Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR READERS: I've stepped away from my column for a few days. Please enjoy these "Best Of" columns in my absence.

DEAR AMY: You asked for reader responses to a letter from the woman who witnessed a mother berating her daughter in public at an ice skating rink and didn't know what to do. When I was a child, my mother would lose her temper and yell at me in public. At home she threw things and hit me with different objects. She was also an affectionate and enthusiastically involved parent. She was college-educated, attended church regularly, did not drink, and we lived in a solid, middle-class community. Life was a roller coaster. I know many strangers witnessed my mother's behavior. I don't recall one person ever stepping in to help me. Once I was an adult, neighbors and friends told me that they were aware of what was happening but didn't think it was their place to intervene. As a young woman, I found myself in a very dangerous situation, and it never occurred to me to ask someone for help. The impact of that changed my life forever. I am now a mother myself. I have experienced the embarrassment of my children throwing temper tantrums in public. Once a stranger crossed the street and offered to help. He offered the help directly to my daughter. I did not take offense. He was doing the right thing. I guess I'm trying to say that it is important to do something. She should have stepped up to the mother and gently said, "You look like you're having a tough day, can I help you? We all can use a break sometimes, right?" Trust me, one simple act can make all the difference for years to come.

Speak Up for Children

DEAR SPEAK UP: Thank you so much for your eloquent testimony. When people intervene thoughtfully, they are not just giving a parent notice, but they are also demonstrating an important value to the children involved.

DEAR AMY: Some parents are bullies, whether or not they realize it. And imagine being completely dependent for your food, shelter and safety on someone who bullies, berates and humiliates you. I don't have to imagine it. I lived it. How, as a boy, I wished someone would intervene. Of course, whenever anyone did challenge my mother, she immediately painted them as "stupid" or "crazy." Maybe if enough people who recognize inappropriate parental behavior speak up directly, it would finally become socially unacceptable to treat a child this way.

Survivor

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DEAR SURVIVOR: I hope that the people who attempted to intervene with your mother made an impression on you. It can be nearly impossible to know what to do in these situations, but I'd be willing to be called "crazy" if that's what it took to get a parent's attention.

DEAR AMY: As a figure skater myself, I see this sort of behavior more often than I would care to recount. I usually try to make a joke out of it, as in, "Hey, Mom, if you think it's that easy, why don't you put on some skates and come on out?" The child usually laughs and the parents realize that perhaps they have overstepped their bounds. If they don't get it, I am happy to stand up for the child in a more abrupt way.

Maegan

DEAR MAEGAN: When I jokingly referred to this bully of a mom as "Tonya Harding," one reader pointed out that Harding herself was most likely bullied as a child on the rink.

Point taken. One awful result of adults bullying children is that it can perpetuate the aggression.

DEAR AMY: I once had a dad in a parking lot scream at me, "What are you looking at?" when I tried to stop him from screaming at his child by staring at him with a shocked look on my face. Once, when I thought that a woman was about to hit her daughter, I went up to the mom and said quietly, so only she could hear, "You're all she has." It stopped her cold. I've used it as my own mantra when I was losing my temper.

EB

DEAR EB: Wow. Now it's my mantra. Thank you. (February 2005)