Modern parenting is hard work. We are all trying so hard to not only keep our kids alive but to make sure their psychological scars are kept to a minimum. Apart from maybe night-parenting, one of the most stressful situations can be parenting in public. Particularly during a meltdown.
To avoid these situations you may have heard never take a tired/hungry/sick kid to the supermarket. Or bring some healthy snacks or a toy to keep them occupied. Make sure you’ve met all their needs before taking them anywhere. Then there’s the real world where you may or may not have actually ticked all those boxes and then it strikes… the public tantrum!!
There a couple of tips I will start with right off the bat:
1. Children under 3 have little to no impulse control (this is only considered “mostly developed” by age 16). So they act purely from cause and effect, learning and development or testing boundaries and limits. Remembering this certainly helped me to stay calm in the moment.
2. “Tantrums”/”Meltdowns” are actually an “emotional release” for kids which is a good thing. Those massive feelings need to come out and the more you work on lovingly supporting the release of big feelings (by cuddling and empathising or simply saying things like “Let it all out…” or “I know it’s really hard…”). The more your children let those feelings out with loving support, the less you will see those massive meltdowns. Welcoming these upsets at home when you have the time, patience and presence will also mean less chance of public occurrence.
But we are in the real world once more and no matter how much of a superstar you are, it has happened. There you are in a public place and you are suddenly THAT person. Your kid is THAT kid! What to do?:
1. Stop, Drop and Breathe.
Not literally (although, I certainly think that would divert your child’s attention). This is the technique of one of my favourite parenting gurus, Dr Laura Markham (of www.ahaparenting.com):
STOP: What you are doing
DROP: Your agenda i.e. Self-talk such as “He should know better than this!”, “She is being a little brat!” or it may be needing to get a, b and c done before a certain timeframe. Just for a moment let go of whatever is in the forefront of your mind and
BREATHE: Take 5 or 10 deep breaths until your central nervous system has time to calm.
2. Say your mantra to yourself
Some great ones are:
“This is not an emergency”
“My child isn’t a problem, my child is having a problem”
“This too shall pass”
“I am safe”
By now you are hopefully in a state of calm (if not, you may want to go to number 4 first) and you understand that this is not about what you did or didn’t do. Your child is in what is (to a child) a high-stress situation and they have just been triggered to offload and they need to offload (by virtue of the fact that they are) and they need your help.
They need your loving reassurance that these overwhelming feelings are ok and that you will always keep them safe. These feelings may or may not be directly related to the moment. Children use a release as jumping off point to sort through all kinds of hurt, they may be immediate or something immediate has allowed them to get out the gunk from a past hurt. The point is, they need this. So cuddle them if they will let you. If not just empathise verbally: “I know… you really want that expensive egg they always put at your level”* or “I know, you really wanted me to say yes…” or wish fulfillment: “When you’re older you will buy all the things, won’t you?” and just let them do what they have to do.
Taking them out somewhere you will feel comfortable that you are not being watched may help but sometimes it just isn’t possible.
4. Look for the reassurance
I strongly urge you to try and free yourself of the concern of other people’s judgment but again, it’s easier said than done so when horror strikes have a look around and find the comforting smile, the “I’ve been there” shrug and ignore any looks of contempt and judgment and remind yourself that some day they will be in your shoes or that there are things in their life they will miss.
There’s a viral meme going around showing even Princesses have these struggles!
This has happened to me many times and at first I found it terrifying and there have been more times than hemhemm proud of when I have ended up displaying my worst parenting in trying to please people I don’t even know. That’s the thing. We don’t have a responsibility to them, we owe them nothing. So stand tall, stand firm and give your children what they need regardless of whom you think might be watching. You’ll find the result is much better that way!
* There are countries in the world where it is illegal to market to children or adolescents which makes those displays that are the cause of 80% of our kid’s meltdowns all the more abhorrent!