If you are a parent, at some point you have probably had to manage your child having a total meltdown in public. Maybe when you refuse to purchase every toy in the toy store? Or when you say "no" to the candy in the checkout line? How about when it's time to leave the park or the swimming pool? Or when your child is tired and cranky and has to wait for you to finish your errands?
Rest assured that you are not alone! These are challenging moments faced by most parents at some point! And, if you have been faced with these moments, you have likely also been faced with bystanders who stare, roll their eyes, huff and puff, comment, or even attempt to get involved. These people take an already stressful and emotional experience and exacerbate it. These bystanders may make you doubt yourself, question your parenting, or feel unwelcome, inadequate, and judged. Of course these feelings, paired with your child's emotional meltdown, create a situation that can make it nearly impossible for you to think clearly and respond appropriately to your child.
So, for all of those bystanding eye-rollers out there, we write this post for you, on behalf of our tantrum-tackling parents! The next time you see a child having a tantrum in public (and a parent attempting to work through it), we encourage you to consider these points:
- Remember that a child is a child. It sounds obvious, right? But really, children are not fully-developed adults and we must remember that we cannot treat them as though they are. We cannot expect children to behave like grown ups all the time. Children's brains and bodies are still developing and they are still learning social norms, acceptable behavior, self-regulation skills, and coping strategies. These skills are developed through every day learning opportunities, which will sometimes occur in the grocery store, at the park, or in a restaurant. All of us were children once and all of us had to learn these skills--and certainly all of us had a tantrum or two in the process! Those tantrums are learning moments. Recognize that the screaming child a few rows behind you is exactly that--a child.
- Children typically do not tantrum when they are given exactly what they want. So, if a child is having a tantrum, it is likely because the parent has not given the child what he wants. Rather than becoming irritated and assuming that the child is poorly behaved and that the parent is inadequate, try assuming that the parent is working to teach her child appropriate behavior. That tantrum may actually be occurring because the parent is perfectly adequate and doing exactly the right thing. Tantrums do not equal bad parenting. To the contrary, tantrums are often a result of good parenting and limit-setting. Instead of passing judgement, consider respecting that parent for staying strong through the child's meltdown. It's not an easy thing to do (especially in public) but that parent is sticking it out to help her child learn appropriate limits and behavior. So, let's hold the judgement and have some respect instead.
- Think about how you would feel if in a challenging and emotional moment, you had a crowd of strangers passing judgement on your every move. When we are under stressful circumstances, it can be difficult to think clearly and make sound decisions. That becomes even more difficult when we feel the pressure of watchful eyes! Before you stare, comment, or roll your eyes, consider that you do not know enough about the situation to have a truly informed opinion about it. And, even if you did, eye-rolling or heavy breathing is not a helpful expression of that. All it will accomplish is providing the child with attention while he is tantrumming and piling even more stress on the shoulders of a parent who is already in a stressful situation. Remember when your parents told you that if you don't have anything nice to say to not say anything at all? Well, we agree!
- As long as we are on the topic of lessons our parents taught us, also take a moment to remember the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated, right? Think about the times in your life that you have been stressed, tired, confused, or insecure. Now imagine how it would feel if someone kicked you when you were down. By judging or criticizing parents who are working through a meltdown, that's exactly what we are doing. Instead, think about how you would like others to treat you in your vulnerable moments. Rather than rolling our eyes, let's try to offer a smile, a thumbs up, or an encouraging word. Or, if nothing else, just walk right on by and don't do anything. But, for goodness sake, let's not make it worse! That parent is trying to help her child learn--doesn't she deserve our support?
They say it takes a village to raise a child. We say it takes a support system. We are all a part of the village--but are we all a part of the support system? That's a choice that each of us has. Are we going to build others up or tear them down? We hope that the next time you see a parent struggling to work through her child's tantrum, that you will choose to offer support rather than judgement.
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