My fourteen-month-old has recently discovered whining and fit-throwing. She’s been spoiled by her three doting siblings, who have rushed to give her whatever she’s gestured and grunted toward. However, sometimes the answer to her wants is a simple “no.”
Upon hearing this word, my easygoing, laid-back toddler transforms like the Hulk. We’re talking full-on, body-throwing, real-tears-crying, fist-pounding, leg-kicking tantrums. Thankfully, my husband and I have been prepared by pediatricians on how to negotiate with these terrorist attacks. In short: we don’t. We refuse to give in to her commands. She can cry; that’s fine.
This little girl has no idea whom she’s dealing with. At number four, my husband and I have mastered the art of ignoring a tantrum. At home we clearly state “no,” move her to a safe, isolated location, and let her get her reactions out of her system. What we don’t do is give her whatever she wants (or anything else, for that matter) to quiet her. All that teaches her is to do the exact thing we’re trying to avoid: throw a fit to get what you want. It takes patience and consistency, but when we’re at home, we got this.
Unfortunately, because parenting isn’t isolated to private settings, sometimes these fits occur in public. At this point we know exactly how to respond. For the sake of consistency and what’s in our children’s best interest, we have to handle the public fits the same way that we handle the private ones. We don’t give in. There are limited exceptions based on how appropriate the noise level is. If we’re in church or at a restaurant, we remove her from the social setting because it’d be rude to the public not to. We still don’t give in; we just remove her. But if we’re in a place that can tolerate the tantrum, we let her throw it (safely) without giving in. This is when we usually face the judgment of others.
Many people look appalled at how callous my husband and I can be to watch her cry without giving in. At a soccer game recently, our toddler threw a fit because she wanted her sister’s glittery water bottle. I told her no. Honestly, it could’ve been anything I said no to (she always wants our cell phones. No.) She threw a fit. I picked her up, walked her several feet behind the field, put her down, and stood by while she threw her tantrum. She was healthy, safe, secure, and crying. I reminded myself of Dr. Coogan, who told me candidly, “Hey, babies cry.”
She was fine, but from the faces of the onlookers, my toddler was dying, and I was watching idly. And that right there is the crossfire of modern parenting. This is exactly the friction point between what parents know to be best for their children and making a decision that undermines all of it. And I’d be lying if I said it’s easy. It may have gotten easier with my own experience and my maturity as I’ve grown older, but it’s still hard to face the sneers and, in the case of especially bold strangers, the words of judgmental outsiders.
Our children have no special needs, but I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to struggle with tantrums that are already out of the ordinary only to face the judgment from people who don’t, have never, or will never face those concerns. How easy it can be to throw a harsh glance to a parent of a child whose physical appearance implies he’s too old to behave a certain way despite his hidden challenges.
While I can’t control others’ faces or words, I do have to take ownership of my reaction. I can definitely have a stronger backbone in those scenarios. But the point is that I shouldn’t have to. I could be a better parent, the parent I want to be, if it weren’t for others’ judgment.