5 Things You Must Know If You’re Embarassed by Public Tantrums

the f*ck you lookin’ at?

by: elyse o’dwyer

It’s safe to say most modern women don’t enter motherhood with the expectation that outings such as brunch and shopping will be extremely rare luxuries afforded in 45-minute segments in between feedings. But with family restrooms and nursing stations, being an outward-bound mom is encouraged and even celebrated. That is, until your baby starts screaming.

Suddenly the “cute baby” comments evaporate and the jeers and pitchforks come out. People are rolling their eyes and sighing, and it’s probably not a cruel baby magic trick that the more anxious and embarrassed you become, the more your baby starts to scream.

The struggle extends to toddlerhood. Just when you have a handle on those baby meltdowns come the tantrums. Toddlers have a terminator-like focus on your vulnerabilities, and they have a very sudden and defined threshold of tolerance for public outings. For some reason, toddlers inspire a lot of unwanted opinions about appropriate discipline. The second your kid starts acting up, you’re on a public trial and assumed guilty until proven a hard-ass, but not too tough!

When it happens to you—and it will happen—DON’T PANIC. Take a deep breath, and do yourself a favor and remind yourself of the following:

1. Your baby’s mood is intertwined with yours

Nurses in the maternity ward will, and probably did, tell you that when you’re having a bad day, your baby turns into a teeny tiny anxiety sponge.

And it’s not just an old wives’ tale. In a study separating mothers and infants, some of the mothers were assigned a stressful task before being reunited with their babies. The babies in the stress group showed signs of stress that emulated that of their mother’s. The findings suggested that a mother’s stress is contagious to their babies. [1]

Your failure to soothe baby causes you to get exponentially more upset and your attempts become increasingly futile. Which is, by the way, always the moment your mother-in-law steps in to look like the all-knowing hero, making you all the more crazy.

So when your baby’s having a public meltdown and you desperately will them to stop instead of comforting them, that meltdown is probably going to continue right there in the frozen-food section.

Take a breath, give yourself a minute, relax your shoulders and remember your baby will eventually stop crying. Worst case, your outing will be cut short. Put things in perspective and try to calm down and be present to ease the baby off the ledge.

2. Babies know when you’re insincere

Your baby is angry, and you can sense annoyed spectators swapping their avocado toast for some popcorn.

Your first move is to perform for the crowd, demonstrating your efforts to calm the baby down. Your baby is going to see right through that puppet show, soak up all your insecurities and take you both down.

Your focus on people judging you isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, try to relax, focus on your baby and tune everything else out to be present.

Toddlers are even savvier in this area. At home, without stakes, when you can approach your child with sympathy and patience, you solve problems calmly without escalation. In public, as your kid begins testing you without awareness of the social contract you signed by stepping into a busy Target, emotions take over. Your toddler probably won’t appreciate how you’re handling the problem differently.

3. Your child should be able to trust you when in distress

Years from now after a breakup or a bad day at school, hopefully your kid will turn to you. Demonstrating you’ll be your child’s advocate, champion and shoulder to cry on starts early.

Build that trust by being reliable when their problems seem small to you but really scary and upsetting to them (even when you’re inside a packed restaurant with judgy foodies staring at you).

4. Babies cry

Your baby is not bad or annoying for crying. It’s what they do.

It’s an unfortunate reality that our society is not very baby-friendly. Children and babies especially have generally not mastered the art of total behavior and emotional control, and to be fair, most adults haven’t either.

The belief that children should never be “annoying” sets them up for failure. Katie, mom of two boys in Chicago, says, “When I leave the house, I know sometimes my baby is going to sleep, and sometimes he’s going to cry. That’s the gamble and it’s somewhat out of my control.”

Acknowledging and accepting that aspects of your baby’s mood are out of your control can help free you from the prison of “what if.” That permission may even help you let go a little, and help your family feel a little more relaxed and able to cope.

5. Your relationship with strangers isn’t important—the one with your child is

Like it or not, we tend to be more accommodating to people we don’t know.

Next time you’re embarrassed by your child’s behavior in public, remember you’ll probably never see these people again. In the moment, you’ll do anything to take control of the situation. But when you get home you’re going to be way more worried about your kid.

Molly, a mother in the Chicago suburbs, said when she flew with her seven-month-old for the first time she was worried her bag of distractions wouldn’t be enough and the passengers would revolt. Until she quickly realized that “some people on that plane were going to be annoyed no matter what.” She brushed it off and focused on her son and the new experience he was having, and he did great. It can feel so overwhelming having judgment hurled your way, but when you get home, your baby is all you’re going to care about.

Motherhood is not supposed to be a prison. Having a child doesn’t mean you have to bow out from society to avoid being a burden. If your baby melts down in public, especially if it’s the first time, you may feel like you’ll never leave the house again. Take it from me: do not let it throw you, put on your carrier like the warrior mom you are and try again tomorrow.




[1]   Mendes, Wendy Berry, Waters, Sara F., West, Tessa V. (2014, January 30) Stress Contagion: Physiological Covariation Between Mothers and Infants


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