You know when you were a kid, or maybe a teenager, and you were being bratty to your parents? Maybe you were pleading with them to get you something you didn’t deserve or couldn’t afford? Or you said something really mean, just to get a rise? And they said, “I hope you have a kid someday so you know what this feels like?" I’m pretty sure that’s why toddlers exist. An irate toddler is something else, so we thought we’d ask a bunch of moms what it feels like to survive an epic, public toddler tantrum.
My own son is getting close to turning three, or as some friends tell me, he’s about to become a “threenager.” He’s already showing signs of this somewhat dreaded, ominous stage during what can only be described as the “terrible twos," though I hesitate to label this year of his life "terrible" because, overall, he’s a pretty chill kid. Still, he can be easily frustrated, and tends to cry and scream if his toy car happens to roll off the table (because there's no way he meant for that to happen).
On the rare occasions my son has a meltdown in public, I can always feel my cheeks get a little rosy as I struggle to pick him up and drag him away from the area. I know I’m not the only one with a toddler who cries when told playground time is over, though. Here are a few other mamas who totally get it, because solidarity.
“The main (tantrum was when) we were on a cruise ship, thinking it would be a calm vacation with a 2-year-old toddler. She screamed bloody murder when she saw the pool area. Wanted nothing to do with it, like she would die.
We had to tender to an island at one stop. The ride there she was fine. Lots of happy babies at the beach, napping, chilling. She looked around and screamed like a banshee. We freaked out and immediately headed back to tender to the ship. But they wouldn't leave until it was full. So she kept getting worse and worse. The whole boat filled up she was losing it. Screaming like she was being stabbed. Everyone was dead quiet and staring right at us. Some young teens yelled for someone to "shake that baby quiet." I wanted to attack them, but we were in serious trouble with [our daughter.]
Finally, the boat was full and started moving. She kept screaming. Everyone was still quiet, staring at us. It's a bit rocky now and we are trying to calm her and keep balance. [My husband] is holding her and then hands her to me. I nearly drop her from the rockiness, embarrassment, and anxiety. A stranger next to me helps hold me up. I was happy for the one act of kindness.
We finally get to the boat and to our cabin. We take turns going to eat while one of us watches her in the cabin. We did venture out to a common area the next day. She kept running away from us screaming. We gave up and went back to our cabin depressed as hell. Strangers clapped and cheered when we left the area.
We spent the rent of the time crying and dealing with her in the cabin to not bother everyone else. Meanwhile our friends with kids younger and her age were totally chill and fine the entire time. I am too scared to go on a cruise again. I cannot count the amount of times she has made me want to die of embarrassment. I so hate attention.”
“I'm not easily embarrassed, and when there are toddler tantrums, I will sit in the middle of the aisle and zone in on my kid to deal with it and not notice the outside world. I hope that doesn't come off as sanctimommy. That's actually just how I deal with all emergencies. Laser focus."
“[My son] threw a fit because I said no to something he wanted, and took it away. He was tired and hungry, so it was screaming, sobbing, throwing a hissy. But I ignored him. I wasn’t done shopping and wasn’t going to give in.”
“My daughter had a temper tantrum because she couldn’t get what she wanted. I forgot what it was, but it’s always something simple. I tend to scold her about her behavior in hopes she’ll stop. If it continues, I don’t acknowledge it any longer and place her in time out. I don't go by the whole minutes according to age. I tell her she has to remain seated during time out and think of what she has done and the only way she can get out is when she has realized what she has done and is ready to genuinely apologize. Oh and she is no longer crying.”
“[My son] has had one tantrum. He wanted to open the Hot Wheels box before we paid in the middle of the aisle at Target. Nothing I would say would stick with him. He was just adamant that he wanted to open all these little cars in the middle of the lane. I gave him one last warning and he didn't listen, so I hoisted him on my shoulder, left everything I was buying, and walked out of the store. He was yelling and crying the entire way, and I was just like, 'Oh well, screaming toddler, nothing to see here.'
When he got to the car he was crying and apologizing, but I stuck to my guns and left. I felt a little flustered I won't lie, but I just see it as part of life. He's little. He doesn't understand everything but it's my job to enforce the rules. That happened about a year ago, and now anytime he has a toy he'll tell me, 'We pay first, momma.'
Parenting isn't easy but so worth it!"
"Once, at Sephora, my 2-year-old toddler threw a massive fit will I was in line and chucked his shoes at a sales lady. I stayed calm, paid for my stuff, and took him out of the store and home. He fought me the whole time I carried him, but I just kept him held tightly to me and when we got in the car we talked about how that wasn't nice. He basically fell asleep right away. I was embarrassed at first, but the sales lady was so chill and told me stories of her toddler being a bear. Ultimately, we laughed about it. It's hard for little people who have no control over their own lives."
"I used to get really embarrassed, but then when the second set of twins were born, my give-a-damn broke. Now I handle them calmly, cool, and collected (for the most part) and let them happen. I make sure they are safe and not inflicting themselves on others, but honestly, if those things are happening, I let them scream and flail and flop and yell and cry. I'm that mama."
“Once [my daughter] threw a fit at the mall because she didn't want to leave, and used the 'I have no muscles' response when I tried to make her leave. So I bent over and took her hand, then walked backwards, dragging her by the arm across the slick mall floors, very gently but away from the play place. By the time we were out of sight of the play place, she was ready to stand up and walk. A lot of people stared at me but I just gave them that regretful, 'my kid is being obnoxious' half smile and no one said anything. It was pretty clear I was being gentle and not evil.
I was not too worried about other people because she was very loud and I figured they probably understood I was trying to remover her from the situation. We later developed what we called 'The OMSI Rule.' The rule is: if you leave nicely when it’s time to go, I’ll make sure we come back soon. If you throw a fit, we won’t come back for a long time. And then if they did leave nicely, next time I’d say, 'We are coming back because you behaved so nicely when it was time to go last time.' And if they didn’t, then if they asked, 'Can we go to OMSI?' I would say, 'No, sorry, you threw a fit last time so we aren’t ready to go back yet.' It really worked! We started that once [my daughter] turned 4."
“This was about a week before [my son] was born. So [my daughter] was 2 and I was super pregnant, on the way to a brand new OB-GYN. Never been before, didn't know where I was going, fully dependent on my cell phone to get there. [My daughter] was being a sweet heart, until we got on the train. I sit her across from me and it just starts. She didn't want to look out the window, she didn't want to talk. I tried putting on Netflix. She ripped my phone out of my hand, screaming and crying, and threw it on the ground and broke it. Completely worthless now. Now she's screaming because she did want Netflix. Everyone is staring. I'm on the verge of tears and super pregnant. I already have social anxiety, so I felt like hell. Literal worst nightmare.
I have to drag her off at the next stop kicking and screaming. It's not our stop, by the way. I have zero clue what our stop is. She freaks out in my arms, and since I'm huge and pregnant holding all our stuff plus her, she is now on the concrete and crying because I dropped her and she's hurt. So now she's crying on the ground. I'm crying on the ground. My appointment is in less than 30 minutes and I'm lost. It was the most horrifying and embarrassing thing I've ever been through.
Finally a little old grandma comes up and asks if I'm OK, and I just start blubbering to her about everything wrong and how I'm lost. She calms down [my daughter] and a 20-something comes over and let's me borrow his phone so I know where I'm going. It all worked out, and I made it to my appointment on time, but wow it was brutal.”
“[My son] was probably 2 or 3. We were in Target, and he wanted a ball that lit up. He had one really similar at home, and I was already buying a bunch of stuff that day. We'd agreed that he could hold it while we shopped, but would need to put it back when it was time to leave. That had been successful in the past. It was not that day.
He started throwing a huge, screaming, body-arching tantrum. I felt embarrassed, tired, and kind of annoyed — both with him for having this tantrum, as well as at myself for expecting things to go smoothly with a toddler. I asked him to stop yelling. He didn't. I reminded him that yelling is for outside. He gave zero f*cks. So I scooped him up, left the cart of stuff in the store, and took him outside. He yelled a lot more, and I held him, rocked him, and talked about how yelling is for outside. A woman driving by in the parking lot honked and gave me a thumbs-up, which really helped me feel less alone at the time. Eventually, he calmed down, so we went back to our cart and finished shopping.”
“[My daughter] has only had short tantrums because she's tired or hungry. So we'll give her a snack or my husband will take her outside for a minute. She's pretty good. I honestly laugh it off most of the time and keep calm. Cause what else are we gonna do?”
“It's this deeply despondent feeling that no matter how you handle it or what you do, you're going to be judged for doing the wrong thing. So, you know, it's the same feeling of never being able to win that women get all the time about all their decisions about everything. Basically if you've lived any part of your life as a woman, you kind of know what it's like whether or not you've had to deal with it directly.”