For those of us who have parented children with emotional issues, whether through birth, adoption, or foster care, inevitably the time comes when we have a child who throws a fit in public. This might be a typical 2 year two old fit in the grocery cart at Target, or, as more and more children are presenting with special needs such as Sensory issues, Autism, and an Alphabet Soup of high needs diagnosis, it’s not unusual to deal with an older child in a meltdown or rage of anger.
I’ve been in these situations both as a parent and as the bystander. How can we help a mom (or dad) when his or her child is raging in public?
Let me share my experience from the mom side. First, I want to make the disclaimer that each of us is unique so please don’t assume one size fits all moms. (Take a look at the jeans in my closet and you’ll know this is true. I’ve got 6 sizes in there. One size doesn’t even fit THIS mom.) Use the following as a general guideline.
Second, while it is true that some bystanders are judgmental and turn their noses up at me and my “misbehaving” child, more often I actually get the vibe the majority of people are sympathetic to my plight. They just don’t know what to do to help me.
You’re reading this blog post right now (thank you!) so I assume you have some interest in this topic and want to help a mom out next time you see her. Whether a mom in this situation takes you up on your offer, know that your care is worth the effort to try. We don’t always know if we are making the right decisions in this world, but my motto is better to err on the side of love and compassion.
Steps to Help a Mom When Her Child is Raging in Public
- Ignore the child. Unless you specifically know the child and his or her behavior strategies, do not attempt to calm, persuade, or placate the child in any way. Completely ignore him. Your attention will reinforce his behavior.
- Ask mom, in a loud, calm voice, “How can I help YOU?” or “What can I do to help YOU?” (Not
“Is there anything I can do to help?”Politeness tends to rule and Mom will respond “no” to this one.) Realize Mom is now running on adrenaline along with her child. She might be scared, angry, panicked, or worried. Encourage that you are there for her. Your calm presence will help calm her.
- Offer suggestions of how you can help. Some ways you might help: watch her other children or make sure they are safely in her line of sight, secure her belongings, bring her car around to the nearest entrance, create a safe space for her to be with her child who is raging. This might include closing doors so the child won’t run away, if applicable. Never attempt to restrain a child.
- Respect her privacy. If you offer these options and Mom doesn’t desire help, or you’ve given the help you could, respect her need for privacy with her child. You’ve helped as you could.
- Offer Mom a few words of encouragement! Tell her she is strong and she’s doing a great job of parenting. You have no idea how long and how far those words of encouragement will carry her. The child needs to hear your words, also. A child who is raging is often scared of her own behavior and feelings of being out of control. (Even if it doesn’t look like it.) She needs to hear that the adults around her are in complete control of the situation.
- Pray for the mom and child. Pray for wisdom, patience, and peace for everyone involved.
Have you helped a parent when his or her child is raging in public? Have you had a child have a meltdown in public? How did you handle it?
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