOUR rudeness than the childs whacking you in the mouth.

Think about it.

And yes, the firm "please don't hurt yourself" grasp was used on me as a child. How very effective it was. Even though it, in hindsight, was quite the bluff.

5:33 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Mercurior said...

but it never works like that, itd always how dare you speak to my little precioud child like that. and parents dont punish their children they use they are only a child they dont know any better..

5:38 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Wire grass:

You were punching adults in the mouth when you were four? Why?

6:42 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger Giraffe said...

Her response to bad mothers: Because you are such a bad mother I don't think I should have kids.

Her response to bad children: Because you are such brats I don't think I should have kids.

Her response to people asking her when she will have kids: Because you don't respect my privacy I don't think I should have kids.

I can't help thinking she is terrified about the thought of having kids because she doesn't think she can handle them.

6:46 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger 1charlie2 said...

As much as I enjoy Judith Martin's Miss Manners, I think every adult should have a stockpile of vicious, unrelenting bile to draw from. . . Stockpile road rage or something. I think etiquette only works when they have a sense of shame.

My family and I were just on vacation, and at the Lincoln Memorial, my oldest son had rocks thrown at him by a girl about 5. Her mother watched and did nothing. That's when invective comes into play. . .

But getting punched in the face and the parent does nothing to the child ? That pretty-much pins the "Whacked Parent" meter. I don't think talking nice will do much -- I prefer the other side of the Force.

When some little darling does something as vicious as punching an adult in the face, the adult should unload.

Verbally. On the parent. Loudly. Publicly. In a tirade.

Without stopping to allow the mother of the vermin to get a word in edgewise.

"Your son just punched me in the face for no reason. What in the name of God have you been teaching this little rodent ? Do you think this sort of violence is cute ? Is this how your boyfriend or husband treats you ? Is that where your son got that behavior from, because you let your husband beat you ? What kind of pathetic parent does it take to allow their child to assault someone and not even reprimand them ? [ ever louder ] How abysmally stupid and mentally defective does an adult have to become to not understand that a child's behavior needs to be curbed when they misbehave ? Will you wait until the little cretin starts robbing liquor stores and then wring your hands and say 'I don't know where I went wrong.' Here's a hint, stupid: This is where you went wrong! Right here, right now! Or maybe this the result of drug-abuse on your part ? Have you smoked so much crack that you think you should allow your children to do whatever they want ? Or were your own parents so godawful stupid that you were raised to think letting a spoiled freakin' brat punch someone is a good idea? Congratulations on convincing me that abortion is an excellent idea, I'm just sorry that neither your mother nor you chose one, the world would be better off!"

It may not penetrate their thick heads, but you know that really would make you feel better :)

8:12 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger LarryD said...


It might break through the mother's denial of the problem. It's certainly merited. And it at least would be a good way to vent.

As a society, we have become tolerant to a fault.

8:25 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree, 1charlie2.

If a person has any sense of shame or decency, all you need to do in most cases is bring the issue to their attention in a polite way that doesn't make them look absolutely silly. We all make mistakes, give them some slack.

If that doesn't work, or if the issue is so egregious that they cannot have missed it (punching someone in the face), that's when you bring out the public humiliation. They don't respect the feelings of others, but almost all of these people respect the judgment of others.

Kid spitting on you in an airplane?

Stand up and proclaim, "Just as a heads up to all of you folks, the lovely mother sitting in seat 23B has, after repeatedly being asked, not stopped her young child from spitting on me. I'm sure we all know what it's like to be spit on or kicked or hit or run into by a young child whom a parent does absolutely nothing to control, if you get the chance please tell her what you think of it. I'm off to the washroom to clean spit off of myself."

Relatively short, sweet, and makes for an airplane flight the mother (or father, actually) will not forget.

When society refuses to enforce any sort of social stigmas, things start spiraling downwards. I think that's where we've come in the last 40 years.

8:32 PM, July 19, 2007  
Blogger David Foster said...

Parents who repeatedly let kids get away with this kind of behavior are almost guaranteeing that their kids will fail at their careers.

Maybe the parents can browbeat the teachers, and even the professors, into giving the kid good grades, thereby ensuring that he gets the much-worshipped credential. But when the kid gets out into the world, he will find that people will not put up with abuse, and he will be shunted onto a dead-end track.

9:00 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You really shouldn't talk down to kids."

Okay, Look little man. If you take another shot at me, I'm going to push you right back where you came from, and Miss Thang here is going to have to sqeeze you out a second time.

9:48 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The rest of 9:48 PM

Oh yeah, and then I'm going to slap you.

9:49 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Skinnerian -- if having badly behaved children exposes parents to unpleasant stimuli, they'll make sure their kids behave. If it doesn't, they won't.

So do whatever it takes to make the parents sorry that their kid misbehaved. You'll be benefiting society.

11:28 PM, July 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was shopping in KMart a few years ago and two brother, about 4 and 6, attacked me with a wiffle ball bat. They were hiding at the end of the isle and attempted to crack me in the balls as I walked by. I covered myself in time and they struck my hands. The pain was so severe that my eyes teared-up.

Well their parents seemed to think that their behavior was cute, so I took their photo with my cell phone and proceeded to call Child Protective Services. When they realized what I was doing, they attempted to flee. So I followed them to their car and took a picture of their license plate. Fortunately their idiot father drove towards me with his car in an aggressive manner which enabled me to get the police involved. Now they have a Police record and a case file with social services.

My most recent inquiry with social services indicates that they've left the area - mission accomplished!

12:02 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having raised three kids, I like to think that no four year old could lay hands on me. You develop reflexes like a snake in the course of keeping them from killing themselves.

And a first-rate ass chewing, profanity removed, would probably deal with their parents.

12:30 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've managed to have a good effect by using public humiliation on children (old enough to know better). Granted, I'm an "auntie" type to those kids, so I'm not going away and the moms haven't been so horrified at my actions (particularly after they got results) that they've disowned me.
Prime examples:
Child throws fit in mall when 'you didn't eat your veggies so you can't have ice cream' rule is applied to humiliate mother into capitulating. Nony scoops child up off the floor (I'm stronger than I look) and starts heading for the door, loudly asking passerby if they happen to have a pacifier for the poor baby. Fit ends, child asks politely to be put down, and agrees to apologize not just to me, but to all the adults (especially mom) in the group.
Child habitually misses getting ready in time for the bus / leaves lunch behind, needing someone to drive to school to take care of problem. Nony 'mothers' child, demands hug/kiss from child in front of classmates. Child gets act together.
Child tries to cheat at a board game. Nony feigns horror, quits game, and starts using nearby game bits as flash cards (Implying that child was having difficulty counting).
Though I haven't had a child punch me since I was a kid. All I can say is no one tried twice.

1:24 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that children need to face the consequences of their actions - and that includes the 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 year-old (and older) children as well.

And I'm not defending the kid in the article, but you have to watch what other people claim is "dangerous" and "reckless" these days. All too often its a scheme to swindle you or to impose their opinions on you.

3:33 AM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Mercurior said...

but what is happening to children today, when i was a child i wouldnt have acted like that, i would have been smacked across the legs.

sometimes if you talk to the parent about the child, they will find excuses for it. it has autism, its only being a child, you were young once werent you and so on.

if you go a bit further, theres a chance that the childs parents will get involved and that can lead to physical violence.

4:15 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


No, but I did roughouse with my sibs from time to time thinking that it was ok, until someone corrected us. "OH dear, don't hurt yourself," and the vulcan death grip of doom.

Actually, at four, I did punch a pregnant woman in the stomach. For science.

I was standing on a chair in the neighbors kitchen, and said pregnant woman had the misfortune to put that round belly at my eye level. Round and protuberant, vast and wiggly, it was, and I was terribly fascinated by it
as she chatted with my friends mother. I had an irresistable urge to conduct an experiment on the physical properties of that amazing, terrifying stomach. From the conversation I gleaned that this was a pregnant stomach. Pregnant. What an interesting word. Whatever did it mean. I determined to test the reaction of the contents. POW.

Not that the pokes of a four-year old girl carry much force...but Mrs. Deved jumped back in surprise, and my friends mother was too surprised to scold, she just called out my name as if I had comitted a was obvious from her tone that she was shocked that a mild mannered tot like me would even consider doing such a thing. I could hurt the baby?! Wait, what?
Theres a baby in there? The pang of conscience must have been apparent on my face, as that was all the scolding I got. I just have a body memory of my jaw hanging open and a feeling of alarm.

I realized the crime of socking someone for science. And I never hit anyone in the stomach again. The end.

4:16 AM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Master Doh-San said...

No, the correct response is, 'You are a very poor role model for this child who has assaulted me with your blessing. One day you will realize what a terrible mistake you have made. Please keep your child away from me or next time I will not be so generous to you.'

All well and good, but it should be preceded by a smack to the offender. Children need to learn that actions have consequences.

5:38 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I realized the crime of socking someone for science."

Yes, YOU RECEIVED NEGATIVE FEEDBACK WHICH PRECLUDED YOUR REPEATING THE BEHAVIOR IN THE FUTURE. Forgive me for shouting, but you seem to be missing the connection. Did you get hit? No. Did you get scolded? Not really. But did your mother defend your action? NO, SHE DID NOT.

8:13 AM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Michele said...


Autism isn't an excuse, it's an explanation. These children have an extreme deficit of empathy, along with sensory issues and some autistic kids, who look completely normal, would punch you in the mouth if you got down and looked them straight in the eye. Of course if it were my kid, and you were the punchee, I would be explaining all of this this to you while I was smacking her "across the legs". Since that's just about all you can do in the moment with an autistic child.
Please don't be one of those people who think we're making all of this up. There are parents out there dedicating themselves totally to the instruction and treatment of their autistic children, who get very sick of all of the eye-rolling from ignorant strangers who make snap judgements.

8:48 AM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger TMink said...

Michele wrote: "There are parents out there dedicating themselves totally to the instruction and treatment of their autistic children, who get very sick of all of the eye-rolling from ignorant strangers who make snap judgements."

Well said. It must hurt when you take your child out to have people stare and freak out. I always try to make eye contact and give a smile to special needs children and their families. You folks deserve all the respect and support that you can get. God bless you Michelle, there are people who see and understand. Some of the smiles you get are really prayers of support.


10:23 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow - I know I was a little wild as a kid, but if I had puched someone (an adult yet) in the face, I would have been turned over a knee and given a "hiding" like you wouldn't believe. Of course, I would not have done such a thing, having been punished for far less grevious offenses. I also know that my mom would have absolutely died of shame had I done that.

11:49 AM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always try to make eye contact and give a smile to special needs children and their families.

I usually cross myself, say a prayer in Latin, and finger my blue Evil Eye bead. But that's just me...

Seriously, it's often possible to tell when a child has "special needs," and they get a pass for certain behavior. You try to remember what it's like for them and how much patience their parents must have. No problem.

Sometimes it's hard to tell, though, and if there's any doubt it's probably best to reserve judgement - and outraged responses.

Most of the ill-mannered homunculi I've encountered have no such excuse.

12:07 PM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mel, FWIW, my mother wasn't even there. The story would be untold, except Helen joked about me socking people as a four year old.

I could analyze that little anecdote on twelve different levels, and it's only comparable in some ways to the story above. It's not necessary to be rude to someone's apathetic mother to encourage conscience in a child. I still say the strategy of demonstrating concern for others is better at developing empathy and making a child feel crummy for having been oblivious to social rules and the feelings of others.

12:49 PM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Mercurior said...

but a lot of mothers use the excuse. when their child isnt really a sufferer, like autism is the new sickness de jour for certain women.

remember many years ago it was dyslexia. that was my point, parents will use any excuse to excuse punishing their child.

that was my point, if you had read it michelle. these are mothers whos children are not autistic, but they USE THAT EXCUSE to justify things, bad grades, dyslexia, torturing cats it doesnt know any better and so on

these are parents using the excuse. i wasnt saying it doesnt happen, but.. even so there is punishment and reward that could be used.. an autistic child should get a little leeway but its still wrong to punch an adult. and it should be taught that.

3:22 PM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Mercurior said...

like in this article

in the times newspaper, or this on the autismvox


this was what i was talking about

To the great distress of parents whose children really are on the autistic spectrum, the condition has been adopted by many other parents on behalf of children who are not ill, just badly behaved. If a child is described as “autistic”, nobody can be angry if he or, more rarely, she throws a tantrum at school or consistently irritates the neighbours.

Children know that if they suffer from some kind of behaviour “ism”, good things result: reduced expectation, indulgence instead of punishment, safety from even the gentlest rebuke. At the first sign of a teacher’s impatience, the child can rush home and cry “abuse”. Autism, a serious condition when real, is being exploited by others for all it’s worth

3:30 PM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Feh23 said...

I've worked with many children of different ages and abilitities, including developmentally impared children. Pretty much across the board, if you consistantly make the effort to let them know what behavior is expected and there will be consequences for not even trying to live up to those expectations, the children will be able to behave as appropriately as they can in public, autistic or not.
I worked with a few children who would become very overstimulated being in public, but alot of times there were devices they could use that would help them deal. One fellow I knew had earmuffs he knew he needed to put on if he was feeling over stimulated. When he would start rocking in public we all knew what the deal was and one of us would say something along the lines of "is there something you need to do now?" and he would put on the earmuffs, return to his normal self and get behaviour points towards a treat.
Excusing poor behaviour based on a child's age, or perceived mental capacity, is simply an excuse to be lazy. Every child needs guidance to allow them to develop the skills needed to participate as fully as possible in society. Whose job should that be? The parents, with assistance from teachers and other child care professionals. Unfortunately, these days the job seems to fall more to the random strangers or extended family who must endure these misbehaving, and sometimes dangerous, children.

Oh yeah, and to WireGrass:
Seriously, have you ever been punched in the face so hard it bleeds? I think not. You seem to be under the misimpression that when someone is hit unexpectedly so hard that blood is pouring from their throbbing face, they are also able to just step back and, right off the cuff, craft a remark so clever yet polite that the mother would be FORCED to correct her child. If the mother is so dimwitted to think that her child punching a nonthreatening person in the face is proper behavior, it's doubtful she'll be able to wrap her mind around a cleverly crafted little jibe at her mothering skills.

4:03 PM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger NerdMom said...

I totally agree with training children to behave in a polite manner. My kids wouldn't hit anyone if for no other reason, the spanking that would happen. That said, I have some questions. The author already demonstrated a lack of judgment so I am wondering about some of the facts in this encounter. A)Why does she think this kid was 4? I currently have a 30 pound 2 year old who would smile and ask how you day is. My other son was 3 feet at 2 and people thought he was 5 between his height and vocab. But he also is shy. If you got to close or seemed to approach him without my approval (ie, when I am not looking or don't give the approving nod) he could cry or ask me to pick him up. 2)She says she crouched down to the child but how close did she get? Did she touch the kid? You put a 2 or 3 year old kid who feels that they are being cornered by a creepy stranger... Not to say I wouldn't make my kid apologize but....

5:30 PM, July 20, 2007  
Blogger Michele said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:53 PM, July 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Regarding your response to an earlier comment:

I was really aggressive as a child. I still am, but in a slightly different vector. I accidentally broke one of my favorite uncle's bones when I was in grade school. He didn't hold it against me.

Frankly, I never stopped being violent. But I did learn to invert my violence. A lot of it had to do with the fact that as aggressive as I am, I am also I sap.

I had a friend who had a knack for pushing my buttons. He was (and is) much bigger then me but didn't know how to fight. It was like a masochistic thing. Don would get me wound up & I would beat him into the pavement.

Thing was, this was my friend. And I got to a point where I started to see the real pain I was causing him.

And I stopped. It was that simple.

I still love rough-housing with kids. I love being a step-uncle: I'm just one of those guys who likes to see 5-year-olds jump on the bed, being basically unruly & occasionally stop jumping on the bed & start jumping on my head.

Don't doubt the wisdom of 5-year-old kids. They generally understand that if you're the kind of guy who is happy having them jump on your head, and if they annoy you, you'll just as happily jump on their heads.

Frankly, I find that in general children are much more emotionally sophisticated then those who begat them.

Meaner, yes, but clearer on the main points.

So I used to jump on everyone else's hyead & in my own clever way, I still do.

But I do feel a moral obligation to be there to let kids boil off the excess at the expense of my increasingly battered body & just make sure they don't push it too far. And see that they don't get too badly hurt.

It just pains me watching kids who aren't allowed to be kids. That's their job.

And part of mine is to make their job a little easier.

4:13 AM, July 22, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...


I agree that kids should be allowed to be kids and have fun--i.e. roughhousing with parents, relatives etc. That does not include punching adult women (or men) in the face that they barely know when they are four. That is assalt and abusive behavior. It is not funny. It is not cute. It is not allowing a kid to be a kid. It is encouraging harmful and destructive behavior when it is not necessary. Teaching that lesson to a child at four is not good parenting.

9:06 AM, July 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helen, I'm splitting hairs here, but if you mean to say a child of four is legally culpable for hitting a strange adult who comes too near, you would be mistaken.

Children of that age are generally treated as if they are not fully capable of the understanding or empathy needed to keep them from crimes of assault and battery. In fact, the law treats them as if they are not capable.

In fact, they are developing consciences, but they are not fully formed.

I tend to think adults should not expect childred to be adults and should be on their guI came by my wariness of getting within fist-distance of strange four-yo's honestly, as I know from my own mental processes at that age, a well-meaning ans generally reserved and polite child, I was not entirely the master of my curiosities and negative aggressive impulses.

Everyone, including me, believes the mother was remiss.

The only controversy I think there might be between you and me is the way the stituation with the remiss mother ought to be handled in front of the child just after the punch.

You already know what I think and I won't belabor the point.

Here is something to add, however:
I'm wondering if we have assumed facts not in evidence...what was that person doing getting, as the mother complained, down on the level and in the face of, a very young child? The stranger who was punch might have seemed in need of being repulsed.

I don't know what went down, but that encroachment might even go some distance to explain why the mother did not immediately correct the child...she herself, the mother, might have resented the the actions of the hit person to begin with, enough to basically say, you get near my kid like that, you take your chances, Bucko, what do you expect....

Or not. I do wonder.

What was that person doing getting in the face of a strange child like, close enough for the kid to land a punch, like that?

It might be a stretch to call the child "abusive"...unless you determine the goal of the child was to hurt someone for the sake of huirting them and enjoying thier howls of misery, I would stop at
"misbehaving and in need of instruction"

9:05 PM, July 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOo, Looks like a poorly executed text cut took the sense out of the fourth paragraph above. Please discard the first sentence should you feel like reading the rest of it.

9:08 PM, July 22, 2007  
Blogger Helen said...

Wire grass,

No, I did not say that the child should be "arrested" or held liable for hitting someone. That is an extreme interpretation of what I have been saying. However, four is early enough to understand that punching someone in the face is wrong. No, we do not know the circumstances of what happened. I am using the example from the author that she merely squatted down to talk with the child at her level. The child should know that this is wrong, for if one does not learn at four, sometimes, it is too late.

8:30 AM, July 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The answer is simple. The mother, and the child, should have been taken to the nearest bathroom and given a spanking. Obviously, the mother is clueless. Were it me, I'd of added a swirlie.

11:15 AM, July 28, 2007  
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