Yesterday I was waiting for my bus at the bottom of Peckham Rye and I was standing next to a woman with 2 kids. She had the youngest strapped to her back in a sling. And the eldest (probably about 5 or 6) was standing a ways away from her in his yellow plastic sunglasses and school uniform dancing to the music from a passing car. This woman looked tired, she had a bunch of shopping with her as well, and she was waiting with these two little kids for her bus.
After a few minutes she shouted something at the little boy. I think he’d dropped his glasses, I don’t know, she was speaking another language so I can’t be sure. And then she stormed over, the little girl bouncing on her back and pulled on her son’s ears, hard. Then she hit him in the back of the head and dragged him back to the pile of shopping as he cried. He had his arms up covering his ears and she pulled them down and whacked him in the head again. I said nothing, I just stared at her and her kids as the whole thing played out. I didn’t want to say anything that would make her hit him harder out of humiliation or misdirected anger. I also didn’t want her to hit me. So I just stared, I couldn’t stop, and she stared back at me, almost defiantly.
Then their bus came, she picked up a bag and thrust it at her son, I thought she was going to hit him with it, so did he because he flinched, but he recovered and took the bag from her and climbed onto the 12 and then they were gone. Nobody, not a single one of us at the bus stop (and it was crowded with people on their way home from work) said a word to her. I imagine most people didn’t even see what happened. I did though, and like a coward I said nothing. I thought later that I should have asked if she was okay, if I could help carry her bags, if she needed anything, or if I should have asked the little boy if he was okay or said ‘Hey lady, you need to calm down, he’s only small.’ But I said none of those things, in part, like I said above, out of concern that I would only make things worse for the kid, make an already angry woman even angrier with only a little boy to take it out on, and in part because I was just scared.
But what is the right thing to do in this sort of situation? Is there a right thing?