When children misbehave in public, are parents always to blame?
On Nov 11, a makeup artist uploaded a photo of a damaged makeup display at a Sephora store in the States, alleging that an unsupervised child had destroyed US$1,300 worth of cosmetics.
The post went viral, with many echoing the makeup artist’s call for mothers not to bring their children to makeup stores. However, others called her out for “mom-shaming” after she admitted to not having seen the child commit the act herself.
While it remains unclear who was at fault as the parent was never reached by news outlets to share her side of the story, the heated reactions point to the tension between parents who struggle to control their kids and the long-suffering bystanders who have to put up with their misbehaviour.
A lack of tolerance for misbehaving children was something Michelle Lim used to be able to relate to — until the 30-year-old became a parent herself.
Speaking to The Pride, she said: “In the past, when I encountered rowdy children, I would feel quite irritated or annoyed, especially because I was bothered by the noise.”
Now, as a stay-at-home mother of a two-year-old boy, Lim sees the other side of the fence. A recent trip to the mall ended with her son throwing himself on the ground outside a shop, kicking and screaming in a tantrum.
She explained: “It wasn’t only because we didn’t buy him a toy that he wanted. He was also frustrated that we couldn’t understand him because he still can’t express himself that well.”
In a situation like that, when the child is too young to either express what is troubling them or control their emotions, is it fair to expect their parents to magically quieten them down?
Easier said than done, as Lim shared: “When our child cries, as parents we can’t control how loud it may be. My son sometimes cries when he doesn’t want to sit in the pram, but I don’t have any choice other than to use it if we need to walk from one place to another.”
As each child may also behave or express themselves differently, there is also no one-size-fits-all solution to child tantrums.
For Leong Hwee Theng, a HR professional in her 30s, the personalities of her two children aged two and eight differed vastly at the toddler stage. “My elder boy would respond very well to being reasoned with, but less so for my younger son, who has a stronger personality,” she said.
There are instances, however, where she feels parents can try to pre-empt and avoid situations that may trigger public meltdowns.
The HR professional in her 30s said: “Kids can be unpredictable but things like taking care of their nap times and mealtimes before you head out can make it less likely for them to feel cranky.”
When the dreaded toddler outbursts have occurred, both Lim and Leong know how it feels to be on the receiving end of stares and judging looks from bystanders.
In these situations, though, their priority lay in putting a stop to the tantrum, as Lim said: “It can be a little bit embarrassing but at that point, as a parent, you’re focused on your kid and tuning out the stares. For me, it’s more important to address the situation and try to get him to stop.”
Before we judge parents for their children’s behaviour, consider that they understand their children best and should be allowed the freedom to instill discipline as they think is effective.
Professing not to judge parents that she sees struggling to manage a toddler tantrum, Lim declared: “Whatever discipline methods work for them, they know best, who am I to judge?”
Yuzaimi Zainal, 37, told The Pride that he sees these occasional tantrums as part and parcel of his two-year-old daughter’s growth.
The civil servant said: “Even if it happens somewhere public, like in the mall, I would let her cry it off even if it attracts a few stares. It’s more important to me that I stand firm so that she learns from her mistakes, rather than let her get her way just because I am afraid of being embarrassed.”
Between disciplining their children in public and ensuring that they don’t inconvenience others, all three parents said that consideration is key.
When his daughter acted up at a restaurant recently, Yuzaimi took her out and only returned after she had calmed down. “I didn’t want to disturb other customers at the restaurant, and it’s the same if we go to quieter places like the library,” he said.
Taking a trip to the cinema as an example, Lim added: “It works both ways. Parents should know their kids best, and be able to judge whether they can sit through a movie quietly or not. If it’s challenging, then just avoid it.
“You shouldn’t expect others to be considerate to you without returning the favour.”
Leong told The Pride that she feels more empathy for parents who at least make an effort to placate their children, even if they fail. Seeing their struggles, she may even try to help by offering the child a sweet or making funny faces to distract them during their meltdown.
What she has less patience for, are parents who do not bother to manage their children’s tantrums or keep them from running amok in public spaces.
Describing it as “basic manners”, Leong said: “I think when you’re out in public, you need to respect that other people want some peace, just as you yourself would like to enjoy that peace when you’re out, too.”
“Children may sometimes be difficult to manage, but as parents, it’s only courteous to be aware that you’re in a public space and be gracious to others.”