Why We Fear Tantrums

I will be leading a Parenting the Love and Logic Way session soon and during the process of planning, I asked which topics would be of interest. I offered six or eight possibilities and was surprised when I saw the list of chosen topics. Two of their three selections involved handling tantrums and meltdowns. Should I have been surprised?


It plays out something like this. You need some things at the store. Your children aren’t old enough to leave at home alone so they will have to come with you. Everyone gets dressed to leave and you try to summon all the optimism you can muster. As you pull in to the parking lot, a little lecture slips out of your mouth complete with a warning: “You aren’t going to like it if things don’t go well in the store today,” you begin. Your last words are, “I mean it.”


My heart really goes out to parents who use words like these. You work hard, prepare well and put your best foot forward only to have a major meltdown leave you feel inept and incompetent. It was going so well right up until it wasn’t. The stomping and yelling make everyone around you stop in their tracks to see how you are going to handle it. At least, that’s what you think their smile means.


The sheer terror of what other people think stops many parents from being on their best game. You don’t want to engage in a shouting match in the middle of WalMart, do you? You cannot bear the helpless feeling when you go to pick your child up out of the floor and they go completely limp on you. Reaching for every sprawling limb as they appear to mop the floor with you in the store gives you a new definition of the term meltdown. Heaven forbid that you should give in to the temptation to swat their bottom– for fear that someone will call DHS.


The truth is, most people know how debilitating a child’s tantrum can be for a parent. They aren’t smiling because they are embarrassed by your child. They are probably smiling because they have been there before and they remember how it felt to have their child mop the floor with their feelings. We can be so hard on ourselves.


The parent that breaks my heart is the poor soul that truly believes if they will just ignore the fit, it will go away. They finally begin quietly protesting it, hoping no one else can hear them. When that doesn’t work, they threaten to withhold some candy or other treat that has been promised.


Remember that actions speak louder than words. A tantrum is worthless if no one is watching. Your best move might be to push your cart on around the corner and wait for them to realize you have moved on. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to hear exactly where they are and you can always look back to check if you get nervous. When they decide the show hasn’t been entertaining to anyone, they will run to catch up. Make sure to say something like, “Oh, THERE you are; you’d better keep up!”


Kids can be so embarrassing. Nothing can erode your confidence as quickly as a screaming child in the store. Don’t be held hostage! Keep your smile and don’t let them see you sweat.

Dr. Matt Crain writes for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.