I had left my children sitting at the edge of the book sale, with a pile of interesting reads for their entertainment, and was checking out other tomes just a few metres away. Suddenly, I heard someone yelling.
"Eh! Why you push my baby?" came the shrill tones of an enraged woman, cutting sharply through the hum of air-conditioning in the expo hall.
I looked up and saw that the woman had been shouting at my younger son. My three-year-old looked up at her, wringing his little hands anxiously. He kept quiet as she continued to look daggers at him. A toddler was cradled protectively in her arms.
After about a minute or so, she moved off. But not without a few backward glances at my boy - who was frozen like a deer caught in the headlights - and muttering angrily under her breath.
While this was going on, I kept my distance. I wanted to see how the scene would play out without my interference, and how my son would react.
He remained still and silent, until his dad - who had been watching, too, from another side of the room - went up to him and wagged an admonishing finger. Then, my little boy burst into tears.
The issue of telling another person's child off has become increasingly fraught in today's world. A Google search for the phrase "another parent scolding your child" yielded 2,750,000 results.
"Strangers are NOT allowed to yell at my kids," went one rant on TheStir.com parenting website, by a woman whose three-year-old son was reprimanded by an old man, after the child started screaming excitedly in a restaurant.
Some 548 comments followed that March 10 post: Some took the woman's side ("I hope you had the presence of mind to put the old curmudgeon in his place. If you did not, then the message your three-year-old received is that it is okay for hostile people to yell at and be mean to him."), while others pointed out that someone had to tell the kid to stop ("I hate parents who make excuses for their bratty children").
In a way, I would have been grateful if the other mummy at the book sale had dealt with my little boy a little differently. She could have told him firmly, but without raising her voice, "No pushing". Or she could have complained to me when I came back, and I would have made him apologise.
That said, I agree that people who scold your children when they are misbehaving are doing you a favour. After all, you could remind your child until you are blue in the face that certain things are just not acceptable, and he would still ignore you; but if a perfect stranger calls him out on a wrongdoing, you can be sure the kid will remember it.
Perhaps Asian parents have fewer qualms about disciplining other people's kids, given confucianist teachings that children should always respect and obey their elders. In the past, when families were bigger and communities more close-knit, it was a given that any adult could - and should - scold a child they caught doing anything wrong.
When did parents become so thin-skinned about other people taking their offspring to task for small transgressions?
Back to the book sale. As my son sobbed, I went to him and picked him up to soothe him. It didn't feel good to witness another adult speaking harshly to my boy. I felt a little guilty, too, for not being nearer and paying more attention - I might have prevented my son from being rough in play (for I truly believe he meant no malice).
But I didn't tell him that it was not his fault. I wanted him to realise that aggressive behaviour that hurt other people would lead to such consequences. That one must be considerate of others in public. And that there are all kinds of people in the world, some of whom are nicer and more forgiving than others.
So, thanks, Yelling Mummy, for teaching my child a lesson he won't forget in a hurry.
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