Is hitting a child someone else’s business?

There I was, tense and tight from a long day with my toddler and 4 month old. I had just finished practicing my cello and was about to clean up the floor for the–what, sixth or seventh time today. My dear husband rescued me from the monotony and told me to get out of the house to get the few things we needed from the store.

I packed myself up and headed to Target.

Weaving in and out of the aisles, I floated for half an hour. Found a few things I didn’t need in addition to the things I did.

I came upon the seasonal BBQ section and looked at the fun cups and plates. My attention was immediately drawn to a crying child approaching. I looked up from the plastic ware and toward the middle aisle. I saw a mother, who could have been my age, carrying her toddler.

The little girl was wailing and flailing in her mother’s arm and sitting on her mother’s hip. The child paused long enough to rear her arm back and hit the mother full on her head. The mother stopped the cart she had been pushing with the other hand.

Internally I gasped. It is awful for a kid to hit anything. I understand that toddlers have tempers and at times lash out because of them. Before I could finish justifying this toddler’s actions, the situation took another turn.

The mother reared her own arm back and hit the girl. Not a spank, not a tap, and not on the bum. She struck the girl in the torso and upper body with what I felt to be excessive force. The toddler wailed and continued to wail as the mother returned to pushing her cart.

I wanted to cry.
I wanted to chase after them and scoop up the girl into my arms.
I wanted to reason with the mother.
I wanted to give both the mother and the daughter a hug.

I also wanted to avoid getting cussed out or told that it was none of my business.

So I held back my stunned tears. I kept walking and wondered if there was anything I could do.

I crossed the aisle and looked for the mother and daughter. They were halfway across the store already, girl was still in her mother’s arms and still crying.

This exchange left me broken inside.

Please understand that my intent is to share my internal aftermath of this situation, not to judge a parenting choice.

Before I became a mother and even into the very early months of my firstborn’s life, my husband and I assumed we would spank our kids. We both were spanked as young kids and figured we would do the same.

As time passed, it became evident to me that I would choose not to hit my child. I believe showing bad behavior to your child in the form of discipline or natural habit is a sure way to encourage the child to mimic that same bad behavior. Hitting begets hitting. Cussing begets cussing. And it doesn’t even have to be bad behavior. I tilt my head when I talk to my daughter and guess what she does when she talks to me? Tilts her head.

Children are products of our own creation.

I realize that there are parents who choose to spank their children. I did not witness a spanking. This was much more than that.

This little girl, who could have been between 2 and 4 years old, was crying for a reason unknown to me. The adult chose to mimic the child’s behavior (or did the child first mimic the mother’s behavior? Chicken or the egg?). The adult had the choice and chose to hit.

The mother’s actions invoked such intense emotions inside that I felt like I needed to talk to you, dear wide world, about this.

How did they get to that place—that awful tangible exchange of anger?

I called Target a little while after I got home and had time to process the situation a little more. I spoke with a manager who was as distraught as I was over the situation. I told him the location and time frame the hitting happened. He told me he would examine the security footage and partner up with someone (didn’t catch who) concerning it. I felt like he took me seriously and took the matter seriously. I appreciated that.

I felt better after talking to the manager.

Was it overkill? Was it wrong of me to report what I saw to the Target manager? The turmoil I felt after witnessing what I did made me feel like I needed to tell someone.

My mom made a wonderful point when I told her what happened.

She said “What is that woman willing to do at home if she is willing to do that at the store?”

Although some may believe it was none of my business to get involved, I felt like I had to do something.

What would you have done?

As a mother, I see firsthand the wide range of emotions my 2.5 year old experiences throughout the day and week. Sometimes, she is honestly a terror. She knows my buttons and pushes them. I made the choice a long time ago to react in love and with a quiet patient tone. Given, some days I am gritting my teeth while reasoning with her. But overall I keep in the forefront of my mind that she is a small adult who is learning how to process and control her emotions.

How much good could I do to help her work through her emotions if I hit her when she cries or is distraught? What would I achieve by hitting her when I want to get her to calm down or shut up? I would do no good. She would learn that hitting another person is an acceptable way to resolve a problem. She would not learn to use her mind to think of ways to solve problems. She would not have a healthy way to express or process her emotions. How could I possibly expect to have a trusting and loving relationship with my daughter if I hit her?

When my 2.5 year old starts to cry, I ask if she is hurt or if she is okay. If she is okay, then I ask what’s wrong. I’ll get down to her eye level so she sees me as a peer. She’ll tell me as best as she can through tears. I help her process what’s wrong and tell her that it’s okay to be frustrated but that I need her to use her words. That I can’t understand her when she cries. She’ll stop crying and talk to me. I’ll listen and help find a solution that we both can live with. I validate her emotions. We move on.

I do not know what made the daughter cry and what prompted her to hit her mom. I don’t know if there are emotional issues at hand. I don’t know if there are delays or mental instabilities at play. I cannot even pretend to assume what is going on in that family’s life right now. I do know one thing though. I do know how I felt witnessing what I did.

I get it. Toddlers sometimes cannot be reasoned with. Really, I get it. I experience it daily. You know what I also experience daily? The fruit of my labor. I see my daughter practicing what her daddy and I have been teaching her all her life: To use words to describe feelings, that it is okay to cry to express our frustration/sadness/anger but not to cry as a means to get our way, to be patient, and to accept our “No” for an answer when we tell her she may not have something or do something.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I am a strong believer that children can be trained to be patient, good, thoughtful, and self controlled individuals.

One of the biggest comments that upset me concerning parenting is when someone tells me “Just wait until they hit their teenage years! You’ll have your hands full then!”

I fully believe that a good portion of bad behaviors later in life can be prevented by intensive investment in your baby and toddler. Invest in creating a thoughtful child. Invest in teaching a child to be in tune with his or her emotions and to express those emotions in a healthy manner.

I am thankful to have many friends who model gentle parenting. Thank you for leading the way.

Just because I choose not to spank does not mean that I do not discipline my daughter.
Tough love, to me, is not defined by hitting or spanking. And it is so hard at first to talk through emotions and deal with a crying toddler. It really is. It’s hard to be patient and have self control. However, what comes easy may not be the best option.
I model the behavior I want my daughter to mimic.

Children are products of our own creation.


2 thoughts on “Is hitting a child someone else’s business?

  1. I ALMOST cried when I read this–just imagining the scene over and over in my head. I feel like I’ve BEEN you before 😦 I just hope baby Jasper and I came come to an understanding when he’s having a tough day the same time I’M having a tough day. We can work through it together. Poor little girl…

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