Kate Sutton



I went to the park today with Dexter, my best friend and her boy … not exactly groundbreaking news, granted, but being an ‘only child’ for a lot of the time (plus his brother is ten years older), we just don’t tend to go often anymore.


Anyway, we went today when there was a break in the weather.  Suffice to say, we’re all fair weather park goers, but Dexter had recently bought a scooter so it was a good excuse to get out of the house for an hour or two to test it out.  (We only managed 30 minutes until the rain came.)


The boys went off to play … Dexter managing to nearly get stuck in what can only be described as a wooden box on a big spring, and Jo and I chatted on a nearby bench.


After a while, our attention was drawn to a screaming girl, clad head to toe in pink, that was on the path outside of the playground with, what looked to be her Nan.  The lady seemed to be in her late 60’s and the girl was approximately seven years old.


Now I’ve been a mother for 19 years and have come across my fair share of tantrums … some of them even coming from my boys.  A lot of the time tantrums make no sense whatsoever.  They could kick off because you served the wrong shaped pasta or because they don’t like the colour red today and you deigned to put them in a red T shirt.  Kids make no sense most of the time if I’m honest.


This girl seemed to be having one of those days and didn’t want to put her shoe on.  I say shoe as in singular … she wanted to have just one shoe on.  Parents will read this and nod knowingly, I’m sure.


We sat and watched the ensuing tantrum and felt the lady’s pain all too well. However, the tantrum continued … and continued.  We both agreed, as it is easy to do when you’re a spectator, that we probably would have walked off and left the child crying on the floor – there was a bench nearby and she would have been safe enough.  The park was quiet and she would have come to no harm.  Instead, the lady seemed to think it would be better to get hold of a leg and an arm of the child and gently swing her around a bit, in a somewhat jokey fashion.


Now if my kids are anything to go by, trying to joke them out of a tantrum never works, but I don’t blame the woman for trying.  You try pretty much anything you can think of just to coax them out of it.


However, the longer the tantrum went on, the more and more we wondered whether we should intervene.  Not from a child safety point of view … you could see that the Nan wasn’t hurting the girl, on the contrary from what we could see of the girl’s flailing arms and legs, but from a support aspect.


We wanted to offer our assistance but just how do you go about doing that?  And just what could we have done?  We just felt bad for doing nothing because the woman was clearly struggling.


We ran through scenarios of offering some help and the lady shouting at us or, even worse, us just making the tantrum last even longer and so, we decided to do nothing.


We felt really helpless and there seemed to be no signs of the tantrum abating until, of course, the young girl’s mother appeared and the girl’s tears eased up.


To give her credit, the older lady kept her cool and was fairly calm throughout – I’m not sure I’d have been so collected.


We really wanted to help but we are so indoctrinated now not to help for fear of reprisals, albeit from a seemingly placid older lady, that we end up not doing anything at all.


Isn’t that sad?  That we’re too scared to offer help to someone that might need it?


I’m sure this whole tantrum was all over within five minutes although, no doubt, it felt a lot longer for the woman involved.  And maybe she, as the Nan, felt that she had to be careful how to react because, although it was her granddaughter, that’s very different to dealing with your own child.


It ended ‘well.’  No-one was hurt, although Nan may have a few bruises tomorrow, and I’m sure they’re all friends again now.


But I’d like to ask you … would you have intervened?  Bear in mind we’re not talking a situation where there’s any sign of what we may call abuse, but merely a situation where offering help might (or might not) have been the right thing to do … but how it would have been taken, you just never know, do you?


Would love to hear what you think.



PS – Sure enough, I had to rescue Dexter out of that equipment because he got stuck!



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Published by Kate Sutton

Writer, Mother, Dater.

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  1. ooh, that’s a tough one. Being a parent of a child with autism, I have offered to help……..but only when I have known the child was like my own. Then it has only been as a support to the parent ‘it’s ok, I understand’ sort of thing.
    Honestly, I would say, smile at the gran/mam as a show of support, but intervention could make the child worse x

  2. I think so much depends on the age. Like potty mouthed mummy said I’d want to help a mum with a newborn with bags etc as I know I’d appreciate if it was me. A tantrumming toddler / child though? Would probably stay back!

  3. I tend to offer moral support rather than actually intervening. I have probably pissed others off when I’ve said things like “only about 4 hours until bed time!” and “at least it’s not me who’s crystal ball seems to be broken”. Usually when I have the kids and I can nod my head towards them.

    The other day in the supermarket a woman was having a meltdown at her son who was probably about 3, I was on my own and I could tell she was losing it as he was taking things off the shelf and putting them in the trolley. I said “they make it ten times harder don’t they?” and she glared at me, before starting to walk off, then she turned and smiled and said “I’m not sure either of us will make it to the end of the holidays”.

    I think the instant reaction is to be defensive as so many people seem to judge, but it was nice that she recognised a friendly face.

    Not sure I helped there!

    1. I think if I was passing the woman, I might have been able to do the head nod to gauge how she would feel about me saying something … but it wasn’t really that kinda situation. You’re right about our first instinct being one of being defensive, but it really is a minefield isn’t it?

  4. It is such a tough one isn’t it? I have had a few similar situations on the commuter train home when mums have got on with newborns who won’t settle and wanted to help. Hold a bag, help her get something, anything to help – especially when I can see them getting sad, stressed and have an entire coach giving them evils. But I haven’t because I have been scared that the mum in question might tell me to do one. And as you say – you never know! I am a bit sad at myself but then also seeing how others have taken intervention in other cases, I just don’t know whether any one would take it well. So tough xx

    1. Gah, it’s SO tricky isn’t it?! I wanted to show some sort of solidarity if nothing else … there’s no lonlier feeling than when you’re dealing with a child that is being ‘difficult’. I feel a lot surer about how I would have reacted had I felt the child was in danger … but then were that situation to present itself, I’m not sure I’d know what to do. x

  5. I would have spoken to the Nan. However, I would have asked a question like Can you tell me where the loos are. In my experience, it normally stops the child dead in its tracks!
    If it didn’t, having opened up a conversation with that, I would then follow up with “having a tough time?” and see where that led me.
    I have “intervened” in things like this and have had both good and bad responses. Doesn’t stop me mind!

  6. I’ve thought about this long and hard!! David Walliams once walked by me in Primrose Hill when my son was throwing a tantrum…I wouldn’t have minded his help!! Jokes aside though, I think if the person was right beside me I’d try to help by offering the child something or distracting them but I’m not sure if I’d walk over to someone and “intervene” only because everyone has their own way of handling things and I wouldn’t want to come across as undermining them (unless the child was being hurt/abused).

    1. Thanks for commenting and shame on you Walliams 🙂 But you see my predicament, there’s no right or wrong answer is there? We weren’t walking past the lady in question so a casual ‘are you ok?’ wouldn’t have worked. I think it just all depends on the particular situation I spose!

  7. I would probably have felt the exact same as u. Possibly the only thing I may have done is gone and asked the lady if she would like a tissue for her granddaughter (I usually have a spare pack) because just someone else approaching may have stopped the From screaming as she had been distracted by strangers and she may have had the good grace to feel a little ashamed! But I agree, you don’t know what reaction you will be met with these days which makes us very apprehensive to help!

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