Recently a Mommyish colleague shared a story about a mother who yelled at her on the street for trying to talk to her daughter while in the middle of a tantrum. While the mom was surely stressed out, yelling is probably not the best way to respond to an offer of help. But it got me thinking, what should strangers do when they see a parent trying to cope with their kid’s meltdown? Lord knows we’ve all been there, whether we’re parents or not. First, here’s definitely what not to do:
1. Look on with the kind of pity that says, “Thank god that’s not me.”
You can think this to yourself, but do not let it show in your eyes. The parents of a tantruming kid recognize that look. We invented that look. That look haunts us daily.
2. Pretend what’s going on is cute.
Nope. Cuteness is currently on hiatus, and this is a destructive beast in cute clothing.
3. Pat yourself on the back.
You aren’t some genius of parenting if your kids didn’t melt down in public like this. You won some kind of unfair kid lottery. Congrats. Now go away.
4. Judge silently.
Again, tantrums are not necessarily a reflection of parenting skills. They’re a result of a child’s frustration with his inability to express himself adequately, given his still-developing vocabulary and a prefrontal cortex that won’t begin maturing until age 4. Also known as: the kid barely napped today.
5. Wonder out loud why the parents don’t do something about it.
Do you have a PhD in behavioral psychology? Then by all means, step right up to this s**tshow! If not, then please move aside. Chances are the kid’s parents are trying to implement some sort of tantrum expert plan they read about in a book at 2AM: attempt to head them off before they start (ha!) via distraction, wait out the peak anger phase when even asking a simple question might set off those irrational little minds further, and then speak calmly in a way that doesn’t reward them with attention (negative or positive).
As for what you should do when you encounter a parent in the middle of dealing with a meltdown? Smile and kindly and keep on walking. And maybe drop a bottle of wine at their feet too.