Tolerance needed for troublesome toddlers

Wan Lixin
A recent incident of a young female passenger becoming irate at a toddler's crying on a bullet train, had many on social media criticizing the woman, not the child or parents.
Wan Lixin

Noisy children on bullet trains are a nuisance that can escalate into an altercation between the parents and other passengers.

One stock narrative runs like this: a disturbed passenger takes issue with the children's parents, but only gets a rebuttal.

A confrontation ensues, with accusations exchanged between the passenger and the parents, and when video of the incident is posted online, overwhelming sympathy goes to upset passenger, with many moralizing about how an unruly child is a product of all-too-lax parents.

However, a recent incident of this kind, after becoming an online sensation, did not garner the upset passenger the kind of sympathy she craved. On the contrary, the self-styled victim was the one viewed in a negative light, with some accusing her of being a psychopath, or a case of retarded growth.

In the incident on August 18, a 2-year-old had been crying on a bullet train in Hunan for about five minutes, and a young woman flew off the handle, and got into an intense quarrel with the parents. When the video clip was posted online, it became one of the trending topics on Weibo.

Except that this time, the woman passenger did not receive the online support she had assumed.

The crux of the matter was the age of the child, and the fact that the "at-fault" parents had been trying to calm the toddler, without much success.

The video clip shows the woman standing beside the family, shouting that the child shut up. "What is he crying for? Can't he be calmed down, and shut up? Aren't you his dad, or is he adopted?", the angry passenger demanded.

Ironically, the child had become quiet, apparently shocked by the tirade of complaints.

When I asked two expatriates in Shanghai how they would respond in a similar situation, their replies were worthy of reflection.

"Being the father of four kids, ambient sounds hardly ever bother me," said one. "I am perfectly capable of concentrating on my reading and eliminating background noises, if any." When pressed further on how he would respond to a 5-year-old kicking the back of his seat for five minutes, his reply was equally enlightening. He had encountered such an incident on a plane. "I did not think that arguing with the little tyke or his parents would be advisable so I got the stewardess to handle it," he said.

The other expat was equally sympathetic to the parents.

"If you can help, help out. If you cannot, just bear it," he said, adding, "If I have any gifts or chocolates or anything, I will share them."

He said that shouting on phones in public places is an issue, but not crying children.

In public places, parents have an obligation to try to keep children old enough to do their bidding under control, and it is advisable for parents to teach principles governing public behavior as early as they can.

But in the case of a child not yet amenable to such admonitions, let's live with the chaos, remembering that once we were all in a similar stage of recalcitrance, probably to the chagrin of our parents.

A recent survey of 1,501 people by the China Youth Journal on noisy and frolicking children on bullet trains during the summer holidays showed that 79 percent of respondents believed that parents should put their kids in restraints so as to minimize their impact on other travelers. About 45 percent also pleaded tolerance for infants and toddlers, who are programmed to be noisy at a certain stage.

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