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kids screaming in public

So today is the day I discuss being the parent of an inconsolable child. In public.

My kids are remarkably even-tempered most of the time. Most of the time. But occasionally they will melt down. Rarely in stores, which seems to be where most people complain about "parents whose children are hollering and they don't even bother to try and do anything about it." Restaurants, only once or twice and usually the threat to LEAVE NOW reduces it to quiet sobbing.

But there's been more than once that we were walking home from preschool and one or the other kids didn't want to leave their friends (who were leaving anyway), or wanted to spend all afternoon looking for salamanders under the rocks and I needed to get home to meet our "mother's helper" or something like that.

The most recent was a few weeks ago, during the last week of summer school. I don't remember the trigger, but I do remember April being so frustrated with me that she just started screaming at the top of her lungs. Walking up the block and screaming. She's got quite a voice, my friends.

I tried to mitigate things by quiet discussion (again, I don't remember the specifics so I am being vague by necessity). I tried waiting it out a bit. I offered hugs. Everything just increased the screams.

So I started walking home.

She followed me, screaming. I ignored the screams. People up and down the street turned to look at me and her. I kept walking. She kept walking. She kept screaming. Full-throated screams. Very unlike her. Very loud.

We made it up the block and across the street to the nice set of stairs situated about halfway home. And there I sat down and told April to come talk to me again. I said something like "you want to cuddle with me?" and she screamed. I said, "you want to cuddle with me and you're mad at me at the same time and that hurts, doesn't it?" And instead of screaming again, she started sobbing, nodded, and immediately crawled into my lap while I said "I'm sorry it hurts. It's OK to be mad at me and want to cuddle at the same time."

And then she stopped sobbing, and while she was still sad, she only sniffled a little on the second block home.

I was very proud of myself and of April for figuring all that out and reaching a resolution. But for that first block, I was the parent whose child was wailing inconsolably and disturbing all the neighbors, and that's what I want to dwell on today.

It is no news to anyone that parents often get dirty looks when their children are screaming in public. And extra judgment when it looks like they're "not doing anything." It was news to me today that other parents do some of that extra judgment, though I probably shouldn't have been surprised -- it's an easy way to perk yourself up about your own parenting approach and skills, to look down your nose at those other parents who aren't doing things perfectly. Or are just having a bad day.

Dirty looks aren't going to kill me. (!!!) I just want to say that sometimes -- for a variety of reasons -- doing nothing in the middle of a public outburst by one's children might be exactly the right thing to do. You, the bystander, don't know the context, what has been tried before and what might be tried in a few minutes in a different location.

And I'd rather have a parent ignore their screaming child than hit them or yell back.


Yes. You are right.
See, to me you were actually doing something. You were walking and she was following you, screaming. Had I seen this, I would probably have given you a commiserative look, but that's because I have been the caregiver with an ornery five-year-old who is throwing a tantrum on the walk to school, and walking ahead (not yelling at her, just walking and being like, okay! we're going to school! i'd like it to be a fun walk but if you are going to have a screaming crying walk that is up to you, but we are still going to school! let's go!) instead of allowing her to shut down the walk to school is imperative. You were ignoring her while you were walking. And then you beautifully resolved the situation by identifying her conflict (and in the process gave her a small life lesson that most adults would do well to learn). That is some good parenting! Great parenting, even.

The "do nothing" parents to me are the rare ones whose kids are running around a store/restaurant/etc. screaming and climbing on things and sidling up to/climbing on strangers and breaking things, even going out of eyesight/earshot of the parents, without doing anything to curb or correct or stop their kids or even address the behavior. I'm not talking about a child who is happily climbing on chairs around the table, but kids who are being a danger to themselves and/or others, and the parents are doing nothing for whatever reason, or just yell at the kids to stop and then ignore the behavior. Usually when I see this happening I just try to step in and stop a dangerous situation if I see it, without lecturing the parents (though, to be honest, I may be silently judging them if they are like 'oh whatever, s/he's like that' when i return their child to them). But this hardly ever happens, really. Most of the time I think parents are doing their best, and people who criticize them need to get some freaking compassion.

I don't have kids, but I have been a professional childcare provider/caregiver. I know kids enjoy a particular window into button-pushing for their parents that doesn't exist with others. And I know kids are their own people and sometimes will be obnoxious assholes regardless of what you do (same with adults!). I try not to judge parents because most are just doing their best. But it IS difficult to ignore when a child is running around a store and the parent is not looking, and I have to run and grab the child who is running out of the door while the parent is not paying attention for whatever reason, or the child who is screaming in a stroller while the parent calmly shops and does nothing about it and the child goes on and on and on and on. That is the time to take a time-out and leave the store if necessary. But these are very rare! Usually I see a parent pleading with a child, or turn their back for a split second and their child gets into something and then they are like OH MY GOD and this is all normal. It's only been a couple of times I've had to corral a stranger's child whose mother was too busy on her phone/talking to friends/shopping to notice that her child was getting into a dangerous situation.
Also I don't understand parents who will hand their baby/toddler to a total stranger on a plane, and then take a nap and refuse to wake from it. This has happened to me twice, once on a lengthy flight to India where the guy handed me his toddler, and said, "here, play with auntie!" without asking me if I could watch his kid for a while, he just saw that i was smiling at his son and his son was smiling back, then went to sleep and WOULD NOT wake up for anything, even when his kid started crying. A similar thing happened with a woman and her daughter on a flight from New York to Oakland. These kinds of parents are just... whoa.
I agree with this. I've been in retaurants or stores where parents seem to be blithely eating and chatting as their kid is losing it. To me that's the point where somebody needs to take the kid outside. You can't make them stop screaming, probably, but you can keep them from driving everybody nuts.

(agreeing with the first post - the second one is just too weird.)

Edited at 2013-08-14 08:37 pm (UTC)
Yes, but I'm talking more about "kid in shopping cart (or stroller) is screaming, parent keeps shopping." Or, you know, on the bus or BART or a plane when they're in a seat or stroller. The kid is corralled. They're safe. The stink-eye is still pretty epic most of the time. And the grousing I hear online and elsewhere isn't about kids running around unsupervised. It's about the noise.
right, grousing about noise, but noise inside a restaurant or plane or store, not usually noise outside.
I read something funny today and you probably did too:

It takes a village to judge a parent!

I'm just trying to remember that or else I'll want to keep mine in the house till she's 10 to avoid disturbing the peace.
Wow. Good insight.

Now I'm kind of dreading the next public meltdown - it'll have been quite a while! He used to be so much smaller and quieter! But I know it'll happen sometime. :/