One day, I came out of the bank and there, parked in the lot, was a very nice car, clean and classy, with two children inside. They looked about 5 and 8 years old. They were in no distress and were amusing themselves with toys. They were properly secured in their seats. The temperature outside was about 110 degrees, easily 150 inside a closed, parked car. However, these gals showed no signs of discomfort. I had to assume the air conditioning was on. I assumed this because the car was running. Yes, a very expensive car not only had a couple of kids in it, but it was also running. This concerned me. I worried that someone too tempted by the running car might just end up with the kids inadvertently and, not really wanting the kids, might, well, you know, might do anything. I also worried that someone who might actually want the kids might seize the incredible opportunity and make off with two beautiful little girls. So, I waited. I sat down on the curb next to the car and I waited. While I waited, I made a couple of phone calls. I sat on that curb for over 10 full minutes, each minute that crept by just turning my stomach, thinking of how very far away you can get in 10 minutes. Eventually, a man came out of the bank and headed towards the car. I approached him to ask him if those were his children. He kept walking right past me and entered his car, shooting me a snotty, “Why?” over his shoulder as he got into his vehicle. I responded that he had been in the bank 10 minutes, to which he responded, “I had a line of sight on them the whole time,” and he closed his car door behind himself and drove off. As I stood there, stunned, it occurred to me, I was just in the bank. There was not a single counter that faced the parking lot. He may have been able to see them the whole time he was in line, but not when he was at the counter unless he was continually turning around while making his transaction. Further, as I said, I had just been in the bank. There was no line. Therefore, I know he advanced directly to a teller where he must have then proceeded to carry on a 10-minute transaction. You can’t tell me he was turned full-around backwards during a 10-minute transaction. And, if he was watching, what the heck did he think I was up to? I had been sitting near his car for 10 minutes making phone calls. Didn’t he think there was something weird about that? Apparently not. Either that or he also hadn’t seen me sitting out there acting odd around his car. So, he lied. He had not had a direct line of sight on them the whole time. He must have been looking away for brief periods throughout his banking experience. Had someone decided to capitalize on his folly, they could have easily been inside his car and driving away before the guy could run out to the parking lot and scream. The end. Bye-bye kids. Perhaps this guy actually realized that and that’s what made him so short with me. That would be great if that was the case. However, I think the feeling he actually left with was that I was interfering where I didn’t belong. I’m so sad that we have gotten to the point that when a stranger is worried about your kids getting kidnapped, you consider them a nuisance. C’mon folks, there’s scary people out there. If the good folks don’t stick together, we’re that much easier to victimize. So please, look out for each other and accept some well-intentioned “interfering” where your homes, your families, your very lives may be at stake.
If you do wish to interfere in a kindly manner when you see other parents struggling, what’s the best way to go about it? The simplest way I can put it is to approach the individual as a friend, not a foe. That is, you want to approach someone as a kind and helpful person, not as someone who is there to tell them everything they are doing wrong. To help you don the friend role, here are some tips:
- Smile at the parent and smile at the child.
- Empathize with the parent as best you can without putting the child down. For example, you might say something like, “One of those days, hey?” or “It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?” or “It’s a tough job you’ve got,” rather than saying something like the following that might hurt the child’s feelings, “She’s a handful, isn’t she?” “Well, isn’t that cute, a tantrum,” or “He’s a toughie, isn’t he?”
- If the parent responds to you by saying something derogatory about the child, don’t get into an argument with the parent and don’t agree with the parent, either. Instead, say something supportive to the parent like those things mentioned above.
- You may try to distract the child. You might ask the child an interesting question about a toy he’s holding or about his tee-shirt or shoes. You might try to make him laugh by making a funny face or a funny noise or by playing peek-a-boo behind an item in your cart or hands.
- Support the parent gently. If you just heard the mom say that he cannot have a candy bar, you might casually say, “I think I just heard someone’s mom say he couldn’t have a candy bar. That wouldn’t be you, would it?” That could be enough, again, to distract the child.
- You may want to ask the parent if you can assist. You may say something like, “I went through this with my Billy, do you want me to help out?” If they say, “No,” try to accept that gracefully and back off unless you think the child is in danger of getting hurt. In that case, you should call authorities to make sure the child will be safe.
- Never undermine the parent no matter how wrong you think they are unless the child is in danger. For example, if the parent says, “You can’t have that candy, it will make your hair fall out,” do not undermine the parent by laughing or correcting the parent. Instead, stick to supporting the parent so that they don’t feel they need to say such outrageous things.
- When the situation is back under control, step out quickly and do not wait for a thank-you or acknowledgement. The parent might be embarrassed or irritated and unable to fully appreciate what you did right that moment.
- Accept when other people try to offer you advice or help as well! It doesn’t mean you have to agree or comply, but if someone takes the time to interfere with you, there may be a good reason and it’s worth it to at least think about it.