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Screaming Children and Parent-Shaming

It’s hard enough to remain calm and composed when you’re in a tunnel 540 feet below ground with a bunch of strangers. But when a child of one those strangers is throwing a long and loud tantrum, it can really test your coping skills. I know, because it happened to me.

I was on a trip out west and had an opportunity to visit the Hoover Dam in Nevada. While there, I took a tour down into the depths of the dam — and during this tour I was reminded of one of my greatest parenting fears.

A young family also took the tour, and one of their children was throwing a tantrum — screaming so loudly that the tour guide could barely be heard, even with the microphone he was using.

Many of the adults on the tour were giving menacing looks to the child, and you could almost hear the thoughts of parent-shaming running through their heads: “What a terrible parent!” and “Why doesn’t that mother do something?”

“How many of us have been there?” I wondered. Our two-year-old throws a tantrum at the grocery store or starts screaming at the movie theatre because she can’t have more candy. What most of us feel during these situations is embarrassment, or anger.

Some strong-willed parents refuse to give in to these tantrums and are very effective at ignoring these episodes so as not to reinforce them. Other parents are focused on respecting the other people around them, and remove themselves and their child from the situation.

I don’t believe there is one, single best answer to handling these public tantrums. The temperament and personality of each of us as parents has a strong influence on how we respond.

Neither of these two responses is wrong. But what I found most interesting in hindsight was the responses of people around that family during the tour. Some were able to ignore (perhaps those parents who sympathized with the parents’ plight), while others sneered.

In reality, what was this family to do? They were over 500 feet underground, on a guided tour through dark tunnels.  Even those adults who had never experienced this themselves and weren’t sympathetic might have considered the lack of options for these parents.

The point is, parent-shaming has become a little too common. We’re talking about the most difficult job in the world, one that comes with no blueprints. In my experience, almost all parents are trying their best. Some have a larger toolbox than others, but the vast majority are doing what they think is best most of the time.

If we can try to keep this in mind, maybe the next time we’re in a place with parents who are dealing with a screaming child — on a tour, on a flight, anywhere — we’ll be a bit more patient and understanding.