Helplessly Watching a Verbal Beatdown of a Child

“Get the f**K out of the car!” was what I heard coming through my living room windows as I sat at my computer. I tried to ignore it and continued working, when I heard it again, this time even louder. Not wanting to be nosy, I continued to focus on my screen. Then a car door slammed and I heard, “Get you’re a** moving! Don’t f**king look at me like that! Move!” More yelling and swearing ensued, and finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to see what was making some guy so mad.

I walked over to the window and there, hovering over what appeared to be a four or five-year old boy, was the person with the filthy mouth. I immediately felt my neck hairs bristle, but I knew that if I said something, it could turn ugly for everyone. (I have a bit of a temper myself.) Trying to escape my own anger issues has been a life long struggle, so I turned and sat back down at my computer. I looked at the keyboard, but hate-filled words continued to flow through my windows and up my spine.

Finally, I had had it. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was afraid that if I did or said something it might make the situation worse for the boy. And yelling at a child isn’t against the law. Verbal abuse is horrible, but not illegal. So unless a physical action was taken against the boy, there really wasn’t anything to do. But I had to. I had to do something to save the boy.

As I opened the front door to my house, the man stopped yelling and looked at me. We made eye contact and then I opened my mailbox and peered in. It was still early morning, so the mail hadn’t come yet. I waited and looked inside my empty mailbox for a long moment as the man and boy stood on the sidewalk in front of my house. I closed the lid and turned once again to look at them. The man stood straight with his chest puffed out and fists clenched at his side. The three of us stood still as though we were having an old west standoff. He expected me to say something and I expected him to say something. But no words were spoken. My eyes went from the man to the boy and I smiled at him and nodded. The boy’s face didn’t change and I wondered how he could stand before his father, hearing such horrendous speech, without shedding a tear.

The man started off down the sidewalk and shouted, “Let’s go.” And the boy followed behind him. I watched them walk down the street and I hoped the boy would turn back to look at me. I wanted to wave at him or something. Something to let him know that his father’s behavior wasn’t right and that I heard. That it wasn’t a secret. That his value wasn’t measured by his dad’s words.

There was a part of me that also wanted the dad to turn around so I could let him know that it wasn’t right. I wanted him to approach me so that I could say everything that was going through my mind. But he didn’t look back and as I have learned in the past, fighting anger with anger never wins.

My heart broke for that child and I can still see his tough, hardened, little face looking at me. I hope that the father someday will bend down and hold that boy and tell him he loves him. Tell him he is sorry. And that the boy’s whole world will be brighter then it appeared that morning.

All of us have encountered a similar situation at some point in our lives. We see it at the playground, store, or right in front of our homes. When you witness parents bullying their child, how do you respond?

I respond by pretending to check my mail.


  1. Pray, that God will protect that child and shower down His love on the child. It’s all I feel I can do in those types of situations.

  2. You did exactly right. By going out and pretending to check your mail you sent a message to the boy and the father that the language was abusive yet you avoided a confrontation that would have just further traumatized the lad. And since the father didn’t say something like “what the eff are you looking at” showed he wasn’t eager for a confrontation either. So he retreated and face was saved by all. Nice going Jason, you demonstrated great wisdom with this one.

  3. It all depend on how deeply I’m moved. There is so much you see on the streets of NYC, but sometimes it’s not always wise or safe to interfere, especially as a woman. I yelled a man berating his girlfriend once, called him a loser & told the woman to dump him. I’ve stood over a (short) Mexican man yelling @ his wife/girlfriend, in the train station, while she wad holding her infant child, threatening to call the cops, & stood my ground until they both walked away. I’ve kicked a woman who thought I would let go her shoving me into a train she was trying to catch & boldly proclaimed if she wanted to do something, she already would have. Years ago I saw a young guy try to pick an elderly woman’s pocket on a bus, & knocked his hand out of her bag, & argued with him. All times I didn’t think, I just acted.

  4. I had a similar experience like that one evening at the movie theaters. We were watching an R movie and there was a “family” that came in with their 2-3 kids. One of the kids, a little girl, was maybe 5 or 6 and the movie was scaring her and she didn’t like it. She kept crying and finally the dad (and I’m sure the other reasonable parents sitting near them) had had enough and he took her out of the theater, berating her the entire time.

    When the movie was over he was sitting out in the hall on a bench with the little girl who was still sobbing. When the “mom” and the other kids came out he started his rant all over again complaining about what he missed, how did it end. I had to come out here with this little “bleep” “bleep”. And on and on it went.

    Similar to you, I had a little bit of a staredown with him. We said nothing to each other but my contempt for him was evident and hopefully my compassion for the child was also seen. He finally flinched, pulled his daughter off the bench and they walked out of the theater together. I followed.

    Like you, I knew there wasn’t much I could do because it was “ONLY” verbal abuse. But I followed them to the parking lot. Him cussing and berating her all the more. They reach their car, and we reached ours. I hesitated by the trunk and continued to stare daggers into him. He continued to stare back. He put the little girl in the backseat and told me to mind my “f_’n” business. What he didn’t realize is that is ineptitude as a “parent” or “adult” at this point had become my business and I was just waiting for him to break the boundary from verbal abuse to physical.

    We followed their car out of the parking lot and my wife was already on the phone with 911. I got their license plate and she was informed that there was nothing to be done if no physical abuse had taken place. I’m not a fighter, I’ve been in one fight in my life and that was the equivalent of a schoolyard wrestling match with my best friend in my neighborhood growing up. However, I probably would have hospitalized myself trying to teach that guy a lesson if he had ended up laying a hand on that little girl.

    Sticks and stones will break my bones, but your words will never hurt me…. bull sh**!

  5. How heartbreaking. You were in an awkward situation for sure! What SHOULD you do? Exactly as you did. Your opening of the door stopped an escalation that was clearly occurring. Now the dad (writing in non capital letters because he may be the birth dad but isn’t not being a great Dad), he may feel embarrassed and calm down slightly or stop the behavior (this time). Sad. So Sad. I’ve lost it with my kids and raised my voice and feel TERRIBLE- heck, we are only human. This incident was over the top. I’ve NEVER been in that situation and thinking about what I would do… you walk a find line between interrupting and intervening, one possibly causing the father to strike YOU or the kid, to prove he is tough. If there were a lot of people around, I would be more apt to walk up, secure that SOMEONE was watching…. I would be as non- confrontational as possible…. even asking a question about something else. I’ll only know if it happens, and I pray it doesn’t. Today, I’ll take this post as a message to be increasingly patient with my children- they are only young once and I don’t want them to remember my angry face…. just my happy one.

  6. I think what you did was perfect. Sometimes all it takes for someone like that is to know that someone knows. I think you’re right that if you would have said something, his anger would have escalated. Perhaps next time, he’ll think twice about yelling at his son like that. And maybe knowing that it bothered someone else will make him think twice in private as well.

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