Dear Maxine,

With lockdown easing, I’m really pleased I can now have some freedom and go back to eating in restaurants and visiting cafes. However, I’m now terrified of taking my daughter to a restaurant. How will she behave? What if she has a tantrum? Or just gets a bit over-excited and starts to disturb others? I’m really worried about how I’ll handle it and don’t know what to do.

I’m so looking forward to having some freedom back but it seems to just bring a whole load of other problems and worries with it.

Thanks for your time.

Dear Follower,

Thanks for getting in touch. I know, for sure, you will not be the only person worrying about this. Toddler tantrums have long been the source of public shame for so many parents and I’m grateful for the opportunity to challenge that.

Your questions seems to ask a number of things, which I’ll address in order:

  1. How do I prevent a public tantrum?
  2. What do I do if a public tantrum happens?
  3. How do I manage other people’s reactions in the event of a public tantrum?

1. How do I prevent a public tantrum?

How do you prevent a private one? What steps do you take at home to make sure your child is well-regulated?

What things do you find are likely to lead to more tantrums at home?

Here is a list of the most common triggers that make it difficult for children (and adults) to cope with what’s going on and make it more likely for them to have a ‘tantrum’.

  1. Hunger
  2. Tiredness
  3. Thirst
  4. Over/under heating
  5. Over/under stimulation
  6. Lack of attention/connection

Do those ring true for you? Do you notice this with your child? Can you see that it also happens for you? Are there any other triggers I’ve missed?

Knowing what your child’s triggers are, what can you do to make sure those needs are met and the chances of a meltdown are lessensed?

Knowing your own triggers, what can you do to make sure you’re likely to stay well-regulated enough that you can cope if your child does start to show signs that she’s struggling?

Leaving Early

There is a chance your child will be ready to leave before you are. How will you manage this? How can you manage your disappointment around this? Is there any way of seeing this as a triumph? That your child has managed this long in a brand new situation?

Remember, your child is learning right now and learning lots of things at once. Imagine your child has got a new jigsaw. She’s excited. She’s enjoying it. But then she starts to find it hard. The pieces just won’t fit and she can’t work out how to turn them around. She gets annoyed and frustrated.

Sometimes, you can coax her through a bit more. Help her out by turning the pieces round. Maybe lining them up just right so all she needs to do is push them in. However, sometimes, she’s done. She can’t do anymore. She’s overstimulated and frazzled. If you keep pushing and making her complete the puzzle, what do you think she’ll learn? Can you see a benefit of letting her walk away and come back later when she’s refreshed?

This is the same for a restaurant setting. Let your daughter walk away when she needs to so she feels confident that she can try again at another time. This way, the restaurant is associated with positive memories, rather than memories of feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and ‘naughty’.

2. What do I do if a public tantrum happens?

What do you do if your child starts to struggle at home? If you’re interested in this blog, then I assume you align with gentle/reflective/respectful parenting practises.

As such, I assume you tend to stay calm around your child. Understand that their behaviour is communicating some kind of need (see the list above). And do what you can to soothe their distress, then meet that need.

For little people (and big people) restaurants can be really over-stimulating. There can be a lot of noise, light and smells that they have to process and can’t. As such, it could be helpful to take your child out of the restaurant, to somewhere safe, where they can get some air. Breathe. Focus on something else and calm down.

Then, when you’re both ready you can check in with them. ‘Are you ready to go back in, now?’ If they’re old enough, you could even give them a way of telling you that they need to come back out to calm down again without having to start screaming.

If they’re not old enough for either of those things, go on their cues. You’ll know when your child is ready.

And there’s a chance they won’t be. There’s a chance they’re done for the day and need to go back home where it feels safe and predictable. Again, what is your contigency plan for this? See above for how to manage.

3. How do I manage other people’s reactions when my child is having a public tantrum?

The short answer is: you don’t. But, let’s dig into this properly. I think this is the biggest concern most people have about public tantrums.

What are you worried about when you think of other people’s reactions? What’s the worst reaction that could happen? How likely is that? If it does happen, who is it more of a reflection of, you? Your daughter? Or the person who’s having a reaction?

Let’s think about this differently.

You’re in a great mood, you’ve had a wonderful day and everything has just gone right for you. You walk past a woman and a baby and the baby is screaming. The woman starts talking to the baby calmly but the baby still screams. The woman carries on softly soothing her baby and, eventually, the baby calms and starts to coo.

What do you think? How do you feel towards the baby? How do you feel towards the woman? What are your judgments of this pair?

Now, let’s change the situation. You’re in a terrible mood. You’re feeling really overwhelmed and everything feels very intense for you. You walk past a woman and a baby and the baby is screaming. The woman starts talking to the baby calmly but the baby still screams. The woman carries on softly soothing her baby and, eventually, the baby calms and starts to coo.

What do you think this time? Is it the same of different? Chances are that, even for a moment, the baby’s cry is more annoying the second time around. Not because the baby is doing anything different but because you are in a different space.

This is exactly why reflective parenting is so important.

And exactly why there’s nothing you can do about other people’s reactions.

There could be many people in the restaurant. All of them with different things going on for them. You cannot control that.

However, I really can empathise with that fear of judgment.

Where do you think your fear of judgment comes from?

What’s your experience of judgment in the past? How does it affect you? Are you someone who likes to please everyone? Why do you think that is? What happens for you if you feel that you have displeased someone? What feelings come up for you?

This can be hard stuff to think about so take your time. Breathe out. Go away and come back if you need to. Don’t push yourself any more than you would push your child.

What do you need when you are feeling that you have annoyed someone? That someone thinks you’re a ‘bad’ parent? What’s so bad about that? Is it true do you think? Are you really a bad parent? What makes you sure? What’s the evidence for your ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’?

One thing you won’t get from someone judging you is their approval. So what do you need in these situations to ease your distress? To reassure you that you’ve done nothing wrong. That you’ve got as much right to be here as anyone else and that your daughter is just learning. She’s only little, she doesn’t know what to do with her feelings yet. And she’s looking to you to learn. And you want to model that feelings are safe and they aren’t something we’re going to shout at you for.

How can you hold onto that when you feel the expectation of everyone in the restaurant is that you shout at your baby and ‘make them’ shut up?

How does this sound to you?

What are you left thinking about?

What’s come up for you?

What do you need right now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and how you manage yourself during a public tantrum. Share with me below or on Facebook or Instagram. And share this article with whoever you think needs to hear it.

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