Should you help a parent whose child is throwing a tantrum?

Here is how you can support parents who have to deal with their tyke’s public meltdowns…

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When you see a child throwing a hissy fit in the middle of a shopping centre, how many of you have secretly given thanks that it’s not you who has to calm their tantrummy toddler?

Nor do parents get a free pass from suffering toddler tantrums, either. In fact, in June last year, Jane the Virgin star Justin Baldoni had a viral Facebook post that showed a picture of him standing over his daughter, who was bawling on the floor in a busy supermarket.

Besides showing that parenting isn’t picture perfect, the hunky dad says he couldn’t think of an occasion when his own father had told him to stop crying in public simply because he was embarrassed.

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Baldoni notes, “One thing my dad taught me is to not parent based on what anyone else thinks. My dad always let me feel what I needed to feel, even if it was in public and embarrassing.”

Indeed, it’s not uncommon to be on the receiving end of disapproving looks from bystanders in public when your child throws a tantrum. Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, explains these looks will be more common among people who aren’t parents and are unable to empathise.

“Most would assume that it is the parents’ inability to discipline a child which results in them misbehaving or throwing tantrums. These preconceived notions [causes] them [to] become judgemental.”

“The child will eventually stop when they realise they’re not getting a reaction and will learn it is pointless to do so again.”

These critical looks add to the parent’s frustration when their child has an outburst, which exacerbates their inability to calm their tyke down.

Dr Lim notes that staying calm and being patient with your kewpie and letting them get over their tantrum without reacting to it in anger is the best solution.

“The child will eventually stop when they realise they’re not getting a reaction and will learn it is pointless to do so again.”

But should you intervene if you’re eager to help a distressed parent who has no luck calming her kid down? Dr Lim advises that you should let the kid’s parents deal with the tantrum, unless you know the family well.

“When the child is throwing a tantrum, it will not be a good time for someone to walk up and assume he knows better, especially if the parents themselves have lost their cool.”

You also won’t be able to tell if the child may have special needs just by observing their behaviour. Different children possess different temperaments and parents will need to adjust accordingly to calm them down, notes Dr Lim.

“So, unless the situation is getting dangerous and the parents are obviously not able to cope, it’s best to give them the space to sort it out [on their own].”

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However, if you feel you must intervene, Dr Lim says you should do so only when the situation has calmed down.

“When things are calm, people around them can give suggestions on how to improve their responses to the child’s tantrums.” Here’s what you can do…

1. Don’t scold the child

Tantrums are attention-seeking behaviours. So, by scolding the child, you are giving them the attention they crave and reinforcing their errant behaviour, stresses Dr Lim.

2. Don’t bribe the child to get him to stop

A sweet treat simply reinforces the misbehaviour. Dr Lim cautions it’ll make them throw even more tantrums to get sugary treats in the future.

Say something supportive like, “you got this” or ask the parent if they need any assistance.

3. Don’t give disapproving looks when offering help…

It is perfectly normal for children to throw tantrums ― parents also need time and space to teach their child to better control their emotions.

4. … Watch your tone of voice, too

You don’t want to come across as holier-than-thou when you offer advice on how the parent should deal with their child’s outburst. Say something supportive like, “you got this” or ask the parent if they need any assistance. And if they decline your help, don’t insist on doing anything, it will only make matters worse.

5. Offer to look after their shopping bags

You can also offer to watch over the parent’s older child while they soothe their howling kid.

6. Don’t film the outburst

It’s both inconsiderate and hurtful to reduce a parent and their child into a viral video clip for everyone’s entertainment. Neither are you helping the parent or the child by filming the situation.

Photos: iStock

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