Toddler tantrums in public - what do you think?


The issue of toddler tantrums in public has sparked controversy after a member of staff at John Lewis at Manchester’s Trafford Centre asked a mother to leave because her child was having a meltdown.

AASMA DAY looks at the issue of childhood tantrums and speaks to experts on their advice on how to handle them.

Flailing arms, angry tears, kicking legs and high pitched screams … and that’s just the desperate parents.

Let’s face it, any parent is lucky if they manage to survive the toddler years without experiencing their fair share of breakdowns in shops and restaurants with their child having an explosive tantrum in public.

Before having children, most of us are guilty of shooting parents in this situation smug looks as if to say: “Can’t you control your child?”

And many will admit to rolling their eyes or tutting when hearing a child screaming or wailing on a train or plane and thinking: “I wish that child would shut up!”!

Chances are, the frazzled parent is wishing the exact same thought and the last thing they need is the judgemental looks and whispers from passers by.

Dr Allison Moore, senior lecturer in social sciences at Edge Hill University,

Dr Allison Moore, senior lecturer in social sciences at Edge Hill University,

Karma usually bites back and most of the “judgers” one day find the shoe on the other foot as their own child has a meltdown of epic proportions leaving them cringing.

When you’ve been there yourself, the only emotion you feel when you see a helpless parent and a child throwing themselves on the ground emitting ear piercing screams is relief and the thought: “Thank goodness that’s not me.”

As a parent to twins and having experienced a double dose of the terrible twos, I know how shopping with children can be a nightmare when they suddenly decide to throw a tantrum.

As a result, the only look I’ll give a parent trying to calm down their youngster is one of reassuring pity with the unspoken message in my eyes of: “Don’t worry about it - we’ve all been there.”

Prof Cary Cooper.

Prof Cary Cooper.

Tantrums are extremely common in toddlers and pre-school children. It’s how youngsters deal with difficult feelings and the frustration of having the inability to express themselves properly.

When the inevitable happens in a department store, the poor parent feels terrible enough with what feels like thousands of pairs of eyes upon them.

Which is why it makes the actions of the member of staff at John Lewis in Manchester’s Trafford Centre even more unbelievable.

Lindsay Robinson was shopping at the John Lewis branch with her 16-month-old daughter Heidi when her daughter decided to have a crying fit.

As Lindsay was trying to calm her child, a member of staff from the menswear department approached her and after telling her they’d had a complaint, asked the pair to leave the shop.

The scenario has led to an outcry and John Lewis has apologised to the mum who made a formal complaint to the store.

Dr Allison Moore, senior lecturer in social sciences at Edge Hill University, says: “It reminds me of the antiquated saying that children should be seen and not heard.

“I thought we had long since moved on from this.

“It is the 21st century and the UK has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which recognises children’s rights to express their views and be listened to.

“Clearly, we still have a long way to go before this is actually realised.”

Dr Moore says “tantrum” is an unhelpful word as people often use it to describe behaviours that children exhibit to communicate something.

She explains: “Young children in particular have limited opportunities to express how they are feeling and sometimes they resort to using their physical bodies to convey that they are unhappy, tired, hot, bored or frightened.

“Being a small person in a department store surrounded by adults, unfamiliar sights and sounds and bright lights can be a very frightening and disorientating experience.

“Over recent years, parenting has become professionalised and there is now enormous pressure on parents.

“All too often, the underpinning principle is that parents should be able to control their children, especially in public and failure to do so runs the risk of being labelled a ‘bad parent’.

“A helpful response from parents is to talk to their child and ask them how they are feeling and why they feel like that.

“Of course, that might not elicit an immediate response from a child and it can take some time to uncover the reasons for their behaviour.

“However, because of the enormous pressure that parents feel and their fear of being judged, many may feel they cannot take the time needed to respond to the situation and be forced to take rushed action.”

Prof Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at Manchester Business Schools says he believes the actions of the staff member at the John Lewis store were “crazy and wrong.”

Prof Cooper, who is a father-of-four and has six grandchildren, says: “The last thing shops want to do is discourage consumers. It is difficult enough for parents when they are shopping trying to cope with a child who is having a temper tantrum.

“These parents feel bad enough, so why make things tougher for them?

“Every parent has to find their own way of dealing with their child when they act like this as they know their child best.

“Diversionary tactics are a good way, as long as it isn’t done by giving a form of reward as this will only reinforce their behaviour.

“If you reward or ‘bribe’ the child, they will learn that every time they behave badly, they will get goodies.

“I believe this action by this member of staff at John Lewis was a big mistake.

“Mums and dads go shopping so why don’t big department stores provide a place of distraction for their children such as a soft play area?

“This would be more helpful than making them feel worse when they are facing a tricky situation with their child.”