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How to Handle a Public Meltdown

The Worst Part of My Kid’s Public Meltdowns Is Other People

We're happy to present this article by Peter McGarry, which was syndicated from Quora on one of our favorite sites, Fatherly.

What should I do if my child won't stop screaming because I don't buy them some toys in the store?

As a father of four kids, I have countless stories about screaming children. The single worst thing about a screaming kid is that other people think you are a bad parent. Period.

The best illustration I can give you of this experience is the time my eldest was just 3, and I was new to the whole parenting thing. We were in a large European airport, and my 3-year-old kicked up a fuss going through security. After much cajoling and bribery, we eventually cleared security, stopping at the first store inside the terminal and buying her an ice cream from a fridge as the bribe stipulated.

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Now, this was a trap. Maybe not the same level of plot twists as a John le Carré espionage novel, but a trap nonetheless. After I helpfully took the ice cream wrapper off and handed my daughter the cone, she started screaming — but this time at the top of her lungs in a packed terminal. These screams were not triggered by an unfriendly security guard telling her to walk when she wanted to stand still and not go through a security scanner, nope — this time it was because she wanted to take the wrapper off, and I had nonchalantly tossed it into the nearest bin. Open the Munch painting worthy screams of my ´Princess.´

The options were then pretty simple: buy another ice cream or walk through airport terminal holding melting cone with 3-year-old walking behind screaming . . .

Yes, you guessed, we did the walk of shame. Think of the filthy looks of disapproval I got from everyone who thought I was being a horrible parent and purposefully not giving my daughter an ice cream, but literally walking in front of her holding it out like some perverse donkey with a carrot trick.

The moral of this story is that toy shops, airports, or your neighbor's house are venues where young kids will at a certain age use as stages to throw tantrums. Not buying the toy, the ice cream, not giving in to promise anything to avoid a scene, is the right long-term approach. In this incident, I gave in and promised an ice cream to avoid one embarrassing situation and ended up creating a much worse one.

Toys, ice creams, you name it — we have to use them as rewards, not as short-term fixes for the mind games of young kids. My latest example of this was just last night . . . my 5-year-old asks in sweet and innocent tones:

¨Daddy — Can I have some ice cream?¨

My response was, "Did you brush your teeth this morning before school?"

¨No . . . ¨

Then sorry, no ice cream tonight.

This was met with fingers that start to clench into a fist, pouted lips, and watering eyes . . . but then, a silent penny dropped within that 5-year-old's mind, and tomorrow she had resolved to brush her teeth before the school run. She wasn't happy, but I was being consistent. Motivate, then reward. Reward for positive actions, not to reduce your own discomfort!

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