Public Meltdowns: How Should We React?

After being kicked out of gymnastics, dance, and multiple daycare centers I am traumatized. If it is not confrontational parents, business owners, or random strangers in public– it’s me. I truly do not know how I am expected to react when my daughter starts to melt down. 

She can make it almost an entire hour grocery shopping and will sometimes kick and hit me during checkout. I ignore her, bag my groceries, pay and we leave. I even ignore the stares and glares from people. I’m numb to it by now. 

But in a room filled with other parents and children, I can’t figure out what the appropriate response should be since I have tried them all and always leave feeling humiliated and mortified. After a year and a half of taking a break from activities, I decided to try a karate trial tonight. I was actually inspired by other bloggers and a few local friends to do this. 

Ally actually did okay. 

I was on edge the entire time waiting for the meltdown. 

There was a moment at the beginning where she got spooked and ran to me but was able to redirect and participate in most of the class. 

She ripped her helmet off during the activity and I thought she was going to lose it because she said it scared her but they didn’t make her wear it today. I’ll have to work on that because it is a sensory reaction. 

I noticed while she was punching and kicking bags that her motor skills are still lagging behind and she still needs Occupational Therapy. 

I’m proud of her for making it through most of the class and not losing it until the end. Yes, it happened and even though I was on guard, I wasn’t prepared. It has been so long since I have had to be ready to grab her and run. 

The reason that she got upset was totally relatable though. They were testing for belts and since she was on a trial, she did not need to test. But in her head, she saw that the other kids weren’t leaving and she wanted to stay too. 

I whispered to her to put her shoes on so we could go and get some ice cream but she wanted to stay. 

I offered to let her stay and watch the kids test from afar but she just didn’t understand.

She hit me and called me horrible things that I am not going to list here. I’ll just say that my four-year-old was cursing at me in public. 

I didn’t know how to react but I stayed calm and tried to ignore her and redirect her into leaving as I gathered our things and tried to eyeball the exits and how quickly I could get her out into the cold without dropping her, her shoes, jacket, water bottle, my purse and everything else. I went into escape mode. 

I think I have portrayed just about every possible reaction in the past. 

During Gymboree classes, I let her do whatever she wanted so she didn’t scream. This meant we were playing on the equipment during circle time and running from activity to activity out of order.  

At gymnastics, I yelled at her and forcefully grabbed her wrists when she hit me. Parents around me told me that I was a monster. This was after they complained to me about my daughter ruining the class. I was so angry because she was only two and couldn’t even make it fifteen minutes before we had to leave. 

When she melted down at dance, I punished her by taking away her toys and screen time. I spoke calmly and offered these punishments which only spiraled into deeper meltdowns. I left feeling like a failure because she had to be carried out surfboard style. 

When she did this at daycare, I sent a behavior company in to help and they thought that the ABA approach was cruel and couldn’t carry it out when her therapist wasn’t present. There was one specific day when she couldn’t calm down and ripped apart a classroom. Upon arrival, I rubbed her back and calmed her down and let her sit with a stuffed animal so I could help clean up her mess. When I cleaned the classroom myself, the owner yelled at me that she is spoiled and stormed out of the room. 

Tonight when it happened…all I could think was that every reaction made me feel like a failure. All of the research has pointed towards all of these approaches and yet the stares always feel like my reaction to her meltdown is what people look at. But I don’t know. Is it my reaction or her inability to calm down quickly enough?

I don’t know what the right answer is but I plan to remain calm the next time she does this and will do what feels right in the moment. I guess we will see what happens next week. 

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Published by mischiefmomma

Mischief Momma was started in 2016 to write about the playful truths of parenting and life. In 2017, MM began to focus more on writing about parenting and life on the spectrum and raising her daughter and stepson. She writes about the joys, humor, and struggles of raising children who are different, and navigating obstacles like childcare, education, and work. This mom writes about her journey upward after hitting rock bottom.

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