We've all been there -- riding on a bus, shopping in the supermarket, taking our children to the zoo -- and watched parents lose their temper with children. Sometimes, it's just a sharp word. Other times, it's worse.
So what do we do?
When a child seems unsafe, don't ignore the situation, and when a parent seems stressed, offer some support, say the experts at Family Resources Inc., who have devised a new public information campaign on the county's 800 Port Authority buses to help reduce parent-child conflicts in public settings.
The ad is part of a new public engagement initiative, "Be the Difference," launched at the beginning of April as part of Child Abuse Awareness Month.
"Everyone rides the bus, and we've all seen a parent who may be overwhelmed, tired or stressed with a small child who's thirsty, who wants to go home, and the parent may be yelling at that child," said Andi Fischoff, a spokeswoman for Family Resources, the largest nonprofit agency in the area dedicated to child abuse prevention and treatment.
The ad describes the following scenarios: "A mother losing her temper with her young child at the mall ..." "A father locking his sleeping infant in the car while running into a store ..." "You noticing your daughter's friend has bruises and a black eye ...."
In the first situation, a kind word can help, said Ms. Fischoff. "Try connecting with the parent and child," she said. Say something sympathetic -- "It's not easy, is it?" -- or offer to help. "Sometimes an extra pair of hands is all that's needed."
If you see a child locked in a car while a parent runs into a store, you might want to wait there for a few minutes to see if the child is distressed -- and if you're there when the father returns, that might show him that leaving his baby in the car wasn't really a good idea.
If you notice a child is injured, and you suspect abuse, you can make an anonymous call to the Allegheny County's Child Abuse Report and Information phone number at 412-473-2000.
For a number of years now, Family Resources has partnered with local organizations to educate the public about how to respond to these tense moments. It has helped train employees at Giant Eagle supermarkets and, with Family Communications Inc., it began the One Kind Word project last summer at the Pittsburgh Zoo. These are all places where such family conflicts often flare up. Putting these ads on the region's buses is a logical extension of those previous education campaigns, she said.
At the zoo, "the feeling among the staff was not only that they're more confident intervening in these moments, they've also found it's affected how they treat each other," Ms. Fischoff said.
The takeaway message is, as the ad puts it, "We are, all of us, responsible for what happens to children."
"We need to give ordinary people the tools and strategies for dealing with this," Ms. Fischoff said. "We need to give them the confidence and license to step in kindly and gently with some support, but also to look at the mistreatment of children as unacceptable as, say, driving drunk."
Parents who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed can also call the Parenting WARMLINE at Family Resources, at 1-800-641-4546.
Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1949.