Should We Intervene When a Parent Disciplines a Child in Public?

“A woman in a Walmart in Texas last week who took photos of a man pushing a shopping cart with his daughter’s hair wrapped around its handle helped touch off a debate about when, or if, a bystander should intervene when a parent harshly disciplines a child in public. The woman, Erika Burch, was with her husband, Robert when they spotted the girl walking extremely close to the cart. Her head was leaning at an odd angle as the man dragged her alongside the cart by her hair. Mr. Burch, 44, said the girl, who the police said was 5, was crying.” C. Mele, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key



Excerpt: Should You Intervene When a Parent Harshly Disciplines a Child in Public? By Christopher Mele, NYT

“Ms. Burch, intervened. She said she spoke to the man three times to try to get him to stop, each time raising her voice. Ms. Burch said the man told her, I grew up just fine, and began cursing at her. She called 911, and a police officer who was in the store about a shoplifting case was there within minutes. On its Facebook page, the Cleveland Police Department said a joint investigation was underway with Child Protective Services.



Witnesses were interviewed and reports were taken, the police chief, Darrel Broussard, said in an email. We do not condone the father’s actions in this incident, but we must gather all the facts and evidence, he wrote, adding that the father let go of the girl’s hair pretty quickly. No charges have been filed, and the man was not identified by the police. The chief said that many intervention plans were in place and that the child was doing great.



It was only after she intervened at the store, she said, that other shoppers thanked her. She said some people later sent her Facebook messages that the couple, who have four children, ages 2 to 7, should have minded their own business.

But Mr. Burch said the circumstances demanded action. This is what is wrong with America today… Everybody’s too scared to get involved anymore.

Chris Newlin, executive director of the National Children’s Advocacy Center, said people commonly call 911 if they see a fire or a crash, so why should cases of child endangerment be different?

If someone is being abusive to a child in public, just imagine what happens behind closed doors, he said in an email. 



Other experts cautioned that involving the authorities right away might cause the situation to escalate.

Ms. Burch said the thought crossed her mind that the man in Walmart might have a gun. She said that she watched closely for any sudden movements, but that she would not relent.

If you believe a child is truly being hurt or assaulted, you do need to step in and do something about it…In that case, be very firm with the parent, but if that person confronts you, alert a security guard or the police immediately.You have to be safe yourself.

Try to stay calm.

Try to stay calm.

Some states have good Samaritan laws that protect those who intervene from civil claims if they acted in good faith.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic


II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. We do not condone the father’s actions.
  2. The woman felt it was right to intervene.
  3. Police gathered all of the facts and evidence.
  4. There have been forensic interviews conducted with child services.
  5. Witnesses were interviewed and reports were taken.
  6. No charges have been filed.
  7. Some experts feel intervening might  cause the situation to escalate.
  8. If you believe a child is being hurt or assaulted you do need to do something about it.
  9. Are we legally obligated to intervene?
  10. Avoid being angry, stern or confrontational.
Vocabulary Cluster By

Vocabulary Cluster By

Reading Comprehension

Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

If you see/sea something, say something. Do knot/not wait for the situation/situate to deteriorate/desperate before getting involved. If you wait for something to get worse/worsen before doing anything, it definitely can get worse and then it becomes harder to connect and be of help. You may feel guilt/guilty that you may be getting that parent in trouble, or that you may be making a mistake/mistook and misinterpreting the situation. However, think about how interaction/inaction can lead to the injury, danger or death to the child. Now think about that guilt/guild.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. The parent might be frustrate or having a bad day.
  2. You do need to acknowledge the right of parents to discipline.
  3. You do need to be very firm with the parent.


  1. You have to be safe yourself.
  2. We do not as a society criminalize a failure to report a crime.
  3. Some states has good Samaritan laws.


  1. You should be warm, friendly and concerned.
  2. Collect yourself before you talk and withhold judgment.
  3. Speak in a even and soft tone.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Main Idea / Debate

Directions: Divide students into  two teams for this debate. Both teams can use the article  as their source of information or sources from the Web.

When a Parent Harshly Disciplines a Child in Public Should We Intervene?

Team A will list five reasons for intervening.

Team B will list  five reasons against intervening.

Each team will have time to state their points of view,  and the teacher decides which team made their points.  

For organization, have students use this great Pros and Cons Scale organizer  from Freeology!

Pros and Cons Scale


Category: Social Issues