In Stone Mountain, Georgia, August 31, 2009, 61-year-old Roger Stephens slapped a toddler who annoyed him because he would not stop crying. According to news reports, he warned the mother, Sonya Matthews, to quiet her child or he would do it for her. When the child continued crying, he slapped her in the face at least four times. Stephens is facing felony cruelty to children charges, and is being held without bond.
Sergeant John Weaver, with the Placer County Sheriff Youth Division, asks, “How easy would it have been to go get a cup of coffee and come back to shop in a half an hour if the child was so annoying?” After review of the news reports, he adds, “His [Stephens’] actions where out of line, unacceptable and he should be prosecuted”, said Weaver.
Weaver also cautions people to be careful in responding to protect their child with only necessary force to stop it. Putting the guy in the hospital, as some news reports and blogs have quoted comments, would result in another crime. After all we want to escalate civility, not more violence.
What To Do?
Admirably, a little more than a week after the incident, Mathews has stated she forgives Stephens, commenting that he must have some serious issues. Apparently Stephens is unemployed. And while his personal crisis does not justify his actions, it is important nevertheless to administer justice with mercy – especially since Stephens did apologize to Matthews after the incident.
And what about the parents’ role in dealing with children’s tantrums in public?
Lezley Holmes, child psychologist in Folsom, CA and CEO of ParentHelpLive encourages parents to help their children deal with meltdowns in public with the following tips:
Teachable Moment. If the meltdown occurs and your child is not recovering then “inconvenience” yourself and immediately leave the store with your child – take her to the car until she calms down and then can re-enter, or come back another day is up to the mother.
Prevention is key. Outline basic expectations (even for a two-year-old) about cause and effect. Before entering the store explain the rules – “When we go inside, we’re going to use our indoor voices” or “when we go to the store, you will stay in the cart”. “If you make a bad choice like laying on the floor or screaming, we’re going to have to go to the car and no fruit loops.”
Set Young Kids Up for Success. Have a small snack packed along, or give them a special job in the store – (i.e., putting unbreakable items in the cart – finding something red in the isle – counting the donuts in the display, etc.) If they start to get frustrated, notice this right away – “I see you’re upset that I won’t let you touch that – now you can either help with this or you can sit in the cart”. If they touch it again – “I’m sorry you’re having problems following the rules – we’re going to have to go now and try again another day” and then LEAVE. Yes, this takes time, but it will only take 1-2 times and you will have smooth sailing for future shopping trips!
Joanna Jullien firstname.lastname@example.org
Joanna married her high school sweetheart and over the past 25 years they have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from UC Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture) and has over 20 years experience as a professional manager in information technology, manufacturing, energy and environment. Joanna writes on parenting in the 21st century, as she has observed and personally experienced many strains on the parent-child relationship with the advent of the Internet, mobile phones and popular culture.
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