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A couple of weeks ago, I went to a community lunch with my 3-year-old twins. It's open for all members of the community and filled mostly with Senior Citizens, parents with their kids, and various other often-smiling people. We've been before and generally everyone is in a great mood, mingling with others, with lots of the older folks saying how adorable the little ones are. It's in a large space with long lunchroom style tables. Good times. Good food. Friends. Lunch! On this particular day, I went with my friend and her daughter and we sat at the end of a table with my kids who were acting like little angels eating their food all prim and proper with napkins tucked into their shirts and not a crumb spilled on the table.
Of course that's not true. My kids are 3. They were sitting. They were eating (the butter off the bread). And my son was getting a little loud. And that's when it happened.
My son started shrieking. And as most of us know, any kind of shrieking or screaming seems to be catching when it comes to kids. I didn't want my daughter to join in so I was doing my best to diffuse the situation without calling too much attention to it because I also know my son, and the best ways to deal with him when he's doing something he shouldn't be doing.
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He was shrieking and then laughing, so I tried to get him to laugh more and then did the distraction technique asking him if he wanted more bread with his butter. Food! That might work. And as this was happening an older man walked over to our table. He didn't speak to me at all, he instead spoke directly at my son with his finger pointing at him and sternly telling him how the older people are bothered by his screaming and that he needs to stop right now. I don't remember his exact words, but I remember that long, mean finger wagging in my child's face and the look of frowny faced anger on that man's. My son instantly stopped shrieking and began to cry.
I'd rather hear an occasional shriek over a child crying. I would also have preferred it if this man spoke to me first before taking the liberty to yell at my son who wasn't doing anything that awful. And besides, it's not like it was quiet in there. Everyone was chatting, there was a vibrancy in the air, people were happy, the community was coming together. And I was trying to get him to stop. And he's 3! My friend, who loosely knew the man, told me he's always been like that -- one of those kind of meanies. A yeller.
I just don't think it's okay for a stranger to yell at your child. Unless it was one of those absolutely necessary kind of extreme situations where yelling could save them from harm or something. This was just a 3-year-old being a 3-year-old and not even a particularly naughty one. And I was working on it -- I am the mother. This stranger yelling at my child with me right there felt like an insult to my parenting.
As the man was pointing and scolding my child, I tried to tell him I was working on it and that I was sorry, but my son started crying and my focus was then on getting him to stop. Letting him know that he doesn't need to be scared of this mean strange man, hoping he doesn't have nightmares of that pointy finger. But I have.
We haven't been back to community lunch since. I'm not sure if I'll ever go again.
Do you think it's okay for a stranger to yell at your child? Has something like this ever happened to you? What would you do if you were in my situation?
Image* via Michele Zipp
*Photo taken at doctor's office, not when he was in process of shrieking.