105 Ways to Give a Book

Distract a Child, Help a Mom (or Dad)

Today’s post will be more serious. I’ll return you to your regularly scheduled humor tomorrow.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and having worked in public health in the interest of mothers and children, I had struggled with what this month meant to me. Other than not hitting my kids, what could I do in the interest of protecting children? With five years of child public health and five years of children’s librarianship and ten years of motherhood, I came to a couple of things that work for me that I would like to share. So that it doesn’t get to be too much at once, I’ll share one point each Sunday this month. Consider it my sermon and pass it on to anyone you’d like.

For Everyone: Distract a Child, Help a Mom (or Dad)

Having had one preschool tantrum-thrower and one preschool crybaby, I sympathize with moms who get stuck at the store or library with a child having an episode. I think I am a pretty good mom, but I couldn’t stop these episodes from happening to me (though the tantrum-thrower didn’t go back to the mall for a year after I had to carry her out under my arms, wrapped around my body while pushing her baby sister in the stroller). But what I learned is that one person’s reaction could be the difference between me laughing it off in the car or leaving the store crying (also the tantrum-thrower and a very grumpy cashier).

Now when I see a child freaking out, I have a couple of things in my bag of tricks. If the child has an older sibling, I will tell the older child what a good job he is doing being calm while his little brother is crying. At the library I will give him a sticker or bookmark for doing such a good job. Often the crying little brother will calm down to see what is going on, and then I offer him a sticker or bookmark too. If not, I give the sticker or bookmark to the older brother to hold for his little brother. Usually the mom offers some input by now, and I just sympathize. I say, “I have two myself,” or, “Some days are just hard,” or even, “Good luck.” I’ve done three things here. I’ve rewarded the older child for behaving, I’ve distracted the younger child from his fit, and I’ve let the mother know that someone isn’t looking down on her. She can return to our library without worrying.

My second technique, if it is just the child and the mother, is to offer the child a sticker or bookmark, “’cause some days we need a sticker.” Then I sympathize with the mom. If I see a mom yelling at a child, I don’t scold the mom, but I ask if there is anything I can do to help. If she says no, which she usually does, I sympathize again with the mom, that some days are hard. The interaction breaks the struggle between the parent and child, and distracts the child. But I have done something else by engaging the mom. She knows someone is paying attention, so if she has begun to “lose it,” she will probably get herself under control. And if she actually is an abusive mom, then I have given the child the message that adults do care.

My third technique is very low-key. Without really interacting, distract the child. Smile. Maybe do something a little silly, like a sleight-of-hand magic trick. I’ve blown up a balloon, put a book on my head, sung a song, played peek-a-boo, and made a stuffed animal dance. I am shameless. But it is often just enough to work.

And sometimes it doesn’t work, but I tried. Sometimes I’m not in the mood, and I have to let that one go. But I’ve realized that everyone has bad days. Moms, kids... you. It’s easy to judge the bad mom, the bad kid, but it really isn’t that much harder to be part of the solution.
Category: 2 comments


Moxie Mom said...

That is seriously good advise. It's amazing to me that people let other's bad behavior go unchecked in public. Sometimes it only takes a bit of effort to help someone regain their balance.

However, there are times when your help is unwanted and unappreciated. These are usually the "bad" cases. A Mom trying to get a kid to stop crying by hitting them more. Wow. That makes a hell of a lot of sense. And bringing to their attention that you have witness this bahavior only makes it worse…ugh. You can't help everyone…but it's good to try.

Kori said...

God Bless the village, that's what I say!

As I'm discovering, this whole idea that a mother stays home all day alone with an infant or toddler is so ludicrous, it's unbelievable. And yet, that's what we all call "traditional"---lone-wolf, isolated parenting. It's a mess.

So, in my opinion, the whole idea that a mom or dad, no matter how good and responsible they are, are always enough to calm their child's tantrum, is equally silly. I really believe that members of a family feed off of each other's stress, emotions, etc., and sometimes the exact thing needed is an outsider who can break the momentum.

Good for you, chica. I'm sure 90% of the parents you help don't abuse their kids, but kindness shared does everyone good, not just those in most need.