Crying Babies and Screaming Adults

We’ve all been at playgroups when the inevitable screams of a parent/caregiver demanding their irritable-tantrum-raged toddler to “Stop! You’re being so bad! We’re going home!” resound over the screams of the toddler, demanding the question: Who’s having the tantrum, the child, or the adult?

The thing that makes, or breaks, a public tantrum is the parent/caregiver’s reaction to the crying child. Does the adult keep his/her composure, or, out of embarrassment and frustration, loose it as well?  The reason a crying child can be unbearable isn’t because of the child, it’s because of the screaming adult accompanying the child.  Screaming attempts to “Stop!” your child from being upset only fuels the fire, that is your screaming child.

Like adults, children have bad days; unlike adults they haven’t yet learned to control their emotions, leading them to display, publicly, just how upset they are with slight signs of frustration, or massive tantrums.  Sometimes a child can be calmed down with an easy fix of a clean diaper, meal, a nap or a calm conversation. Other times, there isn’t a ‘thing’ to be fixed. They’re just in a funk and there isn’t much a parent or caregiver can do to stop it. I’m not saying we should accept crankiness, nor am I saying we should praise our children when they aren’t fussy.  What I think is important is that we (adults) maintain our composure, even while our children are completely loosing it.

We can try to help them calm down, by figuring out if they are hungry, sleepy, or need a new diaper but after those things are checked off, there isn’t much we can do other than talk to them calmly and explain the situation at hand to them.

At the beginning of any given day I discuss with ‘my’ toddler what the day will entail, whether it’s a fun play-date or a not so-fun doctor appointment.  I believe, (as I’ve stated in other posts) that preparing our babies/toddlers for the days activities and involving them makes it less likely a tantrum will occur.

If a tantrum does occur in public I try not to leave right away, or at all.  I try to figure out if there is something I can do, by talking calmly and understandingly to the child. Giving the toddler time to adjust to the new environment and people is key.  She may just need 15 minutes to realize that she’s safe where she is.  Running out because she’s crying, or wont leave my side, will not teach her independence or patience, because I’m not allowing her time to adjust.

Most everyone can excuse and empathize with a screaming child; the same does not go for an angry, screaming adult.

If you’re out in public and your baby/toddler starts to scream or cry remain calm and remind yourself that everyone with kids has been here.  Try to figure out what’s upsetting your child, if there’s something you can do to make it better, do it, but if they’re just in a funk, leave them alone.  Talk to your child calmly and reassuringly. This will go a long way in calming both of you down and will relax the people around you.

I cannot count the times that saying something like “I understand how you’re feeling, take your time” or “I understand you’re upset right now, but we are around other people, so lets try to be a little quiet” has led to a calm child.  When I say these things it calms me down and it also works to calm down the toddler.

Children want to be acknowledged in their frustration, saying things like the above can completely turn a mood around.

So if talking to your child calmly and reassuringly works so well…(sometimes,) why don’t people use this tactic more? My guess is, people think it’s just too simple, we have it in our minds, our way of thinking, that we must talk them out of their frustration with negative reinforcement, “Stop!…We’re going home!…” when most of the time a calm and understanding tone will do the trick.

Leave when necessary, but don’t chastise your child for it (unless they are hitting, or pushing.) Use your judgment, but you don’t have to run out of a playgroup because your child is upset, give them some time to adjust to the new environment and people.

If you’re at a ceremony of some kind you should leave, know your audience.  If there are tons of kids, and it’s a kid event, stick around.  If you’re at an adult gathering, head outside for a bit until your child calms down.

Things you can do to avoid and calm public tantrums:

  • Prepare them for the day, talk about the new class, play-date or activity for the day.  If they know what’s coming and are excited, its less likely they’ll be overwhelmed upon arrival.
  • Try to figure out what’s wrong and help them if it’s something “fixable”.
  • Reassure them, e.g. “Everything is ok, we are going to play here for a bit and then we can leave.”
  • Be understanding, e.g. “I understand you’re frustrated…”
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