By Guest Blogger Michelle Barson

How often have you born witness to a toddler meltdown of epic proportions? How often has that been you? Regardless of what end of it you’re on – observer or  unwilling participant – they’re awkward.

I’ve often had people offer to help or just start trying.  Most of the time it’s more frustrating than it is useful. The other day I was leaving Miller Park in Winston and there was a mom of four attempting to leave the park. Among her brood of four was a smaller toddler of about one (or young two) and an infant. One of her older two (approximate ages 7 and 5) started acting up – specifically the five year old boy. Anyone who has had one of these knows they are strong and hard to control if they’re physically acting up. I winched imagining her holding hands with a two year old, balancing a baby and trying to get that little terror under control all while keeping an eye on the older one.

My two boys were being good at this particular moment in time so I had a hand to help – so I did. I watched for a little bit trying to determine if I should intervene or just stop staring…but it continued to escalate and there was no way to ignore it especially as my kids stopped to join in the leering.  The parking lot was nearby and small so I started speaking with him and asking if he would let me and my boys walk him to his car. We started talking about being a good boy for mommy and listening to her when he got home. The conversation snapped him out of his tantrum rut and I was able to help a fellow mom get to her car safely.

This made me think about the reasons why some help feels so out-of-place and annoying and other help  is so awesome?  Let me give another real life example. I had a man follow me out to my car from Lowes Foods one day as one of my kids was in a partial tantrum state. He didn’t say a word and wasn’t near enough for me to realize he was following me until we got to the car. He didn’t ask to hold my purse or ask to help my kids into their seats or anything else that can feel too intrusive . Instead, he offered to load my groceries. I really wanted to say no, but he had already started.  It wasn’t an employee – just a really nice guy. Then he took my cart from me and said “have a great rest of your day”.  It was great. Totally unexpected. Totally not creepy. And, most importantly incredibly helpful and uplifting.

I guess the differences I have found in the type of help that I appreciate, and the type I find either offensive or overbearing, comes in both the form (how personal it feels) and the tone (does it come across as genuine or as “let me show you how this is done”).

Tips for Helping in Tantrum Situations

  • Don’t touch the child. Unless in a parking lot situation and still not lifting.
  • Don’t give any advice. Now is not the time for it.
  • Fill in a gap. What is an obvious need that the parent can’t achieve on their own at this time?
  • Avoid sympathy. It feels patronizing in a moment like that.
  • No story telling. Obviously the parent does not have time to hear about your second son and his constant tantrums – nor do they care at this moment.

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