What was your own worst kid-meltdown experience?
Three years ago we stopped at a Mexican restaurant in Connecticut on our way back from a long car trip from Virginia. After being cooped up in a minivan for six hours, my kids came unhinged. One of my daughters took an ornament off the Christmas tree and smashed it. Another one got annoyed with her food and crawled under the table and wouldn’t come out. My oldest daughter, who I think was 5 at the time, got into an argument with her grandfather and defiantly poured her drink on to the middle of the floor. I will never go back there.
Is there anything to the old idea of boys being "harder" or more prone to meltdowns, tantrums, and limit-testing than girls?
I hear just the same folklore about girls being harder. I don’t think boys are harder, but they do, on the whole, have more testosterone-induced energy that needs to be accommodated. They need to be given opportunities to run, and tear around and roughhouse -- preferably outside. Of course girls need some of this, too. As for testing limits, I have four girls, and there is really no little boy I know who can surpass their ability to dig in their heels.
What is your best all-purpose advice for dealing with a public meltdown?
Find the humor in it, quietly, silently to yourself. Imagine a grown-up acting like your child, and you will soon have to stifle a smile.
Seriously though, we have to expect that our little ones will meltdown from time to time, in any possible setting. Assuming you’ve done your best to prepare our child for the trip, take the pressure off yourself -- this tantrum is not necessarily a reflection of your parenting skills. Do you know what is, though? How you react to it. Parents can make tantrums much worse by yelling at their child to stop, or by threatening them. The behavior just gets worse. Best to scoop up your tyke and take her to a place where she can calm down without being disruptive to others. Is it a drag for the parent? Oh, yes, and tiring, too. But wait out the storm and it will pass.
Is dealing with a meltdown in public any different from dealing with one in private?
As parents, we are much more self-conscious about being judged when our child is misbehaving in public. The things that go through our minds are: Am I raising my child to be a wild animal? Have I not taught him enough manners? My child is acting like a little brat; what am I doing wrong? In our book we include some great tantrum-prevention strategies. But even when you do your best, sometimes a collapse will still happen.
What advice would you give to a parent who is dealing with a particularly exasperating youngster?