A number of readers were as troubled as I was when they read the account of a woman hitting a 3-year-old child on a Red Line subway car (Dr. Gridlock, Nov. 22). The author of that letter, Frank Leone, reported that no passengers took any action, although some were clearly troubled. He asked what others would have done in that situation. Some responses:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Frankly, I'm shocked at the response of the people on that train. Children are among our most vulnerable citizens. And they are our future. We all need to be ready to help them when they're in danger.

I wonder what people would have done if the person being hit was a frail senior citizen? Or a dog?

Jim Laurenson

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The story of the abusive mother on the Metro disturbed me, too. I could barely read it. Hopefully someone will have the courage to save a child the next time.

Yes, step forward. Remove the child if possible and go to the police, or Metro official. I feel very strongly about intervening when you see a child in danger.

Harise Poland


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Touching the child is not a good idea. I suggest that the person calmly tell the woman that if she hits the child again, she would immediately be turned in to Metro police.

Errol Waits


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Kneel by the woman and begin to recite the Lord's Prayer in a voice all can hear. I'm betting many would join in, and I'm betting the mother would find it impossible to hit her child while being prayed over.

Cathy Johnson

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The only things I could think of would be to use my cellular phone to call police, or hit the emergency button at the end of the car--anything to draw attention to this woman.

Meredith L. Walker

Silver Spring

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I'd like to think that if the child's head had begun bleeding from the beating that someone would have stepped forward and offered assistance. However, from what I see on Metro these days, passengers are all too willing to close their eyes and hope the problem solves itself.

Cammie Backus


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I agree that the woman should have been separated from the child. So how about another female doing the intervention? There are just some situations where a woman is less threatening than a man. This appears to be one of them.

A woman could have begun talking with the children, asking their names, where they were going, where they lived. She could have offered to hold the youngest child in her lap.

If a confrontation ensued, that is when she should ask the older children for an address or telephone number so she could pass the information on to social services where the family lives.

Lisa Gentry


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On a business trip to Atlanta, a woman passenger next to me on the MARTA system began berating a 2-year-old in a stroller. She threatened to strike him, with sharp words and menacing gestures.

I spoke to her by commenting on how children can cause us to get frustrated. I went on to say that I, as a mother of a 16-month-old, know how much toddlers hate to sit in strollers. Instead of an angry retort, the woman actually responded in a somewhat friendly tone.

I took the opportunity to share with her how honored I feel we are to have children in our lives. I told her I had my daughter "a little late in life," and how blessed I feel.

In sharing in this non-confrontational way, I learned from the woman that she was the toddler's grandmother and that she was baby-sitting for the day. By the time we reached the airport, the woman's mood had changed and she was saying positive things about the baby.

What I would like to share from my experience is that it costs nothing to talk to someone and provide a little compassion. Stress is a fact of life, and some people manage theirs better than others. Some take it out in cars against other drivers, some take it out on their spouses and some take it out on their children.

This is what I tried to convey to that grandmother in five minutes that day: Have reverence for children.

Wallie Mason


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

As a foster care provider, I am all too familiar with the emotional damage this woman was doing to her children. By watching, and doing nothing to intervene, her children learn that it was okay for Mom to shout ugly words and hit them.

Had I been on board, I would have called the train operator from the intercom and asked that the police meet us at the next station. I also would have confronted her to distract her from the children and give her a target her own size to vent her rage on.

Recently, I was in the checkout line at the grocery store when the woman ahead of me started poking a 5-year-old with her cane.

She yelled at the child for picking up some candy that was displayed at a child's eye level. Even after the child put the candy back, this woman continued to poke her with the cane.

The clerk looked horrified and tried to ring up the sale as quickly as possible.

I grabbed the woman's cane away from her. I asked the clerk to call the store police and the manager. When they arrived, I informed them that the woman was committing assault with a weapon as well as criminal child abuse.

The woman looked quite shocked when the police arrived. Maybe this will be a turning point for her.

Linda Ward

Fort Washington

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with concern your Nov. 22 column and would appreciate an opportunity to offer additional advice.

It can be very uncomfortable to watch the mistreatment of a child by an adult who has lost control. Studies indicate that child abuse is often witnessed, as it was that day on Metro, but frequently ignored. Fortunately there are things that can be done, in addition to what you mentioned in your column, to help neutralize such situations.

* Start a conversation with the mother to direct attention away from the child. For example: "She seems to be trying your patience," "My child has gotten upset like this, too," and "Children can wear you out, can't they?" "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Divert the child's attention (if misbehaving) by talking to the child.

* Look for an opportunity to praise the parent or child.

* If the child is in danger, offer assistance.

* Avoid negative remarks or looks. These reactions are likely to increase the parent's anger and could make matters worse.

At the first opportunity, contact the authorities. In this instance, as you indicated, Metro police should have been contacted. If possible, make sure they report the matter to child protective services.

I hope this information will help all of us respond more effectively when we encounter child abuse or neglect in a public space.

Diane Charles

Executive Director

Stop Child Abuse Now


For more information on what you can do to protect children, contact Leila Smith, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse of Metropolitan Washington, at 202-223-0020.

To report child abuse or neglect in the District of Columbia, call 202-671-SAFE, Ernestine F. Jones, general receiver, D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.

Riddle Me This Here is this month's license plate riddle, submitted by Mike Hughes, of Alexandria:

What kind of car displays the license plate HARK?

The answer will appear in the Dr. Gridlock column of Dec. 20.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.