• Mon, Mar 3 - 5:00 pm ET

Quit Hating On Kids That Throw Tantrums In Public

shutterstock_153646751Before I had kids, I was definitely one of the guilty ones. I would always give a flailing parent a quick glare or eye roll if their infant, toddler, or young child dared to scream at an unnaturally high decibel in public.

In short, I was being a judgy jerk. I didn’t understand that a kid’s crazy antics aren’t always a reflection of the parent.

Somewhere along the line, I’d gotten the notion that good parenting means that you can and will control your kids at all times. If your kids act out or—God forbid—throw a tantrum in public, it’s clearly your fault.

When I had kids, the joke was on me. Sure, there is an element of discipline and kid control involved in being a parent. You have to watch everything they do to make sure they don’t put something chokable in their mouth. You have to learn the intricacies of their schedule and natural rhythm so that you don’t take them to a restaurant when they should be asleep. Sometimes you even have to bribe them or throw candy at them to get them to stop crying at the grocery store.

But it seems like a large portion of the general population still believes that tantrums equal bad parenting. People at restaurants glare at children who are wild and unruly—without understanding that a kid may have a reason for their seemingly strange behavior, like autism or another disability. A 60-year-old man even slapped a toddler and told him to “shut up,” along with a few racial slurs, on a plane.

I’m sure the vast majority of parents with tantruming toddlers won’t get into a slap fight with a stranger, but that doesn’t mean we’re free from judgment. Now that I’ve seen the other side, I have more compassion for whiny kids at the grocery store. A crying kid at a fine dining restaurant is one thing, but in most situations in life, kids should be allowed to be kids. Let’s stop judging parents we don’t know based on a perfectly normal response in a child—crying or throwing a tantrum.

(Image: Pixel Memoirs/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • pixie

    I have said this before and I’ll say it again. I don’t judge parents with kids who are throwing tantrums unless they are ignoring/giving in to/encouraging/beating their kid. A parent who makes a quick exit, walks their kid around a restaurant, tries talking to their kid (heck, even the parent who has lost it and is yelling at their kid, as long as there isn’t any violence) I’m not going to judge. I get it, kids will sometimes just be kids. They get tired, they get cranky, they get bored, and sometimes they just feel like it’s an awesome time to throw a tantrum for no reason whatsoever. It’s more the irritation of parents not doing anything about their screaming child, or giving their screaming child everything they want, or encouraging the behaviour by saying how cute it is to others, or giving the kid a spanking in the middle of a store (I’m not just talking about a swat on the butt, nor am I going to argue a parent’s “right” to spank their child hard in public) that bothers me.

    I don’t side-eye the parent, either, in those situations, I just go about my business slightly quicker than I would otherwise.

  • Crusty Socks

    The “oh well what can you do?” parents suck!

  • Tinyfaeri

    It’s all about context. A crying kid on a plane? Sucks, but I’ve never had a problem with it if the parents are at least making an effort to calm their kid down. Sometimes I want to cry when stuck in a long, metal box like a sardine, so I get it. A crying kid in the grocery store, Target, or a department store/mall? Who cares. I don’t think anyone has a right to silence in a grocery store or department store. It’s nice to see the parents making a nice effort to calm their kids down, but everyone has to do some shopping, and sometimes you have to take your kids. A crying kid in a kid-friendly restaurant is par for the course, though it’s still preferable that the parents are at least making an effort to calm their child down or walk them around.

    But…

    A crying kid in a library or other place where silence or at least quiet is rightfully expected? Remove them from the situation until they are calm, or don’t take them. A crying kid in an expensive restaurant that is not known for raucous noise, or a bar that is and that noise is of an adult nature? Calm them down or remove them from the restaurant, or better yet don’t take them at all. There are places small children and babies just don’t belong, and an adult-oriented and/or very expensive restaurant, bar or club are some of them.

    • Bethany Ramos

      We went on a kid free vacation and of course sat next to a screaming toddler on a plane. I had to check myself and say, um, your kids would be acting the same way!! Glad I didn’t have to wrangle them.

    • Tinyfaeri

      See, I hate flying, so unless the kid’s kicking my seat and doesn’t stop when I ask them, or the parents are doing nothing, I’m pretty sympathetic. If I hadn’t learned self control, I’d probably be crying, too. ;-) And there are always headphones.

    • Jen

      I usually don’t even notice fussy kids on a plane but last trip I wound up next to the mom with three kids, roughly 5, 3, and 1, and NOTHING except a noise-making game on her phone to entertain them. The 3yo was screeching and carrying on like the plane ran solely on her lungs and the mother kept getting after the 5yo to entertain the 3yo because that was working so well. And, seriously lady, you can’t keep your own child quiet, why do you think a kid just learning her alphabet could do better?

      *cough* those guys got all my years of judgment. I get that it’s long and boring and confining and so I, like 99% of the parents I’ve seen on planes, plan for that. I mean, it’s not like you show up and go, “Holy snap, I’m supposed to sit facing forwards in a seat for however many hours? Without the ability to go outside? Really?” Planes have their frustrations, but surprise ain’t one of them.

  • Sara

    The only time I get pissed off at parents with kids having a tantrum is when their kid starts kicking/biting/slapping strangers and then the parent does jack-all to correct their child.

  • brebay

    If the kid is old enough, he will get my THAT IS NOT OKAY look. You can tell immediately from their reaction that they have never seen it before. They need to know a public tantrum is not okay ( I’m not talking about toddlers here ) and if their parent isn’t going to do it, and they get that look from enough strangers, they just may learn it anyway.

    • Guest

      This too- I feel like it is important for kids to see people’s reactions to help them understand that what they are doing is not okay. I remember acting up and I’d get a look from another adult and it was just different and made me embarrassed which straightened me up.

  • Guest

    I don’t generally give two craps if someone’s kid is acting up. If anything, I’ll smile at them like hey I get it. That is unless I can hear your kid clear across Target for my entire shopping excursion. Or if your kid is being a disrespectful fuck to his/her parents or anyone else and they aren’t taking control of the situation asap. If I see you letting your kid scream and smack you and everyone else or make a mess I will judge the bejesus out of you.

    • Jen

      I judge the ones that let their kids use them as a punching bag. Extra judges if they get the kid a treat after that. Seriously, people, cause and effect? Heard of it?

  • C.J.

    It all depends on how the parents are reacting to the tantrum. A parent that is trying I just feel sorry for. A parent that can’t be bothered to try to get the child calmed down is just a tool. If a child is throwing things, hitting or kicking they are a danger to others and should be immediately removed. I have almost fallen on a child that ran in to me and pushed me while taking a tantrum. I get that kids with autism are harder to deal with, I have friends with an autistic child, that isn’t an excuse to not remove a child that is becoming a danger to others. It’s not fair to the distressed child to keep them in a situation that is that distressing either.

    • Sara

      I had a parent let their child bite me deep enough to draw blood without doing anything. (The parents excuse was I couldn’t feel it.) But then proceeded to get upset when I pinched the kid’s nose shut so it would let go. Some people!

    • C.J.

      Wow, I can’t imagine sitting there and just letting my child bite someone and then tell them they couldn’t feel it! It’s parents like that that make it hard for the rest of us.

    • Sara

      I really couldn’t feel it (Yay intermittent nerve issues!) but I knew I would feel it eventually. And I was so mad that they giggled! Giggled like children!

    • C.J.

      They’re setting a great example for their child. I can’t guarantee that I won’t instinctively kick a child off if they did that to me. I either won’t feel it or will feel it extra on my stroke side. Doesn’t matter if you could feel it or not, that is wrong.

    • Sara

      I think the fact that I had just gotten finished talking about how I won’t feel somethings at first, but then I’ll feel it waaaaay worse later made it super annoying. I try not to kick when I feel things on my legs because I have bruised my doctors ribs that way. And it was the nose pinching thing or I dropped my cup of hot cocoa on the kid.

    • C.J.

      The nose pinching isn’t going to hurt the kid, the hot cocoa will. I never would have thought of doing that, it’s a much better option. Hopefully the kid learned not to do that again.

    • Sara

      I learned it from Roald Dahl’s book the The Witches :)

  • Emme

    I have a genuine question about handling tantrums. I’m a first time mom due in 3 weeks, so I have zero experience. I see a lot of people commenting that they don’t like it when the parent doesn’t even try to calm the child down. Assuming the child is not a danger to others (running around, biting, etc) and is just screaming because he wants a toy (for example), how much is the parent supposed to feed into the behavior? What if the parent has already had a talk with the child, and the tactic failed and now it looks like the parent is just ignoring the kid? What if the child enjoys the negative attention you’re giving her or him and so the parent refuses to indulge it? After reading Maria’s latest article, what if I can’t leave my full Target shopping cart and remove the child? I am honestly curious because I don’t want to be an asshole to other people.

    • Emme

      To clarify, I meant what if the child enjoys the negative attention the PARENT is giving, not the innocent bystanders.

    • Sara610

      When I was a kid and we started acting up in the store, our parents would take us out to the hallway or car for a time-out until we could behave like human beings, and if that didn’t do the trick, it was home for a time-out or other consequence that we knew we wouldn’t like.
      Yes, it was probably a gigantic pain in the ass, but it only took a couple of times before we realized that behaving that way in public wasn’t acceptable and stopped doing it.
      *GIANT CAVEAT: I’m talking here about after we were old enough to control our behavior and know better. Babies cry and toddlers have meltdowns over things that don’t make any sense. My plan of action with my current 2-year-old is to a) try to plan as proactively as possible–a.k.a. don’t take her to the grocery store during her regular naptime or mealtime–and always have a couple of shiny/jangly/kid-friendly things in the diaper bag to pull out, and b) be prepared to make a quick exit in the rare case that she really starts causing enough of a ruckus to annoy the people around us. That almost never happens though (not because of any particular parenting magic on our part, just because we got lucky with a pretty mellow, calm kid.)

    • Bethany Ramos

      I’m interested to see answers to this too. Usually, if my kids throw a public tantrum, I just try to throw toys and food at them to make them act normal in public because it’s pretty embarrassing. I save tantrum ignoring for home.

    • C.J.

      There is a difference between a child crying or screaming because they can’t have the toy or cookie they want and a full out tantrum with hitting and kicking. Sometimes you do have to ignore them to get them to stop. I would tell mine we were leaving and they would never get to come back, it worked because they knew I was serious. I had the option of leaving them with their dad while I shopped and they knew I would. It also depends on where you are. Crying child at target is kind of a given. Crying child in adult oriented places is not so acceptable, at least to me.

    • DrMom

      NEVER GIVE IN TO A TANTRUM!!! NOOOO!!!! I am a child psychologist and mom of a wild, defiant 4 y/o boy and toddler girl and I am say from professional and personal experience – NEVER. GIVE. IN. TO. A. TANTRUM. No candy, no toys, no goodies. Now, as for the ignoring part….I am all for ignoring negative behavior and generally recommend that as long as child/others are safe, whining/tantrums can be ignored (although I personally get so annoyed by whining that I invite the children to throw their tantrums in another room, thank you very much). In a store it is harder, I get it. The “ignore” tactic in a public place doesn’t quite work as well, because even if mom/dad is doing a GREAT job of ignoring, bystanders will ALWAYS look and not ignore, thus providing loads of attention to the kid (and smart kids KNOW when their parents are getting flustered, so will love this even more). In public, I usually try to find a quiet corner to do some sort of time out. Time out happens to work really well for my kids but I know it doesn’t for everyone. In that case, I would advocate for removing a privilege (e.g. TV/screen time, etc). Trickier when they are younger but even young kids usually like their TV time. It is hard to drop your full cart and leave the store, but you might consider doing this temporarily (e.g. leave the store, go to the car to do time out, calm down, etc and then go back for the cart and pay, etc). The other option is if tantrums become predictable in stores, you could set up a behavior plan ahead of time for kid to earn stickers for listening (one sticker at the end of every aisle or something). They can be working toward a bigger prize (e.g. stop for a treat on the way home, trip the park, small toy, etc) if needed. Lots of options here but the bottom line is NEVER. GIVE. INTO. A. TANTRUM. Good luck!

    • Ddaisy

      As a non-parent who has witnessed a lot of kids in public, here’s my two cents: it kinda comes down to how much they’re annoying the other people around you. Of course you don’t want to reward a tantrum, but if your kid is actively being a gigantic PITA to all the innocent bystanders, and you can’t talk them down, then you have to remove them from the situation.

      I don’t know anything about parenting firsthand, so I can’t say how you should deal with your kid–bribing them, talking to them, letting them scream it out, etc.–I just care that it isn’t shattering my eardrums. If you want to ignore it and let them scream it out, that can happen in your car or house.

      Regular whining that doesn’t really affect anyone but you–go ahead and ignore that in public if you want to.

    • SA

      Snacks. Most grocery stores & Targets have Starbucks now. Grab a muffin on the way in – they are huge and will take a while to eat, you shouldn’t have any problems. This coming from a person that rarely if ever allows sugar to be eaten. :)

    • Katherine Handcock

      My suggestion is to watch for signs of an impending tantrum to deflect it (i.e., if you notice the kid getting fussy because they’re tired/hungry/upset, it’s far better to sit down and give them a break/snack/cuddle or to distract them before it actually reaches the tantrum stage.) Both of my kids also responded well to verbal acknowledgement of their situation, like saying, “I know, it’s hard to be patient when the line is long” — even when they were really little. But if you’re into outright tantrum, and you know it’s going to disturb people around you, you really should just get what you need to get and go.
      My other top tip if a kid’s in a true tantrum situation is to get down to their eye level and say, “Do you need a hug to help you calm down?” I would say 90% of the time, my kids say “Yes” tearfully, get their hug, and start calming down. I don’t think of that as rewarding the tantrum, because it takes some emotional control for them to answer – I think of it more as giving them a strategy for calming themselves. It’s worked for us; your mileage may vary!
      If you’ve already had a talk to the kid and don’t want to interact further, but want people to know you’re dealing with it, I find it works really well to flatly repeat something to the kid, like “We’re not getting a toy today. Now we have to get our milk and go home.” The kid gets no reward from the repeated phrase (and the lack of emotion in it) but it lets people around you know you’re not oblivious. (That emotionless part is hard, though ;-)
      Don’t worry, you’ll be fine! You’ll have your awful moments, but probably far more will be great.

  • Blahblah

    Depends on the situation for me. When sitting at a family gathering and your kid is raising holy hell and stomping on the toys of other children and you’re just ignoring it? No, that isn’t okay. When it’s the end of the day and your kid has had enough of shopping and being out and is starting to meltdown when you’re at the check out? That’s fine.

    I do hate it when the parent just ignores it or kind of mumbles “Quit it Jaydin,” or whatever. I understand when I go in public OTHER people will be in public, and they want to enjoy their experience. This is why I don’t take my infant places she doesn’t belong. She doesn’t belong in the college library. She doesn’t belong in the high class restaurant after six o clock (or really at all in my case, but that’s because I’m a jerk and if I go out I want to have fun time). She DOES belong outside at the park, or on the bus, or in Target. But I will try and make it easier on her and not take her out during naptimes, and I will take breaks and try and find a tucked away bench to give her a feeding or something.

    Kids and adults both reach the end of their rope.

  • Jillian

    I generally don’t care if it kids get a little fussy in public because hey they are kids. I also understand that tantrums happen and the idea is to ignore the kids until they stop because they are not getting attention. But you know what its really annoying to be in public and watch a tantrum throwing kid get in everyone’s way, run, scream and be a general hazard to those around them. I don’t judge parents who take their tantrum raged kids outside and let them scream their tantrum out in the car or in a place away from others. However I do judge parents who sit in the middle of a restaurant or mall and let their little howler monkey run amok during a tantrum.for well over 20 minutes or longer without so much as an effort made to take them out/or calm them down. While ideally you should ignore a fussy child in public situations where the tantrum is not calming down after a while the polite thing to do as a parent is take the kid out because its rude to ruin everyone else’s time out. My parents would have dragged me out the mall so fast if I had laid in the middle of the floor screaming, hitting and tripping people walking by because who the hell am I to ruin everyone else’s good time?

  • Unhappy Gilmore

    YOU CAN REMOVE YOUR SCREAMING BRAT FROM THE SITUATION

  • SA

    It depends on the age of the child and the situation. I have definitely started judging parents of toddlers less and less as our progression towards two continues.

    I used to judge a lot more in the grocery store and Target and I am realizing how hard it is just to get out the door with said child and turning around and leaving isn’t always an option when you are trying to get food to eat for lunch and dinner. Let’s face it, there is something about these two places that just beckons the tantrum out of the child. Maybe the fluorescent lighting? :) Sometimes you have to just ignore and move on as long as the child isn’t throwing merchandise or doing anything that could harm others.

    Restaurants are a different ball-game for me however. I have complete and total sympathy for parents of the screaming kid at a restaurant, but you must remove the kid from the situation. Had to do it last night even though I was DYING to try a dessert. Kid got ‘screamy’, I walked out with her while husband got check and to-go box. In my opinion there is no excuse for a parent to ignore a child’s behavior in a restaurant (or movie theater, etc).