Among the many annoying challenges a parent will face — diaper blowouts when you only have one wipe, sleepless nights, getting your nipples chomped on — few will be worse than your toddler throwing a tantrum in public. It's, of course, made all the worse by grown-ass adults who decide to behave poorly in response. So I've thought of ways to respond to this special breed of judgmental stranger, because, honestly, something must be done about this scourge of smug whiners.
Look, tantrums don't make sense to an adult brain, but they're a crucial part of a toddler one. They're natural and normal, and, chances are, every kid is going to have a whole bunch before they reach an age where they can just sort of deal. Because children this age can't properly articulate their feelings, like being tired or hungry or uncomfortable, they act out in frustration, according to Kid's Health. Eventually, they will learn to deal with that frustration, and throwing tantrums is part of that learning process.
I wish I could tell you the secret to putting a stop to tantrums in the moment. But the truth is, while there are some general rules about what to do and not to do, the specifics are going to differ from child to child and situation to situation. And sometimes there's nothing to be done, except, you know, not make it worse. It sucks. But who's to say we can't have some fun at the expense of obnoxious strangers in the meantime, right?
"I'm Sorry, Are You Irritated?"
These people are often very bold... until you call them out, at which point they'll look away or act like they weren't rolling their eyes and loudly sighing. Some of them will even realize they were being a jerk, get nervous, and try to backtrack. Others, unfortunately, will double down.
Step Back & Gesture Toward Your Child Invitingly
"Oh, you know what to do, Cheryl? You think you can do a better job? By all means, give it a whirl. But while I've only known this child for a few years, it's the entire time they've been on this planet, so I think I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't when they get in a mood and, sometimes, what works is absolutely nothing and you just mitigate as best you can and ride it out."
"I Don't Actually Know This Kid"
Then take a big sip of your drink and gaze into the distance. The effect will be amplified the more your child clings to you and calls you "Mommy."
"We're Doing This Just To Bother You"
"You and you alone. We don't know you, but we somehow knew you would be here today at this very time and showed up only to inconvenience you. Did it work? Are you thoroughly annoyed? Please say yes. We practiced so hard for this."
"Sorry, She Gets This Way Around Judgmental Jerks"
Then stare pointedly. Do not break eye contact. Keep glaring. When they finally look slightly away, smirk and go back to whatever it was you were doing to weather the storm.
Respond To Anything They Do As Though They're Being Super Nice
You: Oh thanks, but she'll be fine. She gets this way sometimes because toddlers really don't know how to regulate their emotions yet and they can get overwhelmed.
Or, you can also go this route:
Them: *tongue click*
You: You're so sweet, but that's OK, I don't need help. I've got this. Thank you, though. Most people get nasty and refuse to show any compassion when this happens, but I'm so glad to see that there are good people out there still!
Quietly Encourage Your Child To Tantrum Harder
Girl, you ain't seen nothing yet!
"You Think *You're* Annoyed?"
I really want to say this any time it's ever happened. Because, honestly, you really think the parent isn't 100x more annoyed than you are right now? Because not only are experiencing this tantrum, too, but they have to deal with it. They're also almost certainly embarrassed. And they know this isn't the last time this whole tantrum thing is going to happen. Show a little common sense and empathy, for goodness sake, people!
Mimic Them In A Dopey Voice
It's so immature but it feels so damn good sometimes, you have no idea. Just imagine yourself as that Spongebob meme.
Congratulate Them On Their Perfect Children
Because if they're a parent, they have absolutely gone through this and have temporarily and conveniently forgotten. If they're not a parent, then you can just laugh and laugh and laugh at their unknowing hubris.
"Well when and/or if I have a kid..."
Then the attention will move from your screaming child to the fact that you're cackling like a witch.
Desperately Ask For Advice
If they're going to act like an expert, treat them like one.
Burst Into Tears
Because it's cathartic and sometimes that's all you can do. Chances are, this response will cause them to feel like a jerk, as they should.
Seriously, this option is your best bet. Remember that they don't matter and don't know what they're talking about. You do what you need to do and know that you've got an invisible network of parents who have been there and get it and would never judge you and are cheering you on.