I was on the street corner waiting for the light to change as they approached.
She was fashionably dressed, a one-year-old on her hip and shopping bags on
her arm. The five-year-old boy walked along beside her. He struggled with a
backpack that seemed too big for him. She stopped; turned to him and shouted
“Get that backpack on before I sock the shit out of you!”
The boy jumped in surprise and alarm. So did I. She seemed so angry so
The boy had been quiet and well-behaved, keeping pace with his mother.
The problem seemed obvious. He was wearing a puffy parka a size too large;
it bunched up at the shoulders when he tried to pull up the straps.
I was speechless.
My instinct was to protest. And I was afraid she would sock the shit out of me,
too. The light changed and I went on.
I have been disappointed in my non-response and worried about the child since.
If she socked me, I could have socked her back. The boy could not. If the police
came, he may have gained some protection.
Contemplating the scene, I thought maybe I could have interceded without blaming
or embarrassing her by saying something like, “Gee, your hands are full, can I help
him with the backpack?”
What would you do?
This boy was having an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience)
Thinking about the mother, I suspect ACEs in her background make violence her
automatic reaction and prevent her from feeling compassion and raising a
compassionate child. It is likely she speaks to her child the way her parents
spoke to her and/or perhaps as someone currently speaks to her.
In any case, neither threatening the boy nor actually socking him will teach him
to carry his backpack properly, or to obey his mother. It will teach him to fear
his mother and do whatever keeps him from getting hit. It will teach him that
socking the shit out of someone is how you solve problems, and that it is OK
if you are the biggest and strongest. It will convince him that he is bad and
unworthy of respect.
Using Beginnings Parents Guide to talk about discipline vs. hitting
If I were her home visitor or parent educator or outreach specialist, I would
plan a reflective conversation with this mother. I might start with page 186
of the Beginnings Parents Guide, titled “What do you want to teach?”