When Kids have Meltdowns & Tantrums in Public

Meltdowns & Tantrums in PublicUncontrollable crying, screaming, yelling – ever seen a kid melt down out in public?  Last year at Christmas time, I ran into this three times in one week.

The first was in Michael’s. The store was packed, and this young family was trying to check out while their little boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old, was losing it.

The dad was trying to talk the little boy down, calmingly, lovingly, while the mom finished checking out. All around them, fellow shoppers watched and made comments to themselves or to their neighbors in line.

While the lady in front of us commented on how her kids would never get a way with that and how the little boy needed a good swat on the behind, I commented to Greg, “I remember those days.”

You see, when you see fun pictures of my kids here, you are seeing moments, the results of years of training and coaching, and learning what works and what doesn’t, when it comes to raising spirited, sensitive kids.

You don’t see 3-year-old Kgirl crying and screaming anymore because the tag on her shirt bugged her, or the shoes cut into her feet, or because she couldn’t find the words to express what she wanted to say.

Those days are over for her. Yes, tags and shoes still bug her, textures still are a problem, especially with food. But now days she has no problem expressing what she needs.

But, if you lived in Folsom, CA when she was 3, she might have been one of those children you saw melting down in public, screaming in her car seat because the belt rubbed the wrong way, or running wildly through a store.

We dreaded taking her to Target cuz she’d take off, running through the isles and hiding under clothes rack.  I can’t tell you how many times, when she was little, I walked slowly through Target, calling “Kath-er-ine, Katie girl, …”

But Kgirl was nothing compared to the boys.  J couldn’t be consoled if he was hurt, he’d just cry harder and louder. If he didn’t want to do something, he’d make his whole body become lead weight.

Shoes, forget it.

And if he focused on something in a store, leaving it was challenge.

Once we adopted a cat, because he could not leave it in front of a store. Every time we’d put him the car, he’d take off, running through the parking lot back to that cat.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on the floor in a store with him, working through an issue or desire.

Again, those days are gone. At 13, J knows how to conduct himself, but more importantly he recognizes where he’s at emotionally and in a situation, and can communicate it. And we’ve learned to respect his needs.

We always say that J prepared us for Z. By the time Z was a toddler, we knew how to pick our battles, how to set expectations, which venues to avoid, and how to cut our losses and try a different approach. And it’s a good thing, cuz Z was a whole different level.

Noise, crowds, too much activity or stimuli, the wrong texture of clothes – they can all set him off. He has a pitch-perfect ear, so music or singing off-key or too many voices, could set him off. Too much spoken language sets him off.

More than a few times, he’s sat with his hands over his ears yelling, “make it stop, make it stop”.

We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t, when to venture out and when to stay home. We’ve learned how to talk our kids through the tantrums and meltdowns and have spent hours coaching them, helping them with self-talk and strategies so that they can handle the world on their own accord.

And now at 15, 13, and nearly 11, we don’t have meltdowns hardly anymore.

But when I’m out and about, especially at Christmas time, and I see other children meltdown in public, my heart goes out to the parents. I’ve been there.

We don’t need the crowds that gather and the mutterings about disclipline, spankings, and CPS. We don’t need the judgement or the comments about how your kids would never get away with that.

What we need is your grace and your understanding that our child is overwhelmed and we are trying to work through it, the best we know how.

Young children especially don’t have the communication skills to share what is bothering them nor the life skills yet to master their overwhelming feelings.

We as parents have to coach them through it, and that requires time and patience, putting the child’s needs before our own, until such time comes when they have the skills to deal with the overwhelm in a more socially acceptable manner.

But until then, please, if you see a child losing it in a store and a parent working with them, assume that there’s more happening than just a disclipine issue. Pray for the parent and the child, and give them your grace and empathy.

Afterall, acceptance and encouragement is always appreciated, no matter what’s going on.


This post is linked up at Let’s Hear It for the Boys

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