Thursday, August 19, 2010

Parents disciplining kids in public: When do you intervene?

Some time ago, I wrote about a case in which a 61-year-old man slapped a stranger's crying child in a Stone Mountain, Georgia, Wal-Mart. The post garnered a whopping 245 comments over at, and the blogosphere is similarly on fire right now over a story out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where a  fed-up mom on a Southwest Airlines flight slapped her 13-month-old after the tot kicked her one too many times. A flight attendant took the screaming baby away from the mother, prompting parents across the country to wonder where the line is between intervention and interference.

I'm not one to slap a crying child -- a 13-month-old doesn't usually have the ability to calmly and rationally explain what's wrong, and a 2-year-old can melt down under circumstances that wouldn't bother an older child at all. And most people are loathe to step in when a parent is yelling at his or her own child, let alone confront an angry parent once things have gotten physical. In this case, figuring out what to do is especially hard: The child's father was right there, according to the Associated Press, after flight attendant Beverly McCurley brought the baby to the back of the airplane, he joined her and soothed the little girl until she fell asleep.

According to the Associated Press story, the mother, Lee Ann Cid, later told police she "popped" the child after the child kicked her, because "when she's screaming and she can't hear me say no, that's the only way I can get her to stop." The father, Joseph Cid, confirmed that, adding that "the mother would occasionally 'pop' the child to stop her kicking and screaming, but that the baby had never been hit in the face."

(In a New York Daily News report, Whitney Eichinger, a representative for Southwest Airlines, confirmed that an incident had taken place on the flight, but said that "Our flight attendant offered to the parent -- offered to hold the child on board. Our attendants do that from time to time just to soothe the crying babies because they are used to walking up and down the aisles.")

Flying with very young children is no easy thing. A 13-month-old is active and vocal -- and you can't really reason with them at that age, either. But there are things parents can do to avoid reaching the end of their ropes.

"I'm a big believer in 'clap, don't slap,'" Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block books and DVDs, told "Clapping lets you get some of your anger out, and it gets their attention. As soon as they stop for a second, reward that little bit of attention with something positive."

A few years ago, I wrote a piece about traveling with kids -- things that help me get our large family from Point A to Point B with my sanity more-or-less intact. At, Dr. Karp offers more tips that can help. But, back to the issue at hand: What would you have done if you were a passanger on that plane? Ignore the situation? Ask if the mom needed help?

1 comment:

Mels Place in Big Bear said...

I of course do not condone the fact that this woman slapped her 13 month old child.

I do have to say, however, that it's very frustrating that society is quick to point out how badly a mother acts, but often does nothing to support her.

How much do you want to make a bet that this harried mom was freaking out over the evil eyes and stories she has heard on the news of passengers fed up with crying kids?

She snapped. It's not right. But I have been close myself. Thank GOD I always have had presence of mind to walk away. What about people who are just stretched to the limit? Where is their support and their exit?

Oh, no... a good mother doesn't walk away when things get tough. She can handle anything, right?

AAAAAGHHHHHHHHHH. This really touches my buttons. Not your fault, of course.


(Have seen you on Yahoo Shine where my columns from Good Housekeeping post. I used to write for BabyCenter and I miss that gig sometimes! It's fun to read the parenting posts.)