When My Child Has a Tantrum in Public

tantrumsI’m sitting in my car as this scene unfolds in front of me:

A young mother walks into a coffee shop with her toddler. It’s late afternoon, and she is probably going in for her caffeine fix to get her through the rest of her grueling day. Minutes later she is back outside with her now screaming toddler, no coffee in hand.  I can only imagine what went transpired inside (I’ve been there a million times!). You just want to quickly run in, grab your coffee and go. But something sets your child off….either they want one of the little treats strategically placed at their eye level, or they have thrown themselves on the floor in front of a crowd of nosy observers.

But the good news is that it seems like this mom has it under control. She has willingly given up her coffee for the more important lesson of the moment…If you are going to throw a tantrum, I am going to scoop you up and walk out.   I’m curious now, so I sit in my car wondering what she will do next. She has her child in her arms, he is wailing and violently thrashing his arms and legs. But she is totally cool and collected. A few words whispered in his ear, and nice pat on the back and then…..OH NO, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!

A total and complete stranger is walking up to her trying to talk to her child! Are you serious lady? Do you REALLY think you are going to get this child to calm down? I have always wondered what possesses people to walk up to parents in this situation. Do you think you can do better? Do you think the child is in danger? Obviously the mother is embarrassed as it is.   She knows that everyone in the coffee shop is grateful she walked out. And everyone on the sidewalk is thinking that her child is a terror. When in reality, this is a totally normal part of having a toddler. Public meltdowns are practically standard; your kid has got to have them in order for you to graduate to the next level of parenthood. You haven’t really passed the test until you learn how to handle them. Except that dealing with annoying strangers isn’t part of the deal.

And so this total stranger, who I know means well, but is totally clueless about appropriate protocol related to public tantrums, is trying to cajole the child to calm down. She even extends her arms as if the child would really consider letting go of his mother to be consoled by a stranger. And the mother is trying to be nice, but looks like she is about to lose it. And it is in those exact moments that I want to yell out “WHEN MY CHILD IS HAVING A TANTRUM IN PUBLIC, LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!!!!” Don’t get involved. Walk away. Roll your eyes if you have to, but for G-d’s sake stay out of it. Even though you may sympathize, and may even remember those humiliating moments, resist the urge to interfere. Let the parent handle it. And if you feel compelled to show your solidarity, just give a smile.

I once stood at the checkout line in the market with my crying child in the shopping cart. The cashier could not scan fast enough. I had almost made it out, just a few more minutes and I would be out of the battlefield. I could have left my cart, full of groceries, scooped up my child and walked out.  But I was so close to the finish line.  When suddenly the woman in front of me turns around and says to my child, “now now, good little boys don’t cry.” WHAT!!!??? Are you kidding me? On what planet do little boys not cry? Please tell me cuz I will be on the next shuttle there!!! Of course little boys cry, they are little and that is what they do!

And so I implore you, if you see me and my kid is having a total meltdown, LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!

Alex Signature


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