What Should I Do When I See Someone Hitting Their Kid?
Eleven Strategies for All Personalities and Occasions
By Debra L. Stang
November, 2001

Unfortunately, there aren't any easy answers to that question. Each situation is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. The following ideas explore some of your options.
  1. Confront the hitter directly. Sometimes saying calmly and firmly, "Stop hitting your child," is enough to dissuade a hitter. This is especially true if you are someone the hitter likes and respects. Keep in mind, however, that strangers may not respond well to direct confrontation. Some may even take their anger and embarrassment out on the child once they get to a private place. If you do choose to confront the hitter, keep your own manner as calm as possible. Avoid making any threats of violence yourself. If the situation escalates and you believe that you or the child is in danger, call the police.

  2. If you are in a business place, involve an employee. Find a manager or supervisor and say something like, "Please speak to the woman in the red coat. She is hitting her child." If the employee refuses to intervene, claiming that how a parent disciplines his or her child is not their business, ask if he or she would show a similar lack of concern if one adult were assaulting another, or if the child were being assaulted by a stranger. Also, ask about their policies regarding workplace violence. Tell the employee that if he or she does not take appropriate steps to protect the child, you will be contacting the president of the business, as well as the local media.

  3. Be a witness. Direct confrontations can be frightening and dangerous. But even if you are too intimidated to confront a hitter, you do not have to simply walk away. Instead, stand at a safe distance and look directly at the hitter without smiling. Maintain eye contact. Many hitters will feel uncomfortable and stop what they are doing. A few may challenge you by saying something like, "What are you looking at?" Your answer, of course, is simple. "Child abuse."

  4. Intervene early. If you see a confrontation between parent and child escalating, step in. Parents may hit if they become frustrated with their child's behavior and feel pressure from onlookers to "make that kid behave." Your best bet is to try to validate the parent's frustration while normalizing the child's behavior. ("Looks like you're both having a long day. My little one used to get like that while we were holiday shopping.") If you know the parent, offer to watch the child for a few minutes while the parent regains emotional control.

  5. Keep a few copies of the booklet, Plain Talk about Spanking on hand so they are ready when needed. If you feel you can't offer the booklet directly, slip one into the hitter's shopping cart, under the windshield wiper, on the doorstep, etc. If you know the mailing address of a hitter who might benefit from Plain Talk..., but you don't want that person to know you are involved, e-mail Project NoSpank at booklet@nospank.net, and tell us where to send the booklet. We'll mail one immediately. Or if you want the electronic version to go to an e-mail address, tell us where and we'll e-mail it. In either case, your identity won't be revealed.

  6. Call a child abuse hotline or your local child protective services agency. In the United States you can also call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. The more you know about the hitter and the victim, the better, but you can call a child abuse hotline with no more than a license plate number. Be aware, though, that most states will not consider an incident abusive if it is "just" a spanking.

  7. If you believe the child being hit is in imminent danger, call the police. You can also call the police if you are not sure whether or not the child is in danger, for instance, if you hear the sounds of hitting and crying from the apartment beneath yours.

  8. Involve someone the hitter likes and respects. If you know the hitter, think about someone whose advice he or she values. Ask that person to speak to the hitter about the dangers of corporal punishment.

  9. If you are in a public place, invoke the rules of the establishment. Just as you might tell someone who was lighting up a cigarette in a hospital room, "They don't allow smoking here," you can say to a hitter, "This store has a policy against violence." Very often, the hitter will give you a blank look and say, "I'm not being violent. I'm just giving my son a spanking." Your best response? Pretend you are a broken record and keep saying, "Hitting is a form of violence, and this store has a policy against violence."

  10. If you are too upset or frightened to intervene during the spanking, consider speaking to the hitter after you have both had a chance to calm down. At the very least you can say, "I felt really upset when I saw you spank your child a few minutes ago." At most, especially if the hitter is someone you know, you may be able to have a constructive discussion and plant the seeds of lasting change.

  11. Finally, whatever you do, do not give implied approval to a hitter. Don't smile, even if you are nervous. Don't nod agreement when a hitter says, "Just had to teach my kid a lesson." Don't stay silent when a hitter says, "I'm going to take him home and give him something to cry about." Disapproval is a powerful social weapon. Wield it well.
An old civil rights slogan once advised, "Use your voice - silence is consent." This is very true when talking about a culturally accepted practice like spanking. It may be easier to keep silent, but when we do, hitters see that as consent to continue hitting their kids. So, the next time you are at a store, or a park, or a family reunion, and you see an adult assault a child, try one of these eleven suggestions. Let's not give consent to any more violence against children.

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