Mom threatens to strike little girl with wastebasket at Walnut Creek’s Target: How should I or anyone intervene?

I was at Target this morning, moving through one of the long central aisles that cross the store, passing the housewares section, when I heard a woman yell in a loud, raging way: “Stop that!” or “Knock it off!”

She was a large woman in a tank top, and she had bright red hair and glasses. Late 20s, early 30s, maybe. She was was holding a plastic wastebucket by the rim, one she looked interested in purchasing. Its bottom faced toward a little blond girl, 5 or 6. The girl, like the woman, was wearing glasses. I saw the girl grab at the woman or even swat her. The woman, responded by–right when I was looking–jabbing the wastebacket twice towards the little girl’s face. Her gesture, in my mind, was saying, “I’ll smack you with this, and see how you like it, and that will teach you to hit me!”

I found the gesture shocking and threatening. I stopped. The woman caught me looking at her, and I held my stare. At the time, I was thinking, I’ll let her know that I saw what she did with the wastebacket, and that I disapprove and think it’s not just a childish, ineffective response, but potentially abusive.

I need to confess that I have never been paragon of calm virture when it comes to dealing with whining, tantrum-throwing kids. So, I really hesitate to judge other parents when they are in the midst of dealing with a kid meltdown.

Yeah, I yelled at my son when he was little. He’s now 11, and I yelled at him this year. He used to throw amazing tantrums when he was 2, 3, 4, and he was not a kid who would go into “time out.” Not unless we had physically restrained him–which we did, for his own safety–or locked him in his bedroom–which we didn’t, again for safety reasons.

These days, when he’s not getting what he wants, he draws on his amazingly verbal and persistent skills of nagging to attempt to push my buttons, wear me down, trap me in a contradiction. He is, as my husband pronounced the day he was born, “determined.” Yes, I have told him he should be a lawyer.
I spanked my son once when he was 2 or 3 and having one of his tantrums. I spanked him because I was trying out what some parenting experts think is a perfectly fine response to small-child misbehavior. A swat on the behind: Gets their attention! Stops them cold!

We were at home at the time. Not out in public. Not that it really matters.
I don’t remember the exact circumstances. I just remember my heart wasn’t in it, and I didn’t spank with the right force or attitude. Basically, my swat was weak, ill-conceived, mistimed. I turned out to be a failure at the spare the rod-spoil the child idea of corporal punsihment. Anyway, he was wearing diapers at the time and probably didn’t feel any pain.
I ended up feeling silly and out of control, which I was. He sensed that I was feeling out of control and that just made him, likewise, feel more out of control, as well as scared and angry. I learned thereafter that it was fine for me to step out of the room and take a Mommy Timeout.

Back to this morning’s incident in Target:

Threatening to hit your kid with a wastebasket? In the middle of a crowded department store? What was this woman thinking? As much as I don’t want to judge other parents, especially those in the midst of kid meltdown, I still think this woman was acting like an idiot. Of the many things I might have asked her: Have you no shame? What an immature thing to do. What are you teaching your daughter?

Yeah, that mom deserved a stare-down. A look of scorn and disapproval.

Perhaps I should have done or said something more? But what?

Since she didn’t actually hit her child with that wastebasket, she couldn’t have been arrested. But you have to wonder, if she feels free to act that way in public, is she behaving worse in the privacy of their home?

So, what do you do, if you see a parent acting out with their kid, disciplining them in a way that strikes you as inappropriate, cruel, or abusive?

I’m not sure my brief stare-down with this women had any affect. After I turned to walk away back down the aisle, I heard her resume her yelling.

16 thoughts on “Mom threatens to strike little girl with wastebasket at Walnut Creek’s Target: How should I or anyone intervene?

  1. I think giving the woman a dirty look was the right way to go. If you had scolded her in the store, she would have become defensive. Your response delivered the message that her actions weren't acceptable, but it didn't provide her the opportunity to start an argument. Good work.

    Or you could have bitch slapped her. That would have worked too.


  2. I just saw something of the opposite side at CVS (Longs) at Bankroft. This 5 year old was tossed some newspaper add sheets on the floor and got into a cranky tantrum while the mother had his one month old sister in her arms trying to deal with a medicine order. She stood her ground, told the kid pick things up, pointed him to the wall and told him to take a time out, the kid would got into a stomping loud voice defiant snit. Eventually the kid picked up the papers, crumbled them up and put them in the shopping cart and shut up. Mom then finished her business and as they left the area said that he could now have a snack that he had calmed down.
    However, the reaction of the people in the line was that she should have smacked the kid down: “told him in two different ways to behave.” etc.
    Having raised one kid who was a real head banger oppositional type I can sympathize with the Mom and take the view now that as long as you can deal with your own kids and there is no violence horray for you and to hell with the maddening crowd.


  3. While I must confess at not winning any perfect mother awards, I do believe spanking accomplishes nothing other than making you feel a bit better (in a sick sort of way), it makes the kid mad, and stopping them in their tracks it does not! Additionally, it perpetuates the tantrum (I mean, I don't know that I'd stop crying if someone hit me!), and it teaches them hitting is okay. There is no difference between hitting and spanking (punching and spanking…now there's an argument). People are not for hitting – and kids are people.

    Parents trying to get things done, such as shopping, should not take their children if they have any thoughts that their excursion may be interrupted. One wouldn't take a tiny infant shopping if they knew there was a possibility they'd have to stop and attend to the infant. The same rule of thumb is true for a little kid. If you go anywhere and the kid throws a fit, you just have to remove them from the situation and suffer the loss of your time. Some might suggest that's rewarding the behavior, especially if the kid doesn't want to be in the store, but it's not rewarding if there are consequences for the bad behavior (no TV, no games, 10 min. quiet time, etc.).

    Patience and planning is key. This woman, probably does do worse to her kids at home, which makes my stomach hurt. You can take solace in the fact that you probably stopped at least once instance of it.


  4. When it comes to the safety of a child, nothing should stop anyone from “interferring” as parents short tempers and frustration can and often does become a serious problem. You certainly did the right thing by giving this woman a dirty look. If nothing else, she was momentarily distracted and probably embarassed so you helped avert a child being struck by an obviously stressed and non-thinking adult. Good for you!

    Just this morning, I witnessed a young couple walking with their young child in a stroller. Mom stopped to pick several oleander blossoms and then gave them to her child. I followed them, yelling to get their attention and asked if they had in fact picked flowers from the bushes. They said yes, somewhat sheepishly, and that they did so because the little kid liked flowers. When I told them that oleanders are highly poisonous they thanked me, removed the flowers and went on their way after I told them to be sure to wash her hands.

    Ignorance if things that are dangerous to children is something we must all be aware of and never hesitate to step in if we see a situation where someone could be injured.


  5. I respect all the great opinions on this topic. Though, it is not always possible to choose when a parent must shop or take their child out. I, for one, have endured countless toddler meltdowns, all over town. We have a very strong-willed determined 2 1/2 year old.

    You may have seen us in Target before – going up and down the escalator about 20 times, because for now, Ava is boss! 🙂

    Soocer Mom – I'm glad to know you stared this mother down. A look is worth a thousand words.

    I was at Walnut Creek Farmers' Market this morning! We could have passed each other by.


  6. I've been in that situation and I look the parent in the eye and say “she's just a little girl” and that's it. If nothing else the adult switches gears and directs his or her anger toward me which gives the kid a break


  7. I had similar feelings some years back during an incident I witnessed while walking from a museum in Manhattan. As I recall it, the mother — a thin, middle-aged, urban upper middle-class-looking woman — lost her cool with her young daughter (as I recall it, I'd estimate her age at around 10 yrs old) and basically stalked off ahead of the little girl, telling the child she was done with her or was leaving her.

    The girl was distraught, and hurried along behind her mother, trying to placate her, while the mother kept hurrying along ahead.

    I followed them on foot for some blocks to make sure the situation cooled down and that the girl wasn't just left behind, but I wished in retrospect I'd said something to the woman in addition. One problem is, in situations like that, I think an onlooker is torn between wanting to help and being concerned that any remark will just inflame the situation.

    It reminds me now of the situation that was in the papers about some weeks ago, of an attorney at a major law firm putting her two young daughters (ages 10 and 12) out of the car (in a New York suburb) because the girls were squabbling. The 12-yr old caught up with the car, but the 10 yr old did not. She was found –fortunately by a Good Samaritan — who contacted police, and the mother was charged with child abandonment:


  8. Most certainly if it was an animal such as a dog. The California media would have been all over it and the person would have been taken down, tasered, prosecuted, and received a sentence of 15 years. California where people have less rights that animals. You should have grabbed the trash can from the mother and perform the same gesture to the mother that the child was receiving then slap her upside the head and go about your business


  9. Simple, advise the child beater that, “If you strike that child I promise you I will defend her and beat you senseless.” What's your pleasure?

    Of course I'm a bit more confrontational then most soccer moms.

    The bitch-slap idea has merit as well…


  10. Evil Eye is given to the mother as you commence to Bitch Slap Her back to the trailer park..

    July 16, 2009 6:28 PM- Anon when your arrogant ass is being pummeled by some punks all you can hope for is that no one practices MYOB towards you and ~~~ you look up and say it's a bird it's a plane no wait it's Captain Bitch Slap coming to your rescue ~~~ But wait he stopped at a Starbucks for a green tea latte with skim milk and one pump of classic sweetner B/C he was MYOB and sipping a tea While your ass gets pummeled.


  11. The little girl swatted the mom? Gee, I wonder why! When my kid(s) misbehave, and I get to the point where I'm really frustrated, we leave. If it's at the grocery store, I ask the cashier to either return the perishables or hold it for my return. My kids think this is, like, the worst thing that can happen to them. I'm not sure why–I mean not buying meat and eggs really doesn't affect them, but they start wailing about how good they'll be if we don't leave. The key is to absolutely leave. I don't give them another chance, we just go home.

    You don't have to hit to teach your kids you won't take any crap off of them.

    I have spanked my kids and felt bad afterwards. I've spanked infrequently, but during incidents in which I'm fearful.

    One time my then six-year-old refused to allow my then four-year-old inside and kept closing and locking the back slider on the little one. Of course, the little guy got his fingers smashed during the exchange before I could stop it, and I spanked the older child and sent him to his room.

    I felt awful later and apologized for hitting. Unfortunately for my kid, the apology didn't extend to letting him out of his room and a huge apology to his bro.

    If I were this mom, I'd just set everything down, leave the cart as is, and split with the girl.


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