I used to judge other parents so hard when their kids threw tantrums in public. Especially if they did nothing and just let their kids be. In my mind, these parents were neglectful towards disciplining their children and inconsiderate of others around them. I would glare and hope that they could somehow telepathically hear my mental disapproval.
Why do I, an innocent bystander, have to listen to your child’s screams?! Don’t just sit there! Do something…anything to calm your little brat down!
As with many things, my perspective changed after becoming a mom. The Dumpling is now constantly testing her boundaries and has thrown her fair share of tantrums at home. It was only a matter of time before she had one in public.
It happened during out trip to Poconos on July 4th weekend. I was taking a walk by a lake with another mommy friend when the Dumpling woke up prematurely from her nap. She was inconsolable, crying with tears, sweat, and snot all over her face.
I tried my usual strategies of holding her, asking what’s wrong, and diverting her attention to something else.
“Look at the pretty color on this bottle!” I placed her sunblock bottle in the sun, which changes color when exposed to UV light.
“NO!” she screamed while flailing her arms and kicking her feet.
“Do you want to watch Elmo?” I took out my phone, which usually calms her in tough situations.
“NO! WAH! WAH! WAH!”
“Let’s go play in the water!” I pointed to the lake where other kids were playing in.
“NO! NO! NO! WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!”
Nothing worked and people began to look. If this episode had occurred at home, I would have walked away at this point and just let her cry it out. Being out in public, I felt peessured to do something…anything to stop this meltdown. I attempted to escape the scene but the Dumpling fought me tooth and nail when I tried strapping her back into the stroller. I was stuck with a howling child that I cannot calm. The more I tried to soothe her, the louder she wailed and swatted me away; it was as if my attention fed into her tantrum.
A woman walked by and commented “Aww, poor girl!” She was more sympathetic than critical. Her comment reminded me that there was an audience, but I realized that I didn’t care what strangers thought anymore.
I stood by my daughter, patted her back, and told her that it’s okay to let it all out. After several more minutes, I turned my attention from her completely and asked my friend to do the same. I started playing with my phone and pretended to walk towards something interesting. The Dumpling’s cry slowly turned into a sniffle, and she eventually reached out her arms. I picked her up and hugged her in relief. We survived her first public meltdown!
Looking back, I now understand why the parents I used to judge did what they did (or rather what they did not do). Sometimes ignoring a tantrum is the best way to deal with it. I get anxious when I’m being watched, so it’s possible that the Dumpling felt the same. I should have just “walked away” like I normally would have done at home after several failed attempts to calm and distract her. My approach shouldn’t have changed because people were watching.
When I told this story to a fellow mommy co-worker, she shared an interesting strategy of how she deals with her son’s outbursts. Whenever he acts up, she and her husband would immediately turn to whomever was affected. For example, if her son hit her, her husband would ask, “Mommy, are you okay? Did that hurt?” This method shifts the focus away from her son and towards how his actions affected others. Eventually he would feel guilty, stop crying, and give his mom a hug.
I have also come to accept that depending on the situation, it’s okay to let the Dumpling cry as long as she’s not endangering herself or others. Crying is normal for a toddler, and it may be only way she knows how to express certain feelings at this age. There are days when I let myself cry to feel better, so I should let my daughter do the same. If there was one thing I learned from watching Inside Out, it’s that repressing “bad” emotions is unhealthy. As the Dumpling matures, we can work on better ways to express them, but censoring would not be the right approach for us.
It’s only a matter of time before the Dumpling’s next meltdown, and strangers will judge me just like I have judged others in the past. If you ever see me ignoring my hysterical daughter in public, please know that this is me trying my best.