Tantrums are the toddler version of an adult stamping his feet, screaming and getting arrested for losing his temper in Sainsbury’s because there are not enough tills open. However, most adults know that when they want to scream and shout at the little injustices of the world, they can’t; instead they have to bite their tongues, smile and silently fume internally at the indignity of having to wait in line for fear of making a fool of themselves or being carted off by the police.
Toddlers, however, can’t think further ahead than: “She gave me the blue cup! The blue one! I wanted red! I didn’t say I wanted the red cup, but she should have known!” Faced with such unreasonable, unforgivable behavior from their non-physic caregiver, the toddler only sees on option: Fall on the floor and scream.
Have you ever stood and watched a toddler in full tantrum mode? I know it’s hard not to panic and freeze in the moment when you have to decide, “do I discipline, ignore or just give in for the sake of an easy life”, but a full-blown toddler tantrum can be an amazing spectacle to behold. They get the pitch of the scream just right so that it makes you want to claw your ears off, and they manage amazing arm and leg coordination as they trash around on the floor like a synchronized swimmer out of water. They manage to bash their heads off the kitchen floor with just enough force to panic you into never being able to say no to a request for more chocolate again but not enough force to actually cause themselves pain, and the best bit: Even though they are the ones who are being completely unreasonable, they still manage to make you feel as though you are the worst parent in the world.
This feeling of utter hopelessness is increased ten fold when the tantrum happens in public. Supermarkets, train stations, playgroups and parks are prime toddler tantrum territory. You’d think that after you had a few public meltdowns under your belt, you’d be able to see them coming, wouldn’t you? Not so, for this is the other specialty of the toddler: The ability to change from an angelic, giggling child to snot filled, screaming minion of Satan in a split second. It can all happen so fast; one second, you are happily handing them bananas to put in the shopping trolley, and the next, it’s Armageddon because you inadvertently picked up the green apples instead of the red ones. The child doesn’t even like apples, green or red, but it has still sent him into a screaming fit of epic proportions. Old ladies are tutting, people are staring at you and you suddenly wish the ground would swallow you up.
Why don’t you simply swap the green apples for the red ones? Because that would be far too simple! The tantrum has got way past that now. Your toddler actually forgot about apple-gate two seconds after the first fist blow to the trolley; he is now as in the dark about what he’s tantrumming over as you are, and this makes him even angrier.
This situation now leaves you with two options. Number one: You carry on the shopping, ignoring the three foot tall monster who is flailing around in the trolley seat, thereby showing your little wanna-be tyrant that you will not be swayed by tantrums and that they can’t get their own way by screaming. It’s all very noble, but there are two huge obstacles to this option – personal embarrassment and other people. To carry this out, you need a very thick skin, preferably made out of Kevlar. You will feeling a burning shame and humiliation that your child is screaming like you are trying to murder them, when all you want to do is the weekly shop without injuring anyone, and you will feel like a total failure as a parent, especially when you pass by those other perfect parents, wheeling around their happy offspring.
People will stare at you, you will hear them theatrically whispering to each other about that “Poor, poor child” and you may even get the odd comment, such as “do you know your child is upset” (No, oh my gosh, thank you for telling me, I couldn’t hear the earsplitting screams right in front of me!) directed at you from a concerned passer by.
Don’t think there is safety in numbers either – if you are with your partner at the time of the public tantrum, this won’t help you. A tantrumming child, especially in a public place, is so stressful that you will probably end up having am argument between yourselves on how best to handle the situation and one or both of you will end up chocking back the tears.
Option number two: Break out the emergency chocolate. You know when you see parents of potty-trained toddlers still carrying round a nappy bag? It’s full of bribery snacks and toys. A hastily produced kinder egg at the beginning of a public tantrum can, thankfully, prevent the first cries from reaching crisis level. You won’t be teaching your child any lessons about life this way, but you will be able to get down the pasta isle without Mavis and her cronies dissecting your parenting skills