There's an ancient proverb that goes something like this: "If you wait long enough, any conversation on the internet will eventually turn into a debate about kids misbehaving in public." OK, maybe it's not ancient — and it's probably not strictly speaking a proverb — but it's basically true. Simmering just beneath the surface of any comment section is a surly person ready to complain about this one time a baby cried on a plane. But I urge people who are less than charitable towards kids to ask themselves a few questions before growing annoyed by children in public.
Look, I'm not saying people's precious little hellspawns should have free reign to take a metaphorical (or literal) crap all over everyone's good time. Parents have decided to revolve their lives around these little creatures, more or less, but not everyone has made that decision. As a result, it's up to the parents to try to make sure their kids are being respectful of public spaces and the other people in them. But like everyone else, parents and children are humans. They're not always perfect, and we can't expect the stars to align at all times to ensure exactly the kind of experience we want when we're out in public. In other words, when you're out in public, expect to deal with other members of the public. More often than not, kids are included in that definition.
So with that in mind, here are some questions (and answers) to help you make peace with you less than ideal circumstances:
Is The Kid "Allowed" To Be There?
I feel like level of annoyance should be directly proportional to whether or not the child in question has a legal right to be wherever they are. Like, if you're at a bar and there's a toddler dashing about while you're trying to get your drink on then I think it's fair to be legitimately annoyed because WTF is a toddler doing in this bar? If you're at a park and are annoyed by a child screaming as they play tag with their friends well then, dude, you're in a park. Kids are allowed in the park.
Does The Parent Or Child Have To Be There?
Are you at the DMV? The grocery store? Or, perhaps the most notorious example of a place one is annoyed by kids, on a plane? These are all places parents take their kids because they need to be there. We parents have to do the same errands you do, but we often need to do them with a kid in tow.
"Well why don't you get a babysitter?!"
Babysitters are expensive as hell. Next question?
"Why don't families drive instead of annoying everyone else on the plane?"
I'm not driving from Connecticut to California to spare you or anyone a few hours of potential irritation. Be reasonable. And, seriously, how is that attitude less entitled than bringing a kid on a plane?
And if it's somewhere they don't have to be, go back to the first question: are they allowed to be? And if they are but they're not being respectful of the space (talking loudly in a movie theater, for example), OK, go ahead and be annoyed, but also consider some more questions...
Can The Child Control Their Behavior?
This can be difficult to gauge, especially if you're not familiar with "typical" kid behavior. It can be even harder to really accept and I completely get that. But it's important to bear in mind that in many cases, children really don't have the emotional regulation or coping skills that might seem very basic to you or me. Infants can't help shrieking when they're hungry. Toddlers cannot help spiraling into tantrums sometimes. Honestly, until a kid is about 5 or so, a behavior that seems ridiculous to you is very often something they probably couldn't help if they even knew how to try to help it. (That's not always the case but it's not an unsafe bet, either.)
Is The Parent Trying To Help The Situation?
Even if it's not the way you envision solving the problem, give the poor struggling mom or dad the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have a better idea of how to get their kid to behave than you, a stranger. If you don't have kids (and I say this without malice), understand that the things you think you'd do wouldn't actually hold up in a real life situation as effectively as you probably assume. If you yourself are a parent, understand that what works for your kid very well might not work for the one currently irritating you.
Is There Anything The Parent Can Do?
It's common for people to look at parents "just siting their" while their toddler loses their mind and raise an eyebrow or two. Yeah, the optics on that aren't great but, sometimes, there is literally nothing a parent can do and the best way to get the horror to end is to ignore it. Obviously there's a limit here, but if a kid is screaming and crying and the mom is "ignoring it," that could very well be a legitimate strategy. This goes quadruple for infants.
I can parent my kids but I can't use telekinesis to control them (trust me, no one is more bummed out by this fact than me). Sometimes the best way to parent them is by taking a hands-off approach.
Can *You* Help The Situation?
This needs to be approached with tact, kindness, and discretion, but sometimes I think people overlook the idea that they can be part of a solution. If a mom is struggling to reign in a misbehaving toddler because she has a younger child with her, maybe offer to hold the younger child's hand while she deals with her oldest. Or if you're on a plane and a kid is kicking the back of your seat, maybe turn around and talk to them instead of immediately resorting to yelling. (Put a face with the seat!) It takes a village, and you can be part of it!
Can You Spare A Kind Word?
Even if you can't help help (and that's OK), a kind word or sympathetic smile, especially to the parent in question, can really go a long way to help them help the situation. And, honestly, it doesn't cost you that much and will probably lighten your annoyance as well.
And hey, at the very least you can feel all proud and smug that you did a good deed!
Who Is Most Stressed Out By This Situation?
Yes, you're annoyed. But in the case of a misbehaving (or simply inconsolable) child, who is more stressed? You, the child, or the parent? And in the case of a kid just being a kid and it's stressing you out... why? What about the situation is stressing you out, and is this a level of stress that might just go hand in hand with going out in public and encountering other people?
Is There A Chance There Is Relevant Information You Are Not Privy To?
Maybe the baby has an ear infection. Perhaps they're hungry and their parent doesn't have their bottle on-hand. Maybe the errand they're out running with their parents ran into nap time. Or maybe the child has special needs or a sensory processing disorder. Maybe they're dealing with a lot of stress at home. Maybe this is the first time they've left the house in a while and they're overstimulated.
There's a whole lot of reasons for a baby or child to kick up in public that you will never know about.
Is This Worth Getting Bent Out Of Shape About?
Look, I know it sucks. I'm not saying you have to go from annoyance to complete and total adoration for the child in question, but I am saying that kids really do need to be graded on a curve. More often than not, our expectations of the kind of experiences we deserve in public are unfairly skewed against kids being kids, and they really can't be anything else (though my daughter will tell you she's a unicorn).
Take a breath. Take a minute. Chill.