"A complete stranger intervened in my parenting."

A mother shakes her child in public. A father yells at his son at soccer calling him hopeless. A carer smacks a preschooler. Do you intervene? Do you question their actions?

What about if a child puts themselves in a position you see as precarious. Do you speak up? Do you go to assist them? But what if they are with their mother? Do you question her parenting and step in?

It’s a scenario that I was faced with last week.

A child perceived to be in danger, the mother nearby but not seen to be protecting her daughter. A concerned member of the public. But in this case the daughter was mine, and the mother putting her in “danger” was me.

I know the stranger who spoke up did it out of concern, out of a desire to put the interests of a child above all else. Yet I must admit it left me feeling uneasy rather than comforted.

My four-year-old was standing on a wall where I was about to take her photo.

This photo:

The wall my daughter was on. Photo supplied.

“You really should get down from there,” the lady said addressing my daughter. “You’ll break your arm”.

My daughter is shy and didn’t acknowledge the women but it didn’t stop the woman from speaking to her again.

“You need to get down it’s too dangerous. You’ll fall..”

As I attempted to tell the woman that my daughter was being watched carefully by someone – me – and I wasn’t concerned she once again addressed my little girl.

“I ASKED you to get down. You will break your arm and it will hurt. A lot.”

The woman was just a passer-by, she wasn't worried about litigation. She was a stranger forcefully speaking her mind. Finally I managed to tell her that I was pretty confident my daughter would be okay, that she was being watched and I knew her abilities. But the woman didn’t seem to listen instead focused on making my daughter leave the wall.

Would you speak up? Image via iStock.

It threw me a little. After all I was right there. It was my daughter. I felt immediately defensive as though my judgment had been questioned. I felt a little humiliated, I mean, I knew she was safe.

I'm her mother. 

It made me wonder where the line is between the village we so crave in our community and interfering? Where is the line between caring and judging?

The same issue crops up regularly in Facebook groups.

“My neighbour is continually yelling at her children. It goes on all day long. Should I say something? Should I call the police? Or leave it alone.”

Of course we can take helicopter parenting too far. Post continues after video...

"I saw a woman smack a child in the supermarket today. I wished I had have said something but I was worried she would be angry and punish the child more later when they were alone."

Do we respect the privacy of a family or do we put the well-being of a child first?

John Cameron Head of Child Protection Services at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) told The Guardian when asked about a similar scenario: “We all have a responsibility to speak out when we see a child harmed in public. But it’s easier said than done."

As a society we think of the family unit as a private sphere, one that others shouldn’t penetrate. We don't wish to make assumptions for fear of offence.

Shauna with her children. Image supplied.

John Cameron says if it’s a matter of a parent simply losing their cool with a child, it sometimes works to offer to your help. He said, “It’s often not productive to go over and confront the parent – people just get defensive. Instead of asking them to justify their behaviour, it can help to go over and say something like, ‘Kids can be really difficult. Is there anything I can do to help?’”

But surely if a child is in danger, or if we perceive the child to be in danger our priority is the child.

I’m still a little uncomfortable with the way the woman perceived me but I know that was about me, about my fears that maybe I wasn't watching my daughter closely enough.

Truth be told, I am glad she was watching out for my daughter. I am glad she was judging me and spoke up. I know my daughter wasn’t in danger but had she been I would have rather a stranger spoke her mind. I would rather that than a community impervious to each other.

Our priority should always be to the children and if that means judging others or interfering then that’s what we need to do even if it humiliates a mother in public.

Would you ever intervene if you saw a child you thought might be in danger?