Encounter in a parking lot
June 2008


From: Kathryn To: Jordan Riak
Subject: Unacceptable Behavior

Dear Project No Spank -

I had a very negative experience with someone carrying your stickers and books yesterday. As I am well aware that this person was not an employee of yours, there is a certain reputation you must uphold and an organization must be held responsible for educating its members in regards to proper public conduct.

Yesterday, my husband and I were shopping at the Fry's in Concord with our 3 year old son who started throwing a tantrum in the store. Our policy is to calmly walk him outside and have him throw the tantrum out of doors where he is ignored until he calms down. If he is not ignored, this approach does not work and the tantrum worsens. Someone carrying your information and stickers came up and said "maybe he wants a sticker". I politely asked the man to leave my son alone as he was being disciplined and must be ignored. This man persisted and knelt down to my son's level and started coddling him and offered him a sticker!


If people want to tell me how I should discipline my child, they should at least respect my wishes and leave me alone when I am using acceptable practices. After the man left, the tantrum did worsen and escalated in my son running through the parking lot away from me. He could have been run over. He has never done anything like that before and I promise you that, had we been left alone, the tantrum would have ended quickly and we could have returned to our shopping in peace. Instead, we had to leave early and go straight home.

PLEASE PLEASE educate your people. I am furious at this behavior and do not wish it on another parent.




From: Jordan Riak To: Kathryn
Subject: Re: Unacceptable Behavior

Dear Kathryn,

The person who offered your son the sticker is not an employee of our organization. He is me, the founder and director. Thank you for your advice and criticism. I read and considered your letter carefully. Allow me to respond.

A day doesn't pass when I do not approach parents and children in the street. Most of those encounters are very pleasant. I offer our "KIDS' SAFE ZONE" stickers to parents of sticker-age children, and nearly all accept them graciously. On rare occasions, when I witness trouble brewing between a parent and a child, I also approach, using the offer of a sticker as a pretext. Those encounters -- like the one with you Saturday morning in Fry's parking lot -- tend not to be so pleasant. But that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't productive. And I have no intention of reforming my public behavior. Now, having made that clear, I have nothing to lose by going one step further. Perhaps you have something to gain if you hear me out. I know it's risky to try to pass judgment on a stranger's parenting skills based on a 30-second encounter in a parking lot. But the signals seemed loud and clear to me. Maybe I'm wrong. If so, not much is lost -- just the few minutes it took me to write this and you to read it.

You say "...the man knelt down to my son's level and started coddling him..." Coddling? That's the word you used. Actually, I spoke to him quietly, calmly, respectfully, face to face, and listened politely to his response, which I accepted. That's just standard etiquette, not coddling. That's how members of the human species communicate when they are communicating properly. Did you notice that when I began to speak to him, he immediately calmed down, and we were able to have a polite, civil exchange? When he told me he did not want a sticker, I said I'd give it to his mommy in case he changes his mind. Then I left, and immediately the ruckus started up again.

Please try to understand that your 3-year-old son is urgently trying to communicate his frustration to you using the limited communications skills at his command. You are the most important person in his life. If you don't hear him, who will? Strangers in the parking lot? Understand this: when something hurts three-year-olds, they cry. When their pain is ignored, they feel worse. When matters degenerate to the point that they feel abandoned, they can become desperate and they sometimes scream and flail. Adults typically refer to that as a "tantrum," and unfortunately they often respond by hitting the child (spanking) or other punishments such as "time-out." These responses only make matters worse. What the child really needs is patience and respectful communication.

I want to let you in on a secret about "time-out." It was devised in part as a lure to give spankers a less-dangerous option than hitting. The term, "time-out," sounds benign compared to "punishment," but it can be just as abusive as spanking. Its only useful purpose is when the parent takes the time-out. Briefly separating from the child if another caretaker is available, can be very calming to the frazzled nerves of a busy parent. But when time-outs are imposed on children as a kind of confinement, and with essentially the same intention as the spankings they replace, they are counterproductive.

I agree, your son needs to learn appropriate communications skills. Screaming and punching are not okay. But he must learn them the same way other three-year-olds learn them: by seeing them demonstrated, and experiencing them first hand. You're the mommy. If you want your son to behave respectfully toward others, you must show him how to do that by being respectful toward him. Acknowledge his feelings. And don't lose your cool if he doesn't catch on immediately. An unruly parent is of little use to an unruly child. You are in a unique position of power and authority, so use your power and authority wisely.

You say you don't spank. That's certainly a step in the right direction. But be careful that you don't merely substitute alternative methods of enforcement with the same mean-spirited authoritarianism that is associated with spanking. That approach never solves problems. It just deepens them, and postpones their solution to a later date when they are more intractable. Don't think that if you persist in your current method, you'll eventually win out. The apparent peace that follows each recurring battle you have with your child is really only exhaustion, not solution.

I see you've been to our Web site at least long enough to find my email address. Please go back and visit the section "Parenting Wisely" at www.nospank.net/nurture.htm . Scroll down to "Facing down a drill sergeant dad." It's the story about a recent similar encounter I had with another parent. I think you'll find it interesting and informative. After you've read it, let me know what you think.


Jordan Riak


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