7 Parenting DO’s and DON’Ts after your Child’s Public Meltdown

Family / Friday, June 27th, 2014

Parenting isn’t always easy. Especially when a child throws an epic tantrum in a public place. Meltdowns happen. 7 DO’s and DON’Ts after your child’s public meltdown.

Our family recently took a 6 day trip to Maine to visit family. The flight to Maine with our 3 and 1 year old children was surprisingly pleasant.

While I didn’t expect our return trip to be completely smooth, I certainly didn’t anticipate our son’s epic meltdown in the airport. Before we even got on the plane. And, our daughter’s inconsolable cries screams on the flight surprised us all.

Tantrums Happen.

It all began when we decided to eat before the flight to prevent the hangries (i.e. SO hungry you’re ANGRY). We split two huge burgers between the four of us. It was a good idea, until it wasn’t.

As we handed half a burger to each child, our hangry son wanted a whole burger. Tears streaming, feet stomping, trying to flee; he was out of control. The behavior was undesirable, for the airport or anywhere.

It took 15 minutes to convince him to calm down and eat, which included my husband walking away with him over his shoulder on a walk, his screams fading away as he went out of sight. I know meltdowns happen, but it still left me feeling embarrassed. Furthermore, I was very nervous about the upcoming flight. Thankfully, he was great on the plane.

If only his meltdown was the end of our travel drama.

Meltdown Two.

There is no guarantee only one meltdown will happen. In fact, it seems like once one has happened, the likelihood of another increases exponentially. Our daughter’s ears must have hurt. During the 2.5 hour flight, she screamed intermittently until she passed out with 20 minutes left. Going in to the flight, my biggest concern was a poopy diaper; screaming was so out of character.

I won’t lie; a stinky diaper would have been so much better.

After snacks, rocking, toys, and distraction with the tablet failed, our emergency plan was to give each child a lollipop.


Instead of helping calm her down, she cried with the lollipop in her mouth. Sticky red spit dribbled out of her mouth and she angrily wiped it with her hands, smearing it across her face. It was especially unhelpful when she began flailing her sticky hands and the sucker as she screamed, tangling the lollipop in both her hair and mine.

Of course, she also finished it before we landed, so she had TWO. While I felt terrible for her, I felt even worse for passengers who drew the short straw and had to sit near us. She raised a ruckus. When she FINALLY fell asleep, I held my numb, tingling arms completely still while praying she would not wake. Stay asleep.

My husband and I were frazzled. It felt like we’d been through a war. In the moment, it felt like the whole trip had been a stressful disaster. I felt like I failed as a mom.

But in reality, it wasn’t. Each child had exactly one meltdown in 6 days. During the last 20 minutes of the flight, I tried to ‘reset’ my own attitude about the trip.

7 DO's And DON'Ts After Your Child's Public Meltdown | thisgratefulmama.com

7 Parenting DO’s and DON’Ts After Your Child’s Public Meltdown

DO Cut The Child Some Slack

Acknowledge circumstances before the meltdown. Most of the time, over-stimulation, lack of sleep, or hunger may be to blame. When looking at the whole picture, we can often be grateful it didn’t happen earlier! In our case, neither child was trying to be naughty, noisy or embarrassing. They slept in strange beds, stayed up late, and were over stimulated from activities and family fun. We stretched them beyond their limits; they were exhausted.

DON’T Keep Bringing It Up

When your child is finally calm enough to talk about it, discuss why the behavior was not OK. Obviously the age of the child plays into what you can ‘discuss‘. Then forgive and move on. It can be helpful to pray with them and then hug to signal it’s over.

Now for the hard part, especially when you’re tired and feeling stressed. Don’t bring it up again. Re-living it keeps your stress level up, and reminds your child that they were recently upset; with potential to be upset again. There will be time to analyze and determine what could have been done differently, later. If you’re having trouble, stop and pray about it. Then, if necessary, just be silent.

DO The Math

Characterizing a child’s behavior during a 15 minute meltdown and using it to describe the day is bad math and lacks grace. It’s only right to take stock of their behavior over all, recognizing all the good moments too. In all likelihood, even the worst meltdown is less than 1% of the day. This is still true, even if it felt like an eternity and an epic disaster. Choose wisely; remember the good stuff.

As adults, we often throw our own tantrums. We get mad at God’s timing, and demand He hurry up. Like our children, we aren’t perfect. We mess up. And we want things our way too, don’t we? God, our Father, is so kind and gracious to us. Because He is kind to us, we can follow His lead and characterize our children using grace too.

Characterizing a child's behavior during a 15 minute meltdown and using it to describe the day is bad math and lacks grace. #parenting #tantrums #grace Share on X

DON’T Allow Embarrassment To Alter Your Parenting

Have you ever suddenly become self-conscious as you deal with your child in public? When you realize others are watching or hearing your voice? It can be tempting to alter our parenting based on the environment, whether to be more or less lenient. Regardless of the way we tend to sway, this inconsistency can confuse our kids, and fuel behaviors we don’t want to encourage.

Resist the urge to bend and parent consistently, regardless of the environment. Giving our son the whole hamburger to quiet him would have sent a message that his behavior was OK. The next time we share food, we’d likely deal with the same thing all over again. Instead, we held firm, despite the consequences of a longer meltdown. And you know what? The next time we traveled, no meltdown occurred and our son even mentioned how he remembered crying last time.

Parenting isn't always easy. Especially when a child throws an epic tantrum in a public place. Meltdowns happen. 7 DO's and DON'Ts after your child's public meltdown. #parenting #christianparenting #momlife #motherhood #parentingtips

DO Take Compliments From Strangers

A man who was unfortunately enough to sit near us on the plane complimented us as we stood at baggage claim, staring at the ground and trying to avoid eye contact with other people. He walked across the carousel to tell us we were patient and did better than he did when his kids were small.

Initially, I felt embarrassed and tried to brush it off. I wanted out of there, and to go hide in a hole! Later, when I gave it some thought, we did actually do a good job. We certainly weren’t perfect, and even our best efforts did not solve the problems. We could not control the behavior of our children, but what parent can? Our kids are individuals, not puppets. We did what we could, and did somehow stay patient. We recognized our daughters ears hurt and our son was unusually hungry and cut them some slack.

If a stranger tells you good job, believe them. They owe you nothing! This man didn’t have to say a word to us, and could have walked over and told us our kids were tyrants and we did a terrible job. If they say something nice, accept it as truth!

DON’T Criticize, Or Worse, Blame Anyone


DO Build Each Other Up

In the moment, you can expect to be frazzled. In fact, people around you may be too. Be aware of your emotions and words. Speak softly, and do your best not to start a fight with your spouse or another child because you’re frustrated. If you can’t seem to break free, ask God to show you something to compliment each person.

When emotions are running high, extra grace and kind words will help everyone move on. Speaking words of blessing brings life to the weary soul. Encourage each other and your child.

New Perspective.

Despite a somewhat emotional travel day, the kids were amazingly well behaved during the rest of our 6 day trip. Considering this included new surroundings, late nights and a busy schedule, they did great! It would be easy to focus on the chaotic end of the trip and and say we won’t travel with the kids anymore or until they are bigger. But doing that is an error that will cause us to miss out on great family memories and amazing places.

Here is a family picture from the wedding, and how I choose to remember our vacation.

Here is how I CHOOSE to remember our trip
Here is how I CHOOSE to remember our vacation

Additional Resources

4 Ways to Calm Toddler Tantrums, Ashleigh Slater, Focus on the Family
Toddler Tantrums are a Gift, Leigh Ann Dutton, Intentional By Grace
What God Says When We Can’t Do It All, Elaine Stores, This Grateful Mama

9 Replies to “7 Parenting DO’s and DON’Ts after your Child’s Public Meltdown”

  1. Oh Elaine!! your trip sound like it went great…a few meltdowns here and there aren’t a huge deal:)
    Trying taking a 1 year old and a 4 year old across an ocean on a 9 hour flight, 4 hour layover, and 5 hour flight right after…..and just for the fun of it,,,lets include sitting on the tarmac for 90 minutes (mechanical problems) , a NON RECLINING SEAT(my back still hurts thinking about it!) ……AND to top it off a febrile seizure somewhere over the Atlantic(first one ever…super scary!!).. and the captain asking if he should bring the plane down!!!
    Just think… it can ALWAYS be worst…. if you aren’t sure just call me !!!
    i am glad you had a great time,,,, you have a wonderful family 🙂

    1. Samia! O my! That certainly puts this in perspective and points out what a rockstar mom you are. I am so impressed how you travel overseas with your kids and do it with such grace.

  2. […] Now, I’m not saying my kids are unruly or unmanageable without snacks. Most of the time, they are great. I can count on one hand times our kids have melted in the store – with or without snacks. They know how to behave. But when it comes to kids, even with the best laid plans, melt-downs do sometimes happen so we need to be prepared to deal with them with grace and move on. […]

  3. I remember when my son was a toddler and threw a tantrum, I was so concerned with what everybody else would think (I am a horrible mom, I cannot manage my child, this child is spoiled and so on). No, looking back, I realize that you cannot control what others think, nor should their thoughts be a priority for you. We, moms, are doing our best. And we are all awesome moms :))))

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