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UPDATED: I Watched A Grandma Leave A 4-Year-Old In A Mall Play Area

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My FB status: Grandma to 4-year-old boy at mall play area: ‘I’m going next door (into Sears). I’ll be back in a bit.’ Um.. what?

I was sitting in the mall play area watching my daughter play around when I over heard an older woman say this to a 4-year-old boy. And with disbelief, I watched her walk away.

If you are wondering why I didn’t immediately yell, LADY? WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITHOUT THIS LITTLE BOY, here’s what I was thinking:

1) Perhaps another parent/caretaker in the play area is also in charge of the boy.

2) Perhaps one of the older kids was his sister (the oldest in the area was probably 6 years old but maybe she’s very mature?)

3) Perhaps she was going to be within ear and eyeshot while “next door”

When I realized number 3 was clearly not coming true as she disappeared into the store, I looked around to see about numbers 2 and 1, but no one else seemed to even noticed what had happened. Then my 3-year-old needed to pee.

We went to the bathroom, which is when I popped up my FB status. I really just wanted a reality check because even though I was in the real world, no one around me seemed to be acting like it.

As I came back, the woman I thought might be friends with the grandma was leaving with the girl who was clearly not the older sister. She didn’t even glance at the boy. Numbers one and two were definitely not true. I nearly ran back to the play area because I was afraid he would just be gone and all I could hope was the grandma had gotten him while we were in the bathroom.

He was still there  playing. By this point, I was trying to figure out how to contact mall security while still watching my child. This preschooler clearly had no one look after him, and I was going to have to leave soon to pick up my oldest child. Suddenly, the child began to put on his socks and shoes and coat and said to no one in particular, I need to leave now. I walked over to the only other mom left (who was ignoring or hadn’t noticed the situation?): Should I call security? His grandma isn’t here.

She replied: Oh, well maybe she’s in the bathroom?

(For longer than my 3-year-old daughter?) but I said: No, she went into Sears.

She said: Oh.

I turned to the boy: Do you know where your grandma is? Do you know where to meet her?

His answer made no sense, which didn’t surprise me since his grandma had said “next door” when saying where she would be and told him to play here.

The other mom said: Let’s just keep him in the play area until the grandma comes back. 

While minding our own kids, we reminded him multiple times that he needed to stay and wait for his grandma. He look confused and scared and mostly stood at the entrance not playing at all. Finally, grandma ambled up the main aisle of the store and towards the play area. I was so relieved to see her, I yelled: YAY! THERE’S YOUR GRANDMA!

He went to her, and I overheard her reprimand him saying: You need to stay here until I come back.

When I got back to Facebook, I was all, Um, no Grams, YOU need to stay here until y’all are done playing. The plastic turtle and me aren’t going to watch your grandson. In fact, I had to leave to take my daughter to the bathroom during this insanity.

But in the moment, I was so overwhelmed and the experience so outside of my norm of parenting that all I could so was focus on the boy. While I believe it takes a village to raise a child and I’m glad I was there, I wasn’t even asked to look after him. In looking back even 30 minutes later, I’m not sure the other mom was right about sitting and waiting rather than contacting security. I don’t think a confrontation by me would’ve made a difference except to scare the boy and maybe the grandma and not in a productive way. But perhaps an officer could’ve taken it to the parents or explained to the grandma that he’s too young to be left alone in the mall play area.

I don’t know if I need mall security on speed dial or I should see this as a fluke. Was I suppose to be the parent police or can I just be glad I helped this child out in the moment?

Update: Many of you suggested that I should’ve called mall security. Since I can’t go back in time to call them, I thought I could at least make it easier for the another person to call security if it happened again so I contacted the mall with my story and suggested that they post the mall security number in the play area. They thought it was a great idea and are talking to the head of security now. Yay! And thanks.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

24 thoughts to “UPDATED: I Watched A Grandma Leave A 4-Year-Old In A Mall Play Area”

  1. You were this child’s guardian angel. I understand that people think we parent too closely these days, but at age 3 or 4 especially, I disagree. Children need and deserve the protection of the adults in their lives. This lady was lazy and careless and needs to think twice about it.

  2. That is just crazy to think about 🙁 I’m glad you stayed there and waited to make sure they were reconnected safely. It’s a tough call about talking to security. It seems so OBVIOUS that a 4 year old is too young to be left alone, even though you’d like to give her the benefit of some sort of doubt.

  3. Wow. I can’t believe the grandmother went shopping and left her grandson there. I mean, yeah, a 4-year-old isn’t a toddler but still. What if he hadn’t been paying attention and realized she had left? I can’t imagine how terrified he would have felt. You did the right thing by waiting and making sure someone was watching the little boy. Maybe contacting security next time would be good too.

  4. I think it’s great you kept an eye on him – I would have done the same. Definitely think getting mall security would have been good too. I’m sure you could slip into a store nearby and ask for them to call security to the play area. Because you are right, coming from you it would seem judgmental, coming from an officer, hey lady this is majorly not ok. But hopefully… hopefully… there won’t be a next time!

  5. I was shocked by your FB status and now that I think about it with the shock worn off security probably was the way to go. That way maybe the grandma would learn she can’t do that. Hindsight man. So scary.

  6. Yikes! I wonder if his grandma had told him earlier what time they needed to leave or whether he just wanted to leave, and whether he would have gone off on his own if you hadn’t been there. That is scary. Waiting with him was the right thing to do- I agree that calling security would probably be good too- I don’t know how she thinks it’s acceptable to leave a 4-year-old alone but I think someone in authority should tell her it’s not. Thanks for sharing- it’s definitely a situation where I’d freeze up but now I’ve thought about it so hopefully I’ll be able to handle something like this if it comes up.

  7. Some people really do not understand what could happen to their children or grandchildren when they leave them alone. I spent too much time with inmates who waited for people to do what this lady did, and then swoop in and harm their children or grandchildren. I don’t know that I would call security, but I would have done as you did and stay with the baby until she came back. Some people are just oblivious.

  8. I think of it this way: if I happened upon the play area and saw a 4 year old there on his own, I would have called security. And I would have stayed until security and/or the caregiver showed up.

    The fact you witnessed her leaving doesn’t make the fact she left ok, and someone needs to tell her that. It’s likely against the mall rules that children are left in the play area unattended.

    She probably does this often enough that what if next time there wasn’t a kind, observant mom hanging out in the play area? What if the boy was alone and he had to pee, and left the area and got lost? I know we could “what if” all day long, but ultimately, I think you should have called security for your protection as well as the boy’s.

    But your choice, making a plan with the other mom and keeping an eye on him wasn’t wrong. You just deserved back-up of your own.

    GMa was lucky you were there. But the little boy was luckier.

  9. I appreciate all your feedback and comments. I did my best at the time; however, today, I wrote the mall about adding the mall security number to the play area. I can’t go back and call security, but I can make it easier for the next family to involve the authorities.

  10. Wow- it never fails to amaze me how crappy of parents/grandparents can be in some cases. What would’ve happened if you weren’t there and no one else was paying attention and then some creepy dude came by and offered the kid some candy. Just a month ago, here in the denver area we had a 10 y/o girl abducted and killed, just as she was walking to school in the morning. So sad…

  11. What the hell was that lady thinking. I’m so glad that you were there. Can you just imagine if someone just came by and swiped him up. I would have called the police. Who knows what else this woman does.

  12. These moments are so tricky. I never know what to do either. At least you know the boy was reunited with his Grandma. Having a number to call security will be helpful for next time. They probably need to post signs saying nobody under a certain age can be left alone. It’s so weird when people do things like this. I think that is why it feels so complicated. Part of your brain gets stuck in disbelief and when everyone else is acting like it is normal you start to doubt your own concerns.

  13. I can not even imagine leaving a child that small alone in the play area like that. That child was blessed that you were there.

    Love your update. Hopefully they will post the number – and hopefully seeing it there will make any parents/caregivers question any thoughts they might have of leaving their child unattended.

  14. I am glad you called the mall. Now, even if there are not conscientious (sp?) parents available the security guards might be able to pull the next inattentive person aside before they leave their child alone to be grabbed by the nearest kidnapper.

  15. These situations, especially with a Grandma, always leave me flummoxed. Obviously this isn’t the right idea now, but would it have been 30 years ago? Forty? Would there have been a problem with allowing her child to play alone outdoors while she ran over to the neighbors? Today? back when she was raising her children? Sometimes I worry about the cultural differences from generation to generation, because this often comes into play. I think about this type of thing a lot.

    That being said, I saw a sleeping baby locked in a hot car alone one day in a parking lot. It took my three seconds to dial 911. The police came and broke out the window before the mom returned. I have no guilt about that one!

  16. Wow. Everyone is so ready to jump on the bandwagon and condemn. You really know very little about her situation and yet all feel entirely entitled to judge.

    I’m glad you didn’t call Mall security.

    I am more appalled at the self righteousness I see aired here than any significant negligence on the part of grandma. Thanks for allowing me to share my two cents….

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