Barbara wrote in to say: I’d love to see a post on what you’d advise moms to do when their children have a public meltdown, whether it is an occasional or a chronic issue.
Aaahhh, the public meltdown. Every mother can take you to an exact time and place where she has wanted to melt into the floor. My eighty-plus-year-old grandma still loves to tell the story of when my dad, just a little guy, got hold of a fire extinguisher in the produce aisle. Hard to top that one.
I put this question to Mom and Janelle the other day and we all laughed, a little dryly. Some memories are funny, and for some of us, a little too fresh.
Better answers are probably out there, but here are a few thoughts we had, from our own experience and from other moms.
First of all, we need to step back and think about public tantrums biblically and objectively. In other words, if this is a tantrum emergency, simply evacuate the premises (with child of course), and read this later.
1. Our children, to put a fine theological point on it, are cute and corrupt. They are tempted, just as we are. And public places are wired with child-size temptations: stores filled with sweets, parks with empty swings, church with little friends. We shouldn’t be surprised when they sin, but we should plan accordingly.
2. Kids are smart. They know when they’ve got us where they want us. Even a little tyke can tell when Mommy is vulnerable, distracted, or powerless to stop them. And most children, in most cases, are going to take advantage of this opportunity. We need to be smarter.
3. A public meltdown is not the ultimate measure of our parenting. It is one of many data points by which we should honestly evaluate our parenting. It means we’ve still got work to do, but it doesn’t always mean we are failing to do that work. I know parents who are incredibly faithful, but whose child still throws a fit sometimes when they leave the park. Over time (even a lot of time!), a child who is being diligently trained at home will stop disobeying in public. So just because it doesn’t happen right away doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing it wrong.
4. On the other hand, if tantrums show no signs of abating, but are increasing in frequency and intensity, we must resist the temptation to be proud or defensive or pretend it isn’t happening. No one is served by an angry response or a “Don’t judge me!” retort. We have a problem and it needs to be dealt with. And we may need help from older, godly parents. Either way, we must take the long view.
5. We aren’t in this parenting thing to avoid embarrassment. Seasoned parents know better; they gave reputation up for loss many tantrums ago. Our goal is to train our children to walk in the ways of the Lord (Deut 6:4-9). Our job description is faithfulness (Gal. 6:9). Mom’s advice has always helped me keep a biblical perspective: “You should not be embarrassed if your child (a known sinner) publicly displays his or her sin. You should only be ‘embarrassed’ if you are not consistently training and disciplining them according to God’s Word.”
6. If our goal is to glorify God (and not just avoid humiliation), we will approach public situations as part of a broader parenting plan that is informed by God’s Word. We will consider how we can serve our children by eliminating unnecessary temptation. We will strategize in order to maintain our loving authority. We will also have an eye to serve others—fellow shoppers, church members, other moms and children—before ourselves.
7. Being objective and thinking biblically helps us keep our chin up and our heart humble. It also drives our strategy. We can prepare, avoid, and react to public tantrums in a way that honors God, trains our children, and serves others. A generous helping of how-to ideas to follow in the next post.