By Legal Eagle

My daughter is usually really good when we’re out and about. She loves to have an adoring audience. Yes, she’ll throw the occasional small tantrum, but it’s usually quickly resolved.

Yesterday was the exception. I really needed to get groceries because the cupboard was bare after our overseas trip. Things started out fine until we left the bread section. For some reason, she really objected to the trolley, and threw one of the biggest tantrums I’ve ever seen (as bad as the one when she faceplanted off her cot, but this one was in public). So I proceeded around the supermarket as she screamed, “No trolley, no mummy with trolley, stop that right now, enough trolley, don’t touch trolley, no mummy!” You get the picture. Eventually, I was wheeling the trolley around with her hanging off the back of my leg, being dragged along the floor. It was utterly ridiculous. It lasted the entire grocery shop right up until the checkout.

My attitude to tantrums is that you can’t reason with the child. I did occasionally stop and tell her that if she stopped yelling I’d give her a chocolate frog, but she just kept shouting and saying “Don’t want chocolate frog, don’t want trolley!” I also don’t believe that smacking or shouting does any good. Indeed, it generally prolongs the tantrum. The best policy, I have found, is to totally ignore the tantrum. As I have said, my daughter loves an audience, even if it’s for the wrong reasons. So I marched around the supermarket, attempting to ignore the screaming child attached to my ankle.

The horrible thing was the kind of looks I received from various people as I walked around the supermarket. I could tell some people were thinking, “What a badly brought up child, it should be smacked!” By their glances at me, they thought I was a bad mother. Nonetheless, about 40% of the people whom I encountered were sympathetic. Some women said, “Oh dear, been there done that!”, and some people just laughed.

The thing is that my daughter is not a bad child and nor am I a bad mother. As I say, that kind of tantrum is extremely rare, and can probably be explained by tiredness, exacerbated by jet-lag. And anyway, the poor kid is two years old, tantrums come with the territory.

I wish people would keep their judgmental glances to themselves: it’s hard enough ignoring a screaming child without having to put up with that as well. So if you see a mother with a screaming child, please don’t glare at her – she’s got enough on her plate already.


  1. Susan
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    The judgers are everywhere. When my two girls were small I had one incident – in a supermarket – that now makes me have a good laugh when I think about it.
    My daughters are both adopted. The oldest is Chinese/Thai and the youngest is Fijian/Irish and I am decidedly caucasian looking. We were in the queue and an elderly lady was waiting behind us. She glared at me, then at each of the girls in turn (they were 2 and a few months old), then back to me. This hostile attitude went on for a while. Eventually I got so fed up with her that when I was leaving I turned to her and said quietly. “You know I sleep around a lot and I don’t half have a lot of fun”. And smiled as I wheeled the girls out.
    I left her sucking a lemon!

  2. Helen
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Ignoring a tanturm is absolutely correct and anyone who isn’t an idiot is looking at you and thinking “ur doing it right”. Unfortunately when you have a screaming child you are super paranoid.

  3. Posted July 29, 2008 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Now, remember I’m talking about lab mammals….

    There is NO better way to extinguish unwanted behaviour in a test mammal than a subcutaneous injection of histamine immediately after the behaviour you wish to extinguish.

    Essentially it’s concentrated sting but essentially harmless and localized…. hurts like a bee sting but without the bee-sting toxins such as proteolytic enzymes.

    If you do it within a few seconds of some behaviour you don’t like and the rat doesn’t need to survive, the rat will NEVER do it again.

    (Much more effective than putting the rat in a clockwork orange chair)

  4. Posted July 29, 2008 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Fortunately neither of my girls ever threw a full blown tantrum in public – but when they started down that path I tended to try to find a quiet corner and leave them alone there (me close but with my back turned) until they calmed down. The internet phones helped – I found if they could see you were doing something else (a bit of blog reading perhaps) and were wilfully persisting in doing something else they would stop. That said, I know that this did not work for some of my friends.
    The only response I find horrifying these days is the shout and smack response that some parents employ.

  5. Posted July 29, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Embarrassing at the time, but I reckon you’ll laugh about this in years to come – especially as she didn’t want the chocolate frog.

  6. Posted July 29, 2008 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    I once got down on the floor and threw a tantrum with my niece – the full on thrashing, kicking and screaming – in a public park. She was so embarassed by me, she stopped. And giggled. My poor sister was kinda embarassed too. But my niece ended up not throwing any more kicking and screaming tantrums – she just could not be sure if the adults around her would not join in.

    I give mothers with misbehaving children rueful smiles a lot. And I try to give mothers mental kindness durng my cycle into work – i.e. I don’t think rude thoughts about them if they pull out in front of me; rude thoughts that I would happily think of any other driver.

  7. Posted July 29, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Well to take the Devil’s Advocate position here I see a lot of kids having a meltdown in public and their parents do nothing or reward the behaviour by capitulating to it. The result’s pretty easy to foresee: you become a slave to the child for life.

    Episode on the fringes of town. A girl (16-17) at a bus stop on the phone to her mother demanding that she come and pick her up. Believe me it wasn’t a polite request. Anyway the mother gives in, the girl hang’s up. Then two friends of the girl arrives as does the bus. They get on. So do I. The girl never called her mother to let her know.

    Kids will meltdown from time to time, that just happens. But on a social scale it’s being indulged and the result is acres of arseholes.

  8. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps your trolley was possessed…

  9. pete m
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    my oldest daughter is just over 16 months – she is already starting the demands, and right from the start we are not letting her get her way with everything and teaching her to politely ask for things. That’s the intention anyway!!!

    It is so hard to to spoil your little girl.

    We know a few people who are of the stubborn type whose children are the same, and it makes for interesting viewing – lol.

    good luck

  10. ken
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I suspect that you are exaggerating the disapproving looks.
    As a parent, I was very uncomfortable at public tantrums and other behavior that I thought annoyed others but now, as a grandfather I am much more understanding. And I think that most people are.
    The only thing I find difficult is to see or hear a young child in real distress. Tantrums I find often amusing, though I try to hide that from the parent.
    As someone said when our daughter was showing early signs of strong character “she’ll grow up to be a wonderful adult”. she has.

  11. Posted July 30, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Actually, I just remembered the way that (to not name names) one closely related person got another closely related person to stop – she took photos and then showed them to her. Result – no more tantrums.

  12. Nanu
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Next time leave her in the carpark and go play the pokies! 🙂

    I think there is a happy medium from my experience, rather than ignoring or losing it, I would have tried to rationalise with her (if that can be said to be possible in the terrible 2’s) and see if she could offer an alternative method for transporting the goods. No doubt she would suggest that you get out your iphone and order your groceries online and get them delivered.

    Kids pick up on signals especially negative one at the worst time. Your daughter would have picked up on your tiredness and your wish to be elsewhere rather than buying groceries and would have taken that and your focus to get through an unpleasant task as a rejection of her as well. Ignoring her probably only compounded the situation and also unintentionally sent the signal that she dictates how she will behave not you. If all else failed I would have risked a visit from child services and gave her a smack.

    BTW, never offer a reward to combat unruly behavior, as her good behavior becomes something that has you indebted to her.

    It also your job as a mother to be humiliated in public, so I suggest you get used to it. Alternatively Dave’s solution is a good one! 😉

  13. Nanu
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    You are not alone…help is on the way…

    “Shopping centres offer tantrum-taming classes for weary mums” Herald Sun 25/7/2008


    Our ten year old girl is a complete drama queen, and although she doesn’t have to many public tantrums, my wife & I live in fear of the day she starts her ‘monthly’. For me the garden shed is looking good, not for her but for me. I reckon I could make it ok to live in! 😉

  14. Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you there. I’m not one of those mothers who sits back while her child starts to draw on the walls of someone else’s house.

    Have you seen Raising Arizona? 🙂

  15. Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Scrtatch that. You should see my cousin Michael’s kids. Egad!

  16. Husband of LE
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    thanks for all the reassuring comments, it’s probably true that a parent of a screaming child is likely to be overly paranoid.

    oanh – i agree, i don’t feel as angry with inconsiderate vehicles once i’ve seen they probably have a kid on board!

    andrew – our daughter unfortunately loves seeing photos/videos of her tantrums, but maybe that tactic will work when she gets older adn more self aware…

  17. Posted July 31, 2008 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I think I’ve discovered that there is such a thing as an ‘animal tantrum’. It comes about when DEM’s cat hears the fireworks from the tattoo and then hides in the shower stall. Last time I was here I forgot that’s where he hides during all the racket, and hopped in to wash my hair.

    Yes, it is possible to be written off by a cat!

  18. Nanu
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Coincidentally, I threw a bit of a hissy fit myself last night over something trivial, my wife just gave me a totally bemused look. Now I wonder where the kids get it from? 😉

One Trackback

  1. By Skepticlawyer » What a scream! on July 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    […] there are limits to one’s ability to manage this. When my daughter was two, she threw one particularly appalling tantrum which lasted all the way around Coles. It should have been evident to anyone watching that I was […]

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