When a person near you is being a jerk — and you’re with your kid

There are a lot of good people out there doing good things. Some pick up litter, some tutor students, others volunteer at soup kitchens. But for every 10 good neighbors, there’s at least one jerk, yelling obscenities and being publicly aggressive. Think of recent examples at Fenway Park or on pretty much any airline these days.

You’ve undoubtedly encountered such boors at movie theaters, mall parking lots, maybe even at work. Odds are, you’ll run into one again. And if you’re a parent, it could very well happen when you have your child at your side. How do you react? How do you explain to your kid what just happened? The calculus of how to handle such situations is tricky, so we reached out to a couple of experts to get some tips.

Assess the scene

The first step in dealing with a belligerent or hostile person in public while with a child is to step back and absorb the situation.


“Your primary responsibility is the safety of your children,” said Rona Fischman, a Boston-based bystander intervention trainer. “If you get involved with a stranger, you first have to think about who will be watching your kids and making sure they’re safe. That may mean you don’t get as directly involved if there seems to be any danger.”

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Elizabeth Buckley, a Boston-area social worker and child and family therapist, advises similarly. “You always have to assess, is this safe for me and my child?” she said.

Be a role model

When a situation calls for it, parents should be ready to speak up for the values that they want their children to learn. “The biggest thing is walking the walk,” said Fischman. “If you do nothing, then you’re teaching your kids that that behavior is OK.

“If you’re not about to get assaulted, you try to disrupt the action. You speak up and say, ‘Hey, that’s not acceptable,’ ” said Buckley.

Both emphasized that having backup can make dealing with an unpleasant situation less risky.


“You can say to someone else, ‘Do you see what’s going on over there? Can you help out? I have to watch my kids.’ I think when something is happening like that, it’s a really good time to talk to people on your side. You can’t be a solo responder,” said Fischman.

Talk it over

It might feel as if the ordeal is over once everyone calms down, but belligerent and boorish behavior can affect your child for some time afterward. That means that addressing what happened is critical.

“From my perspective, the most important thing as a parent is to understand that your child has witnessed something that has an impact on them,” said Buckley. “Just comforting them is helpful in calming them down, but it doesn’t help them move into empowerment.”

Buckley suggests doing some sort of activity with your child to show support for the victim of the poor behavior. Take what happened to Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who had a racial slur hurled at him May 1 by a Red Sox fan at Fenway Park.

“You can ask your kid, ‘Should we write [Jones] a letter? Or draw him a picture? What ways can we show that we support him?” Buckley said. “It’s all about making sure that your child understands what happened and making sure they step up if they see that behavior in the future.”

Alex Frandsen can be reached at