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How to Behave During Public Tantrums

kid-tantrums-restaurantI think it’s funny when parents get all self-righteous about other people’s kids throwing tantrums in restaurants. I mean, who hasn’t been there? If you can answer, “Me!,” then surely you know it’s a “there but for the grace” situation, right?

Kids are asked to hold it together all day at daycare or school. They might not always want to get dragged out at night, hungry and tired, to hold it together even more. Oh, and also be expected to sit still, smile, listen to their boring parents talk, use good manners — eat with a fork! — when they’d rather be somewhere else.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask and expect these things of kids. But to perform well every time?

It’s with that attitude that I get exasperated with Joel Schwartzberg, author of The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad, and parent columnist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

In a recent column he writes about a 10-year-old boy a few tables over at a Wayne, N.J., Olive Garden. The boy, wielding a hand-held electronic game, is screeching about not getting something he wanted. The boy’s father is demanding that the boy apologize to the waitress, but the boy won’t do it. The situation escalates.

Everyone’s uncomfortable and/or annoyed.

Schwartzberg thinks the boy’s and the father’s behavior is entirely inappropriate, offers the game as evidence of a parenting fail (the father doesn’t have high enough expectations of his son!), and thinks the father’s first order of action should be to be very, very embarrassed. We’re assured the writer’s kids would do no such thing, since expectations get established at the outset.

Me? As the parent of a kid who understands and meets our expectations and, oh, another one who doesn’t mind a public throw-down, I’ve learned to embrace the tantrum. It’s that or never leave the compound.

Whereas I spent my early parenting years tip-toeing on eggshells in public lest my oldest (and rather compliant) daughter make others aware of her presence, my second, now a four-year-old, has spent the bulk of her days teaching me that, yeah, this is my (and her) world too, there are limits and those limits get tested. By her. At high volumes.

So, while I’m not, by constitution, one to ride out a tantrum, un-selfconcious in a crowded restaurant (even if that restaurant is Olive Garden, where, come on, if you don’t like your neighbors just shove another bread stick in your mouth and deal), I am one to pick up — but not all that quickly — my sqauwking, screaming child and walk her out the door, all the while staring at you — yes YOU, dear restaurant patron — as I walk by. Sometimes I’l even tell you — yes, YOU — irritated diner, who is glaring at me and shaking her head and leaning protectively toward your own young child (as if tantrums are contagious! As if undesirable child behaviors are catching!) and say, defensively, something to the effect of, “What? You’ve never seen a kid throw a fit before?”

And then, when the tears are wiped away and the dust has settled, walk back in, look you in the eyes — smile — and return to my seat for more bread sticks.

I know your kids are perfect and never make waves in public, but, theoretically, what would you do if — only if! — your child were to throw a fit in a restaurant?

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Photo: oregonlive.com

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