My youngest child will be turning 5 in a few months, and up until now her behavior has been amazing. I can't name more than a handful of minor public meltdowns she's had in her four years wandering about the planet. Then it happened. And it sucked. She lost her cool and, well, I lost my mind. I know I'm not the only one to suffer through a public meltdown, so I asked other parents to describe their child's worst toddler tantrum. Sometime we just need a hefty dose of solidarity, people.
Here's my least favorite thing about one of my kids having a public freak-out (and the list is tremendously long and includes things like embarrassment, exhaustion, great big emotions, guilt, shame, and needing to eat my feelings): people who haven't spent time around kids throwing unmitigated shade because they just don't get it. That's not to say they're bad people or generally ignorant, but they just can't and don't understand kids the way a parent or caregiver does. They probably think this is a situation that has "a solution" when the fact of the matter is there's often nothing that can make the situation end... except time. And when someone thinks there's "a solution" to a problem that you're not employing, judgment ensues.
But here's my favorite thing about public tantrums (that list is much shorter): parents do get it. They super duper get it. And every now and then, when your kid is pitching a fit, another parent will give you a look of solidarity, or even an encouraging "hang in there!" and that is all it takes to make the situation bearable. Here are just a few of those stories, in case you need a friendly reminder that you're not along and this, too, shall pass.
"My daughter (3 at the time) refused to leave the kid's tunnel in the prairie dog display at the zoo until she saw a prairie dog. They were off exhibit for the season, which, by the way, I told her."
"As wild as [my eldest] is, I can not actually think of a bad tantrum she had, in public. She’s had her share of meltdowns at home for sure. However, my mom loves to tell the story of how I laid on the ground, kicking and screaming, in the parking lot of a restaurant. She was mortified, and confused, because she said I wasn’t the type to throw a tantrum. After about five minutes, I got up and calmly walked to the car. My mom said, 'What in the world was that about?!' And I told her, 'I saw some other kids doing it, and it looked like fun, so I wanted to try it out!' She wanted to kill me."
"We were at Disney World. [My eldest] was 3, and wanted (insisted) he drive the speedway car with his cousin, who is also 3, at Tomorrowland. He was way too short and young. There was nothing we could do since I was in a car and my husband couldn’t leave. Already strapped in, he was kicking and screaming. I was driving in front and heard him the whole damn time. He was so worked up that my husband carried him, surfboard style, to the benches. Another dad walked by, laughed and goes, 'Having fun yet? Happiest f#%*+ place on earth, my ass. Cheers brother!'"
"[My oldest] was throwing a fit and screamed, 'This woman is a stranger! This woman is stealing me! She is not my parent!' A man walked past and said, 'Hang in there, she’s got your face so she’s clearly yours but she’s a smart one.'"
Writer's note: I absolutely pulled this one when I was a kid. Fortunately for my overwhelmed mother, it was the '80s and no one cared if a toddler was getting kidnapped, I guess.
"I had two times with [my youngest]. The first was at our chiropractor's office. They were doing a car giveaway and had a Power Wheels car in the waiting room. (Absurd, I know). He screamed bloody murder when I made him get out of it. He screamed the entire time we were there. Do you know when the contest was over they gave him that Power Wheels car?!
Second, we were in the pediatrician's office. He screamed and screamed because I wouldn't let him go into the playhouse thing they have. (PS: Why does a doctors office have that thing anyway? It's just waiting to share germs!) I was drenched in sweat and also crying as we left because he was so hysterical the entire time we were there. I went back later that day with a tray of cookies because the entire staff were so incredibly kind and helpful while my child acted like a complete jerk."
"I was forced to leave a cart full of groceries in the middle of our grocery store due to my delightful 3-year-old. She wouldn't stay in the cart and was going to get hurt trying to climb out. I had to haul her out under my arm while she sobbed and wailed like she was possessed. A passing mom smiled at me and said, 'Good job, mommy.' Typically we grocery shopped as a family, but we had about three weeks of the two of us sitting in the car while my husband went in. She would cry the entire time, but would not agree to sit in the cart like a good girl. Finally, on week four, she said, 'Yes mommy, I'll sit. I'll be good,' and she was back to listening and staying seated in the cart. But did I ever feel like those weeks were earning my mama-points."
"Recently, my 4-year-old, out of nowhere, decided she did not want to go to gymnastics. She burst into tears and in front of the entire room of parents yelled, 'I didn't want to come here. I just wanted to stay home with you. Why won't you just spend time with me?' Luckily I am not easily embarrassed, but I did feel compelled to tell all the parents that I spend tons of time with her. This kid doesn't even go to Pre-K!"
"Target. Tampon aisle is where it started. [My daughter] was between 2 and 3. She was grumpy because it was nap time and she was [whiny] all the way up to the self-checkout when I finally had enough and told her to knock it off. She broke down and started crying and wailing. I left everything at the check-out, scooped her up on my arm surfboard style, and apologized to the Target employee who looked at me in pure bewilderment as I carried my child out while she was crying and kicking and screaming the whole way."
"We were at church and my child, who was 2 or 3 at the time, was having a meltdown while we tried to leave. She threw herself on the floor ... To emphasize we were ignoring her, we stepped away acting like we would just leave. She stood up, walked over to where we were, and threw herself back down to continue the tantrum and make sure we were watching. It was hilarious."
"There is no greater humiliation than a 3 year old throwing a tantrum somewhere in the middle of the labyrinth that is IKEA."
"My son was 3. We were loading the conveyor belt with two carts' worth of groceries. The 6 month old was in the shopping cart seat. It all began when I told my son to go wait for me on the bench (as usual). He did not want to do that. He may have also wanted gum or something, but that part is lost to the haze of memory. He screamed so loud. He told me he hated me. He cried. I thought he might break something. He kept it up while I unloaded, processed nine million coupons and discounts, and paid. He kept it up while I wheeled my overflowing cart to my car. The silver-lining to this tantrum was an older woman who approached me in the parking lot and said that I handled it really well. I needed so badly right then to be told I was doing a good job! Ever since that day I make a habit (if it doesn't feel intrusive) of encouraging moms in that boat, even just smiling at them or saying, 'It gets easier.'"
"My 3-year-old had an epic meltdown at a princess brunch at a nice restaurant where Disney Princesses came and take pictures and sing songs. There were only four princesses [and] my daughter full-on Hulked out because not all of the princesses were there. She turned as purple as Rapunzel’s dress. Everyone was staring as she screamed all the missing princesses at the top of her lungs. “WHERE’S JASMINE?!” (Etc.). I had to carry her out surfboard style screaming and crying.... P.S. she did it again two weeks ago at Disney Land when she didn’t get to hug all of them. At least this time she physically 'saw' them."
"My 5-year-old is tiny for her age — barely 40 inches and 35 pounds. She’s also ridiculously adorable, but I cringe whenever strangers begin to comment about her because inevitably they will say that she’s so cute. Every time, she screws up her cute little face, stomps her foot, and screams, 'Do NOT call me cute. I am beautiful!' She’s fierce!"
"Mine was 2 when she went boneless at the end of a moving walkway at the airport. She flopped down upset the 'ride' was over. Before I could act, the machine was sucking in her dress and choking her. I was able to rip the fabric and got her loose but her neck was a little bruised and her arm was cut up. It’s not funny but it’s certainly the scariest fit she ever threw."
"How about 'blonde kid with tantrum and nosebleed in Angkor Wat [and] is then surrounded by Korean tourists who take pictures of her while crying and bleeding from the face?' ... It was one of those 'I'm upset because I'm upset and nothing you do will help, and also I have 30 people getting in my face with cameras to take pictures of my anguish' tantrums."
"Some people have sex tapes they hope are never discovered. I have grocery store security camera footage of me and my heathen children."