It’s natural for kids to have meltdowns. One sweet day in the future, your child may calmly say in the supermarket: “Excuse me, madam, I’m tired and hungry and I would like to go home now,” but …not just yet. Babies and toddlers cry when they’re upset or uncomfortable, because that’s what they do! It’s their way of letting you know that something is wrong. So the question is — if it’s common and natural for little ones to have meltdowns, why do parents and caregivers feel so ashamed when it happens in public?
For most parents, it’s the thought of being judged that makes public meltdowns feel so demeaning. This survey showed that 90% of parents feel they’ve been judged at one point or another, and nearly half said they feel judged “all the time.” Dealing with a meltdown is tough enough; adding the thought of public criticism makes it even harder.
Here are some points to keep in mind when you’re managing your next crisis in front of an audience.
You’re in Charge
There are so many different reasons for children to break down in public. Maybe they’re bored, over-stimulated, hungry, tired, uncomfortable…the list goes on and on. The only person that can solve this mystery is you. You’re the only one that can decide what your child needs at that moment in time. Many parents and caregivers say that they manage a meltdown differently in public than at home, mostly because they’re anxious about what onlookers are thinking. Remember that you’re in charge here. While you may worry what others will think if you soothe, don’t soothe, ignore, uphold a boundary, etc., do what you know works best for you and your child.
You’re Not Alone
While it might feel like your toddler is the first kid to ever have a tantrum in a restaurant, he’s not. Not by a long shot. In fact, if you mention your child’s latest public meltdown with other parents, you’ll realize you’re not the only one who has sunken under a table and begged a 2-year old to calm down. Remember that you’re not alone in these parenting shenanigans. Talk about it. Laugh about it. Forget it ever happened.
Most Onlookers Don’t Care
Dirty looks from strangers in a department store can feel like burning laser beams. And “don’t let it bother you” is easier said than done. But it’s important to note that most onlookers don’t care! They’ve got their own problems to deal with and your cranky kid is just a blip on their radar. Of course, rude people do exist. Some lack the ability to empathize with a parent attempting to soothe a crying baby. Just remember that the majority of the general public couldn’t care less about a crying baby. It may not feel that way, but it’s true.
Focus on What Matters
When parents feel judged, it’s a lot harder to manage a public meltdown in a healthy, compassionate, and effective way. It’s better to stay focused on what really matters the most: Your child! Whether you need to provide discipline, a snack, or a hug, your child takes precedence over the nosy lady in the frozen food aisle. It’s never going to be easy, but learning to let go of the background noise can be a tremendous tool in these situations.
Little ones cry, scream, and misbehave in public settings every day. Try to keep calm and carry on, wherever you are!