Temper Tantrums and the Social Contract

Friday, January 3, 2014
We've all been there. We're shopping, or having dinner in a restaurant, or in some other public space, and we hear it - a very unhappy youngster who is making their displeasure known in a very loud and emphatic way. Sometimes it's the result of a thwarted desire, sometimes they're teething, sometimes they're just tired and feeling overwhelmed.

And for the people around them - especially their parent or caregiver - it's always annoying.

In such situations, people have a tendency to judge, to smugly announce that their kids never behaved in such a manner in public, to offer unsolicited advice on how to manage a child they've never met and don't know.

To them I say: Get over yourself.

Yes, it's bloody annoying to hear some child having a temper tantrum in a public place. But raising kids is hard. Raising them to be successful, contributing members of society is even harder. And those who are doing this work deserve support and compassion rather than judgement.

Raising successful adults is a gig to which we all contribute, whether we realize it or not. Our taxes support our local schools, our libraries, our recreation centers, and social services dedicated to families. We have the opportunity to support teachers, parents and kids in our charitable endeavors, and elect politicians who have kids' best interests in mind. We're all members of families who presumably have some goals surrounding the future success of our children. It's part of the social contract, and this investment helps to keep our society whole.

Nobody enjoys having their kids make a public scene. I would go so far as to speculate that most parents make a concerted effort to prevent such events by making sure their kids are rested, well fed, and have some structure in their lives. But there are many factors to which the outsider is not aware. Perhaps the child is autistic. Perhaps they're ill. Perhaps they had a really rough day at day care. It's unkind to assume the reason they're acting out is because they're brats or because their parents don't care about their behavior.

So the next time you find yourself judging some frazzled parent whose child is behaving badly, ask yourself: Would you prefer this parent give in to the poor behavior in order to quiet the child, thus teaching them that getting what they want is simply a matter of screaming the loudest rather than earning what they want? Would you prefer this parent exit the store, leaving their shopping or errands incomplete, thus adding more stress to their family in order to spare you a few minutes of discomfort while they deal with the issue in public?

I would prefer to offer some compassion, while simultaneously gritting my teeth against the screaming.

6 comments:

Stacey said...

I would agree. We don't know the backstory and at a minimum, perhaps some compassion is in order.

Darren Meyer said...

Would you prefer this parent give in to the poor behavior in order to quiet the child, thus teaching them that getting what they want is simply a matter of screaming the loudest rather than earning what they want?

Definitely not. That's how you get Tea Party politicians! :)

Random Michelle K said...

I mostly agree, with caveats.

If it's a "grown-up" establishment (ie really expensive) I expect to not be listening to a small child have a temper tantrum for half an hour.

I know very well that melt downs can happen and they're no one's fault, and if I go to a family restaurant, I fully expect that over the course of my visit, a child is going to get upset for something, for a short or long period of time.

And I don't have a problem at all with that.

But if I'm paying $50 (or more) per person for my meal, then I expect parents to take other diners into consideration and remove themselves and the child to the lobby until things have calmed down.

I'll also raise an eyebrow over parents taking kids into restaurants that are also bars late at night, if there are family restaurants nearby and open. Again, I think parents should take other diners into consideration in that specific situation.

But the grocery store, the mall, family restaurants, fast food restaurants--kids are a part of the world, and it's to be expected that things happen.

Janiece said...

Welcome, Darren.

Michelle, I tend to agree with your assessment. There's a time and a place for everything, and appropriate behavior isn't limited to the observers.

John the Scientist said...

"So the next time you find yourself judging some frazzled parent whose child is behaving badly, ask yourself: Would you prefer this parent give in to the poor behavior in order to quiet the child, thus teaching them that getting what they want is simply a matter of screaming the loudest rather than earning what they want?"

Yeah, I have seen that happen I save my eyerolls for that situation. Parents who give in when they are little shifting the burden of parenting onto society with a time delay, and when the lessons come then they are harder for everyone involved.

Steve Buchheit said...

It's easy to fault others for things. But I'm more tolerant of kids who go off in public than I am of adults who do the same thing (but in adult ways).