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Yesterday we (wife, 3 year old son, 6 year old daughter, me) were at a mall. After we stepped off the moving pavement my son decided that he wants to go another direction, and pulled his hand out of mine. I told him OK, but we'll go away, and stepped away from him about 5 meters. He stopped and started yelling: father, come here. I said him without loud voice that if he wanted to come with us, then come to me. But he didn't come to me, he sat down to the floor instead.

Me and my wife started a conversation while my son was sitting there. BTW he is very loud. (I had asked other parents about it previously and they said that it is true; I'm not making it up.) Anyway after a minute some woman wen't to him and started asking him about his father. I told her that he was yelling to me. That lady came to me and said that if I were in Canada - I'm Hungarian - some police man would punish me.

A minute after that two other lady joined her giving me advice what to do with my son. They told me the mall isn't the right place to educate my son.

For me it was a clear situation: my son wanted to go away from safety, after that he had the choice to rejoin us, but he choose tantrum instead. He was loud, he looked desperate, but I knew he wanted to be the boss. But in those ladies eyes I was a heartless father.

So my questions:
1. If I am in public do I have to stop my son's tantrum at all cost, even if I lose that "battle"?
2. I didn't understand that Canada thing. Did she just make that up?

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I recently gave my son his first public time-out. He wanted to climb on a train, a real train not something for kids. Trying to distract him we went to a playground. He tried repeatedly tried to run back to the train and when I stopped him he kicked and screamed. So I sat him down in a corner of the playground and explained to him that he was in time-out and was going to stay there until he calmed down. I felt like everyone there was glaring at me and thinking the worst of me. It was the right thing to do, he calmed down and we went on our way. You did the right thing. –  Dave Nelson Mar 21 '13 at 14:12
    
Just a quick comment. Of course there are always the people who give unsolicited advice. Because this woman started asking your son about "his father," you may have been just far enough away that she couldn't identify who his parents were and thought he was lost. –  mkennedy Mar 24 '13 at 20:34
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4 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

There are three factors you have to balance: safety for your child, teaching proper behavior, and respect for others.

Obviously, safety for your child is the first and foremost concern. What you did (stand nearby while he sat down and had a tantrum) sounds like there was no danger to him, so that's not a concern in this case.

What constitutes respect for others depends on the location. If I'm in a quiet restaurant (or even a not-so-quiet restaurant), and my son starts to get too loud, and won't quiet down, I'll pick him up and walk outside. Frankly, I wish more parents did this. However, in some restaurants I don't bother, since screaming kids becomes something of an expectation (McDonalds, for instance, if for some reason we ever found ourselves in one).

I'm not sure I would let my son sit in the middle of a crowded mall and scream, but that probably depends on the mall (if there's already a lot of background noise, for example, I'd be more inclined to let it happen). However, under no circumstances would I "give in" and let my son have his way, or even engage in that sort of behavior without some sort of natural consequences.

Ultimately, you want to ensure that you teach proper behavior, and throwing a temper tantrum in a public place is not proper behavior. Giving in teaches a child that throwing a tantrum will get them what they want (at least some of the time), and encourage future episodes.

So I don't think you did anything wrong, although if it were a relatively quiet mall, I might have taken a slightly different approach.

Now the women who approached you: that is one of my big pet peeves. It seems that there are a LOT of random people who like to dispense "advice" to parents that aren't doing things the way they would handle it. In my experience, most of these people would handle whatever situation they stick their nose into incredibly poorly. Personally, I think that behavior like that (dispensing unwanted advice to strangers) is a sign of a major personality flaw.

I very much doubt that anything you described could get you "punished" by a policeman. It sounds like she was just spouting nonsense.

Much like the idea that "the mall isn't the right place to educate [your] son". That's complete nonsense.

If it were me, I probably would have responded to that comment by saying "everywhere is the 'right place' to educate a child. If you think that there are some places where a child should be allowed to do what they want, rather than learn proper behavior, well... I just hope you don't ever have children, as they'd most likely grow to be at least as rude as you are.".

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Your last paragraph is excellent. I registered so I could upvote this! –  dwikle Mar 21 '13 at 19:05
    
I liked your answer the most but upvoted everyone's answer. I think what I really needed here was consolidation. (Don't know if this is the right word.) –  Vili Mar 22 '13 at 8:40
    
@Vili Maybe you mean consolation? –  Zoot Mar 22 '13 at 14:48
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Ahhh, I just LOVE people who correct other parents in public.

You weren't endangering him; you were right there, waiting out the tantrum. IMHO those women had no business stepping in unless you were endangering your child, and sitting out a tantrum is NOT abuse.

FWIW, I do one of two things when one of mine have a tantrum in public. (A) let them scream it out in public and just wait it out or (B) drop everything and haul them out of there. It depends on what the tantrum is about (i.e., if they want to leave, we stay and wait it out; if leaving will make them think twice about doing it again, we're gone)

I'm in the US, so I can't speak to Canadian laws, but it sounds like a lot of bluster from a busybody.

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Tantrums are about garnering attention. That's what differentiates them from merely crying. It's not just, "I'm upset because I wanted to go the other way," it's, "I'm upset because I wanted to go the other way and I'm going to hold everyone's attention until I get what I want."

That's why the "wait it out" technique doesn't work very well in public, although it might be the best technique at home. If the parents don't provide the attention, someone else will. It's part of human nature. I've seen people give attention or even give in altogether to tantrums of other people's children, when I know for a fact they wait out their own children's tantrums. Wishing people would mind their own business doesn't make it so.

Children are also somehow instinctively aware of this fact, which is why they will try tantrums in public even after they've mostly stopped them at home. In other words, you have to educate them in public if you want them to behave in public.

However, you don't have to give in, either. Just take him to a private place, like out to the car, or to a restroom, then do whatever you would do at home. Sometimes you might even have to go home.

Another idea that helps in this particular circumstance is to explain beforehand what's going to happen. One time we took a long road trip and my four year-old foster daughter was whining and squirming and asking when we were going to get there for the first hour of the trip. We finally "had enough" and told her we were going to be driving for a long time, then eat, then drive for a while longer, then sleep, then drive the next day, so please don't ask anymore. She replied, "so forever and ever," then to our surprise she immediately calmed down and happily settled in for the rest of the drive.

It may seem normal to you, but a walk through a mall is a long way for a three year-old, and for some strange reason you're walking past all the interesting stuff. Explaining how it's going to go, and maybe planning a stop for him to catch his breath, could help avoid the tantrum altogether next time.

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Just a sidenote: we had just arrived at the mall when this happened. –  Vili Mar 22 '13 at 8:45
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If I am in public do I have to stop my son's tantrum at all cost, even if I lose that "battle"?

You are the parent. You make the rules. If you feel that stopping the tantrum is most important, even more important than the potential for learning, then do what you can to stop the tantrum.

My personal opinion is that this sounds like giving in -- what you call "losing the battle" -- and that's something that will undermine your authority as a parent. I recommend to not give in to the tantrum, ever.

I didn't understand that Canada thing. Did she just make that up?

I don't know Canadian laws either, but it sounds like a false warning. There's probably some law that says you may not leave your small child unattended, but you weren't doing that. As far as I can tell, you did nothing wrong and these other people came and interfered where they have no business.

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