When Your Child Throws a Fit…Chasing Supermom’s Survival Guide
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that I know I’m not the only mom to have ever been fairly terrified to leave the house….No, not because I’m scared of all the evils in the world…simply because I’m worried I won’t be able to manage all of my children in public at the same time. You with me ladies? We’ve all seen that mom at the store….the one dragging the screaming child through the grocery aisles….or the mom that has the kid that won’t stop running and hiding in the clothing carousels at the mall? None of us envy her….Deep down, that mom reveals to us one of our deepest fears…that we will become her.
Now, while I have been spared from full-blown tantrums, I am not too proud to say that on occasion, I’ve had to deal with a fit or two in public. It’s not fun, but it is something that most moms will have to deal with at some point. I thought it might be a good idea to share a few tips on how to handle a public meltdown.
1. STAY CALM. I heard Rudy Giuliani say in an interview that the calmest person in the room during a crisis is the one who stays alive. I believe this is a bit of universal truth. Whatever your child is doing…don’t join them. This may sound ridiculous, as I don’t know too many thirty year old women who would throw themselves on the ground over a package of Oreos, BUT, if your child is freaking out, and YOU start to freak out too….just watch…the situation WILL escalate. (And more people will stare at you.) Calmly handle the situation. Don’t start to yell. Don’t panic. YOU are in control.
2. RECOGNIZE THAT THE PEOPLE WHO ARE STARING, ARE STRANGERS. They will never see you again. Two minutes from now, they will not remember you. You are a tiny blurb on their radar. They are focused on their own life, and their own problems. At best, you are a minor distraction for several minutes. Trust me, they will not remember and they probably don’t really care.
3. FORGET ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO DO CARE: I used to live in complete fear of strangers when out with the kids.At restaurants if one of our kids would even speak in a normal voice, I’d feel like everyone sitting around us was sending hateful thoughts in our direction. I was VERY mindful of every dirty look, every glare, and every communicated irritation that had to do with another person and my children in public. There are always going to be people who expect your children to sit without speaking at the restaurant. There are people who expect your children to walk in a straight as an arrow line behind your cart at the grocery store (and heaven forbid if they stand in the way of their cart for half a second!) There are the awful judgmental people that will stare you down like you are the devil if you discipline your child in public. (I once got the dirtiest look ever for putting my daughter in time-out in the middle of a store.) Forget them. You are doing the best you can and children are not robots..they’re real people with fully functioning free wills. Remember that the person getting themselves all in a tizzy over your child singing a song as you walk through the store is a grown-up with very little self-control. They probably don’t have children and don’t understand what it is like to be a parent. Let them be grumpy, and refer back to #2. It’s just a stranger…a grumpy and judgy stranger….but a stranger nonetheless.
4. BE CONSISTENT. If a fit or an outburst would warrant a time-out in your home, use a time-out in public. I’ve given my children time-outs on curbs, in grocery store aisle, benches….If you allow the behavior to happen while you are in public, they will very quickly learn that the rules are different out of the house, and most likely, will take advantage of it. Don’t put up with it at the store if you wouldn’t put up with it at home.
5. DO NOT CATCH YOUR FLIES WITH HONEY. I see this one ALL the time. I always want to ask the mother if she realizes what she’s just done, but have learned to hold my tongue and let people parent as they see fit. However, here is my advice…If your child is throwing a fit at the store, DO NOT bribe them with something. I have heard SO many parents say things like, “If you stop throwing your fit, we’ll go get an ice cream.” or “You can pick out any hot wheels you like if you get off the floor and stop whining.” REALLY?! You’ve just taught your child that naughty behavior earns rewards. That kid has just learned that if they want popcorn at Target, all they have to do is throw a fit. Think about the repercussions of the bribe, and decide if it is worth it to you….
6. REWARD POSITIVE BEHAVIOR. I’ll admit it. I love to reward my kids. I think it is fun to make them happy. However, I always try to back-up the reward with a solid reason….they need to EARN it. For example, yesterday I took my kids to the library. They were both AWESOME. Since they did such a great job, I praised them for being so quiet, so respectful, so patient, etc, and then took them to the local bakery. If they had been loud or whiny at the library, we would have gone home. From the scenario above, if you really want to get your child the ice cream, the hot wheels, or the popcorn, wait until they’ve had an awesome trip to the store. At the end, be very specific and direct about what they did right, and then let them know that they are earning a treat for their good behavior. (It might be a good idea to let them know that they will NOT be receiving a treat EVERY time, as this is likely to turn into a problem. (Example- “But I didn’t fuss at the store! Why aren’t you getting me an ice cream?!” And then you have a whole new behavior to deal with.)
7. RECOGNIZE THAT SOMETIMES YOU”LL BE DISAPPOINTED. This one is hard for me. As a stay at home mom, I look forward to outings. There are days when an outing for me consists of walking to the mailbox. The store, the zoo, the museum…these are big deals for a stay at home mama. Sometimes, moms will put up with awful behavior in public because THEY don’t want to miss out on the experience at hand. (even if the kid does NOT deserve it.) You have to follow through and stick to your guns. If you tell your child they can only go to the movie if they clean their room without fussing, and they throw a fit..DON”T GO. If you’re having a blast browsing the aisle of Kohls and your child has a tantrum…LEAVE. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice the moment/day of fun for the lifetime of better behavior.
Remember that you’re in control. You can stay calm. The other people around you don’t matter. All that matters is you and your child, and the type of behavior you want for your child in the long run. Who do you want them to grow up to be? How will your reaction to their fit shape them? And maybe most importantly for you to remember as a mother when your child decides to have a fit in public….Your child’s actions do NOT make YOU a bad mother. Kids have free will, and all children will act out. Even the very best parents will raise kids that sometimes decide to make a bad choice. You are not failing. You are doing your best. Keep going. Stay strong.