Modern life ensures that we encounter all types of people when we're out-and-about in public. And, much to the dismay of some, that will occasionally include children. Sometimes those children will be well-behaved. Sometimes those children will not. And sometimes those children will be in the middle of an all-out tantrum. It has come to my attention in the past few weeks that people feel an urgent need to DO something when they encounter a tantrum. And most of those people do things that are actually counterproductive. So I thought that I'd create a quick cheat-sheet to share with those well-intentioned people who aren't sure what to do.
Let's start with what NOT to do:
1. Do NOT come over to inform the mother that her child is being annoying. I guarantee that she already knows this. Especially don't do this if the mother is pregnant with an additional child. Your chances are good that you'll end up with a bloody nose. A large belly may make her move slower, but carrying small children will give her a strong left hook. Just back away.
2. Do NOT ask the mother to "Do Something" about the screaming. If there was a magic switch to make it stop, she would have used it already.
3. Do NOT inform the mother that the tantrumming child is "in the way". For pete's sake, just walk around. Get over yourself.
4. Do NOT offer the tantrumming child a cookie. This is the equivalent of giving someone an additional cash prize for robbing the bank. It's totally the wrong response. And may even encourage future repetitions of the current behavior. And see #1 about getting a bloody nose.
5. Do NOT offer the tantrumming child a sticker. See #4. You're not being helpful. You're just antagonizing the mother.
Here's what you CAN do:
1. DO IGNORE IT! Chances are good that the child's doing it for attention, or just experimenting with boundaries. Providing a visible response may encourage the child to tantrum more often, just for fun. Please, don't torment the mother any further. Just keep walking.
Ok, so some people are incapable of ignoring the situation, and really must DO something. It's their personality type, and they just can't help it. Ok, fine. Here are some other options:
2. DO give the mom a smile. You can even say, "Hang in there!" If you have no other reason to stop, just keep going. It's an interaction that might make her feel less judged. Being the mother of a public tantrummer can be a cringe-inducing situation to make even the most stalwart of disciplinarians doubt herself.
3. DO commiserate, only if appropriate. "Oh, my oldest was such a screamer. Ugh, she knew how to push my buttons. She mostly grew out of it." This is appropriate to say, if true. It also might give the mother a chance to chat if she really wants to demonstrate to her child that she's ignoring the situation. It also draws attention to the big picture, that children do grow out of it. In the moment, it can be difficult to remember this.
4. MAYBE consider a light-hearted compliment, if you can make it humorous. "Whew, she's got some lungs. I see American Idol in her future. Can I treat you to a set of earplugs in the meantime?" The mother might need a moment of levity. Or even just something to hear that people aren't judging her for having a lack of control over her child. And maybe she really would love some earplugs.
5. MAYBE offer the mother candy or a sticker OUT OF VIEW of the child. "Would this at all be helpful?" Let the mom decide what her child gets. It's likely that her parenting and discipline philosophy is different from yours. As much as you might want to help, it's best to let her handle the situation HER way. Because it's HER child.
So if you have childless friends, consider sharing this list with them. And if you do have children, tell me, what's missing from this list?