How to act when you see a child having a tantrum

I get it, kids can be annoying, and kids throwing fits in public can stir up some nasty thoughts about why children should all exist in their own universe. I am not one of those moms who thinks her children are perfect. I didn’t even like kids all that much until I had my own. I too can’t stand when a crying child disrupts my lunch.

However, as a parent of an often willful child, I am often caught in the middle of a meltdown. When this happens, all I want is for it to end as quickly as possible and to not feel like an awful person for not keeping my kid in check.

You can be the difference between a parent feeling defeated and feeling supported. Just follow these simple rules for when you see a child having a temper tantrum.

Don’t assume that because a child is a certain age, she should behave a certain way. Very young babies seem to (barely) get a pass from crying in public, because people generally understand that they have no control over their behavior. However, behaving in public is a challenge for many children, especially those with Autism and other neurological conditions, which may not be obvious to the casual observer. These parents have to fight off nasty stares and comments all the time. Don’t be another asshole who ruins their day.

Don’t make some snide comment about the parents or child (especially the child) under your breath, but still loud enough for them to hear. Yeah, we know you really want us to hear you curse us out because we ruined your lunch at IHOP.

Don’t use it as an opportunity to lecture the parents on their poor child-rearing skills. They are trying to diffuse the situation and the last thing they need is to be berated by a random stranger.

Don’t comment on how if it were your kid, you would never let them act like that. If you say things like that you either a) don’t have kids b) are a new parent and have yet to deal with tantrums or c) are just a condescending know-it-all.

Don’t stare. There are few things worse than feeling a bunch of judgemental eyes on you as you try to diffuse the situation.

Don’t assume the parents aren’t doing anything if they aren’t actively trying to stop the tantrum. Sometimes the best way to deal with a tantrum is to ignore it. While not always ideal in a public setting, if that’s what works best for their child, some parents may choose to not engage in their child’s behavior. This doesn’t mean they are self-absorbed jerks who think their children are perfect snowflakes.

Don’t shame the family on social media. This shouldn’t have to be said, but apparently a stranger’s privacy is no longer sacred. If you take the time to post pictures or call out a stranger on Facebook really need your head examined.

Do take a moment to think about what those parents might be going through. Putting yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would feel if you had everyone judging your family. Even if you just think, “I’m glad I’m not them,” at least you would have a little empathy.

Do remind them that your own kids had tantrums and you understand how hard it can be. As a parent of very young children, I am always comforted when someone assures me that it does get better.

Do understand that a poorly behaved child isn’t necessarily a product of bad parenting. We all know adults who seem to anger easily, while others are much calmer. Like adults, children come with a variety of temperaments. Some have a better time handling tough situations than others.

Do offer to help if you are able. If you see a parent struggling with a screaming child and a shopping cart full of groceries, do her a solid and offer some assistance. This can be anything from watching the shopping cart while she deals with her child to putting groceries up on the register conveyor belt.

Do be kind. I know it can be hard to not get frustrated with kids. I have certainly had moments I am not proud of. This post is directed at myself and my fellow parents as well as those without kids. Let’s cut one another some slack.

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