Tantrums and Stranger Intervention?

The Ogre is home at last! I don’t want to take time away from our reunited little family for long, but I wanted to link to a post and then get your opinion on something. First, read the post from the Matt Walsh Blog:

A kid going berserk at a grocery store doesn’t indicate the quality of his parents, anymore than a guy getting pneumonia after he spends six hours naked in the snow indicates the quality of his doctor. Grocery stores are designed to send children into crying fits. All of the sugary food, the bright packaging, the toys, the candy — it’s a minefield. The occasional meltdown is unavoidable, the real test is how you deal with it. This mother handled it like a pro. She was like mom-ninja; she was calm and poised, but stern and in command.

(Read the rest here)

Now that we’re on the same page, one of my facebook friends said something fascinating when I shared the post:

“Sometimes I wish strangers would be like “Hey kid, stop treating your mom like crap!” Instead of acting like I am incompetent.”

In the combox, a few people said that children should be publicly spanked to embarrass them, basically, into not acting that way in public, and mentioned that strangers used to spank children on the streets. Morality of spanking aside, I think it’s pretty clear to most people that spanking in public is about as smart as crashing your car into a CPS building with all your kids unbuckled and nary a car seat in sight. It’s no longer a viable option, whether we wish it were or not. But why are we so afraid to help other parents out a little, not by criticizing them but by, you know, also being parents? If someone said that to my tantrum-throwing kid, I’d be taken aback and then immediately grateful for the good example of another adult reinforcing what I have no doubt told them a zillion skillion times. Hearing it from someone who’s not mom or dad can often snap a kid out of their meltdown. But I’d also be wary of saying the same thing to a stranger’s kid. What if they took offense? What do you guys think….how would you feel if a stranger said that to your tantrum-throwing child?

  • Katherine

    Personally I’d have no qualms offering support or sympathy to the parent, but I wouldn’t say anything to the child. I just don’t know the child and I’ve no way of knowing if the child has a temperament or condition such that anything I could say might make the situation worse.

  • Jennifer Hannah

    LOL. I’d smile and chuckle and thank God that someone put a little humor in the situation as I was about ready to have a nervous breakdown. But honestly, I would never say it to another stranger’s kid b/c I’m confrontation-avoiding. :)

  • CS

    I don’t think I would mind as long as the person wasn’t too aggressive or mean-sounding/looking.

    I have actually said something to children of people I was with, even people I didn’t know well; even a solemn look and shake of the head from a non-parent can freeze them in their tracks. I have also said in a jovial tone, “Hey! Be nice to your mama!”” to strangers’ children.

  • Ellen Johnson
  • Becky

    I would assume that a stranger was passive-aggressively criticizing my parenting if s/he made a comment like that to my child while he was acting up in a store. I wouldn’t go ape or anything, but I wouldn’t appreciate it.

    I actually have seen parents publicly spanking their kids on a couple of occasions — both times outside of grocery stores — and it wasn’t something that I need to see more of. Both times, the parent was screaming and dragging the child while swatting with her free hand while the child cried hysterically. I mean, I don’t know what the kids had done, and while I’m not a spanker, I don’t think spanking always constitutes child abuse or anything … and yet. It just didn’t seem like the right way to punish someone small and comparatively powerless. Both kids were toddlers, maybe 2-3.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      I’ve seen that too, since I used to live in South Georgia. What you’re describing doesn’t sound like a parent in control – not abusive, but definitely unproductive….

  • Elissande

    I might smile at the parents and offer a sympathethic comment but I would not intervene with the children. Like Katherine said, you don’t know what is playing in the background.

    I personally don’t appreciate strangers intervening with my kid – either in a positive or a negative way – because they have no idea of the background and their comments might not bet very helpful.

    Some people will come up and comment on how cute and sweet your kid is, while you might think he is misbehaving. Other people might come up and disapprove of a temper tantrum, while you know that the kid had a very hard day and you should not have made that hasty stressed out trip to the supermarket.

    However, I like the “Hey, be nice to your mama”-comment. That seems pretty harmless and it is nice for the mother :-)

    • Dale

      “I might smile at the parents and offer a sympathethic comment”

      I did that in three different instances, and each time was answered with a look of supreme annoyance and/or anger. It was a “who the heck asked you to butt in?!’ sort of look. I didn’t understand it at the time, but Amelia’s suggestion that my comment may have been interpreted as passive-aggressive criticism does make sense.

      At any rate, those situations are stressful enough without having to decipher the motives of strangers, and I don’t want to add to the difficulty.

  • Emily McDonnell

    I think it would depend on their tone. If they kind of looked at me and smiled/winked in parental camaraderie, I would probably smile back and even see the humor in the situation. But as Becky noted, if they said in a different way, it could come across as a criticism.

  • Amelia Bentrup

    Yes, I would take offense if a stranger did that. They don’t know our situation or my children and I would probably consider it passive aggressive. And, I honestly don’t think it would help my kids at all..they would probably just get more upset/scared that a stranger was talking to them and cry even more.

  • Kate Friend

    If someone said it to my #1, I’d feel they were passive-aggressively criticizing me, like Becky said.

    If someone said anything to my #2, I could expect him to melt into an even worse puddle of tears and tantrum. The kid has social anxiety you wouldn’t believe. I would most certainly not appreciate any intervention that made the situation worse.

    But if someone said, “You’re doing a good job, they’re not easy at this age” to me, it would probably make my day and give me patience to calm down the tantrum without losing it myself.

  • Mary

    I don’t know that I would say quite that, and I’m not sure if I would appreciate being on the receiving end of that comment, either… but maybe I would. It might depend on my own mood, and the tone with which the person delivered the comment. Like some of the other readers, I think I would appreciate a supportive comment aimed at me, more.
    Once I was in mass on Palm Sunday, before I was married, and this poor mom was wrangling her two toddlers without help in a crowded, hot, church. I finally decided to help distract them, and asked the oldest if she could help me with an important job… I needed help holding my palms and it could only be done by a very quiet child. The little girl quieted right down, awed by the responsibility she now had, and without her egging him on, so did her brother. I’m under no illusions that this kind of thing would always work, but this is the kind of help that I would most likely feel comfortable giving and receiving in the future.


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