Stop It with the Toddler Tantrums

Everybody—non-parents and parents alike[1]—need to have a little more compassion for the “other person” when a toddler blows a head gasket, goes ballistic, throws a tantrum, or however you want to describe it.

On the one hand, the parents of those toddlers probably did not mean to disrupt their immediate social space any more than the toddler gave a nanosecond’s thought to the adults in the vicinity. So, non-parents, try to stop vilifying them. At the same time, those parents should recognize that they are in a social space and that their toddler’s actions can have a negative impact on the people around them. Parents by virtue of having procreated do not thereby gain free passes to disrupt public spaces or dictate when it might be safe for non-parents to occupy those public spaces. Parents need to understand that non-parents might, legitimately and justifiably, be upset when a little bundle of joy turns into a Tasmanian Devil.

On the other hand, non-parents did not sign up for the disruption that has been thrust upon them when a toddler in their vicinity erupts. It takes little imagination to understand their displeasure.[2] So, parents, try to stop vilifying them. At the same time, those non-parents by virtue of not having procreated or having lived through the toddler stage need to recognize that they have no more right than parents to dictate behavior in public spaces. Toddlers are just one of the many types of people who might disrupt our daily social spaces. Non-parents need to understand that parents might, legitimately and justifiably, find their condescension and behavior offensive.

No parent, merely by having raised some finite number of children, is an expert in handling or raising children. At best, parents have personal anecdotes.[3] Few parents can even say with confidence that they know how best to raise their particular child because few of us have really done the work to know which techniques, methods, behaviors, responses, reactions, etc. will work best. Whatever might have worked with one parent-child pair may not work with another parent-child pair.[4] Raising children is not a science.

But we could all be a little more understanding of the people around us. Non-parents could work a little harder to accept that parents will have to deal with hellishly bad toddlers now and then. Parents could work a little harder to accept that non-parents don’t want to have to deal with a hellishly bad toddler. Non-parents could try a little harder to understand that they are being rude and condescending when they ridicule or insult parents. Parents could try a little harder to understand that they are being rude and condescending when they ridicule or insult non-parents. And both parties could try a little harder just to look the other way when the other person is being rude and condescending.


  1. For purposes of this post, non-parents include those people who have never had children as well as parents with older children. According to this taxonomy, I am a non-parent.  ↩

  2. And only a little more imagination to understand how an erupting toddler can cause physical pain or economic damage to parents and non-parents in the vicinity.  ↩

  3. Some parents might, for professional reasons, have more expertise—people in some childcare field—but parent-child relationships are often unique, complicated by particular interpersonal relationships and behaviors that can undermine such expertise.  ↩

  4. For example, what worked swimmingly with parent1-child1 at particular time T1 in particular context C1 has no guarantee of working with parentn-child1 at time Tn in context Cn or parent1-childn at time Tn in context Cn or parentn-childn at time Tn in context Cn, even in the same household. Add to this mix the variables of emotional and physical states and the whole thing becomes absurd. Absurd for non-parents to tell parents what will work to quell or stop or prevent a tantruming child. Absurd for parents to deny that some technique will work to quell or stop or prevent a tantruming child. Like turtles, it’s absurd all the way down.  ↩

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