Why my visit to the playground ended with a phone call to police

"I wanted the children to know they were not alone."
"I wanted the children to know they were not alone." Photo: Shutterstock

As I parked the car at our local playground, I noticed an older man shouting at two young children – a boy aged between seven and nine and a girl about five-years-old.

Suddenly, he gripped onto the girl's ponytail and yanked it. The boy said something, then the man reached out and slapped him across the face.

It all happened so quickly. I was stunned. My children stared on wide-eyed.

We got out of the car and made our way towards them. I wanted to go straight over and tell the man it was not okay to hit a child, but he was much bigger than me and I didn't want to make him more agitated in front of the kids. So, I didn't approach him.

To be honest I was frightened.

I feel ashamed I didn't speak up right then, to let those kids know what the man did to them was not right.

To let them know they weren't alone.

Instead, I did nothing. Okay, that's not entirely true – as he bundled the now-sobbing kids into the car - I took a photo of his number plate.

As I passed a table of other mums, also with their children I commented how what he did was wrong. They too looked shocked and we agreed that his behaviour was unacceptable, but you could tell we were all unsure how to act under the circumstances. Was he just having a bad day?

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I took the kids for a walk around the playground and we discussed what had happened and I reminded them that if anyone ever hit them they were to tell me straight away.

As I made my way back to the car, I felt increasingly uneasy. I felt like a coward, like I'd let those kids down.

I approached the other mums again and told them I had a photo of his number plate. They had also done the same thing. We talked about how if the man felt okay behaving like that while in public imagine what he did while at home.

Should we call the police?

Yet, still I felt uncomfortable. I did not know why he reacted with such force. I did not want to make a judgment call. I also did not want to have the kids to be in a position where police came to their home. I did not want them to be scared.

We all exchanged numbers and then I took my kids home.

Yet, still I felt uncomfortable.

What if he'd done this many times before? What if he was a foster carer or was under investigation? What if he was their grandfather and their parents had no idea he hit them?

I talked to my husband and asked my friends on Facebook what they would do. I'm not sure why I felt it so important to get advice. It felt like a big deal to me, ratting on someone, even though I knew in my gut what I had to do.

And then someone said to me what if he was doing that to another grown-up – to a woman. Would you call the police then? And yes, I would, without hesitating.

I immediately felt sick to my stomach and picked up the phone and called the police.

I told them everything I saw.

They told me they'd do a welfare check on the children. I'll never know the outcome, but I hope with all my heart this never happens to them again. I hope I haven't in some way made it worse for them - that's my biggest fear.

I hope they have someone in their corner. Someone who will hug them tight and let them know that they are loved. That it's never okay to hit a child. That's it never okay to hit anyone.

I hope they're not scared anymore.

I'm not sure if I did the right thing. I feel like I did. I think that's why I feel so sick.

It takes a village to raise a child. We must be their village.

The author of this article chose to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.