How do you deal with rude strangers when your child melts down in public?
My 6 year old has horrible tantrums at the grocery store. People expect a 2 or 3 year old to throw themselves on the floor and scream and kick, but my child is 6! He has special needs, but no one knows that because he looks normal. All they see is his horrific behavior. People are so rude and it makes me want to cry. How do I deal with strangers who are rude when my son is having a melt-down in public?
Sincerely, Embarrassed Mom
Dear Embarrassed Mom,
I completely understand how you feel. I’ve been there, in fact, I still deal with this on a regular basis with my nine-year-old.
I’m not overly witty, but I’ve been planning my response for years. Here’s a few I’ve thought of:
Who died and made you an expert on children with mental health disorders?
Are you a psychiatrist? Are you a therapist? Are you a mom of a child with special needs? Then why do you think you have any advice I can use?
Just imagine — this is a GOOD day!
It was the sugar she just ate.
Don’t stand too close, it’s contagious.
Of course, in the midst of the very public melt-down nothing clever ever enters my mind. No matter how many times it happens, every time seems to leave me numb. I simply can’t think straight. I have years of experience dealing with public melt-downs, and God has been at work in me to teach me how to respond. Here’s what I’m still learning:
Recognize this as a pride issue.
You want those around you to think of you as a good parent. In societal norms, “good parents” have children who are well-behaved in public.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 ESV)
Repent. Ask God to enable you to respond to your child and to strangers in a way that will bring the focus to God and not to you.
Ignore the stranger; focus on your child.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”(Prov. 15: 1 ESV)
Speak calmly and quietly to your son. Calm him any way that works best for him. Remove him from the situation if at all possible — leave your cart and take him to the car immediately.
Let your actions speak louder than your words.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 ESV)
Instead of seeing your son’s behavior as an embarrassment, view it as an opportunity. Others will see the loving way you care for your son in the midst of the melt-down. They will see God’s character living through you. Your response to his melt-down may just be the catalyst that leads the “rude stranger” to glorifying God.
So put away the sarcastic response you’ve been preparing for the next time it happens. (You know you have them, and you know it will happen again.) Instead, use it as an opportunity to share God’s love with your son, and with the strangers who are watching.
With love, Lorene
If you have questions for Lorene having to do with raising children with mental illness for the glory of God, please post them in the comments.