How I Caused My Toddler's Public Meltdown

I like to think of myself as a smart and well-educated person. From time to time, I even think that maybe, just maybe I am getting this parenting thing down. Then I do something so incredibly dumb that I actually manage to surprise myself. I -- wait for it -- caused my toddler to have a public meltdown of epic proportions.

In the midst of the battle, when I was down on my knees in the trenches, I may have been a bit frustrated with my daughter. I was embarrassed. She was screaming in such a way that I am fairly certain there is permanent damage to my inner ear. What? Oh, sorry. Thought I heard something.

Anyway, as my daughter was screaming bloody murder in the middle of the grocery store, for a second I thought of asking her, “What is wrong with you?” Sure, she is two and therefore prone to her share of toddler tantrums and meltdowns (two very different things, by the way). But this? This was not her. It was all me. I caused the meltdown and I have some tips on how you can avoid making my same mistakes.

Allow me to set the stage. After a busy week of devoting probably 80 percent... okay, 90 percent of my attention to my job, it was finally Saturday. I am a teacher, but I teach online and work from home. It is “back to school” time and just cray cray. Work has been demanding the majority of my attention lately, which is very difficult for a tiny human to understand. Especially when you are right in front of them, yet not fully “present.”

Tip #1: Strive for quality time with your child over a quantity of time.

Right now, my time is limited and so I try to make sure that the time I spend with my daughter is well spent. Those minutes are precious. No playing while checking my email or social media. Folding laundry while talking also does not count. Even if it is five minutes, give your child your complete and undivided attention.

Mistake #1: I confused running errands with time to bond with my daughter.

My daughter loves to go on adventures with me. She has a blast going to the grocery or Target with mama. I try to make these jaunts adventures where we point out letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. We sing songs in the car and generally try to make it a fun experience.

Tip #2: Make your child feel useful by giving them specific tasks.

When out and about, I like to give my daughter a “job”. Sometimes it is just holding my purse. If we are heading somewhere familiar, I will ask her to look for something specific for me, like hide and go seek. Trader Joe’s, for example, has a hidden lobster somewhere in the store to find. It is hard to even think about having a meltdown when you are focused on a specific task!

Mistake #2: Thinking your child will be a great helper when they are tired.

On the day in question, my daughter and I had made a few stops. One to the book store, where she picked out a new Curious George book after much thought and consideration. Afterwards, we went right next door to a Whole Foods Market to pick up some seafood for dinner. My daughter had the task of holding her new, beloved book and spotting where we would buy the fish. She was delighted with both her book and her task, however the crab legs were astronomically priced and so we left without making a purchase. I saw my daughter yawning and yet I pressed on.

Tip #3: Schedule your outings around your child’s naps.

It was 1:48 p.m. and my daughter’s nap time is 2:00 p.m. I thought, “I’ll just make a quick stop at the grocery store for just this one item.” My daughter’s eyes were already beginning to droop and yet I still parked the car and carried her into the grocery store. It was a recipe for disaster. We did get the crab legs, but of course, I thought, “While we’re here, we’ll just a pick up a couple more things.”

I know better. Maybe it was sleep deprivation that temporarily fried my brain. My daughter happened to spy a huge display of goldfish, just as we were about to enter the line for checkout. In her defense, I had told her to be on the lookout for anything fishy related. Goldfish crackers also happen to be the drug of choice for toddlers.

Mistake #3: Not recognizing my daughter’s breaking point.

Busy Saturday plus crowded grocery store plus exhaustion…it all adds up to disaster. Add in a little toddler crack…I mean delicious goldfish crackers, and of course your little one is on the high speed train to Meltdown City. And so, my daughter began to cry. I tried to derail the train by grabbing a bag of crackers. She took the bag, but continued to cry.

Tip #4: Try a few “calm down” breaths.

I had already made several mistakes in a row, but my daughter is well versed in the technique of deep breathing. I got down to her level and told her to take a few calm down breaths. We both began to breathe and count our breaths…one…two…threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! And then, all heck broke loose.

The calm down breaths were working. My daughter had stopped crying. We were going to be able to buy our groceries and make a beeline home for nap time. But this bird flew in from nowhere and swooped our heads. Let me explain something to you, Dear Reader. I am scared to death of birds. Just thinking about those beaks and talons make my hands sweat. Why was there a bird flying through the grocery store? I will tell you why. Those winged rodents are out to get me!!!

Mistake #4: Not being a role model of good behavior for your child.

Instead of being the epitome of grace under pressure, I screamed. Loudly. Seriously, how did that friggin’ bird get in the grocery store and why was it stalking me?! My darling daughter took my hand and reminded me to take calm down breaths. But I was so shaken that I could not open the bag of goldfish crackers. And so, she began to cry once again.

Tip #5: When disaster strikes, run.

A little, old man, thinking he was helping the situation, leans down to my daughter and says a little too loudly, “Don’t cry, Little Girl!” Maybe his heart was in the right place. Maybe his hearing aid was just turned down too low that day. But he scared the bejeezus out of my daughter and she began to wail so loudly that even the bird flew away. Her cries drowned the dull roar of the shoppers. She collapsed into my arms. I left the cart where it was, grabbed my daughter in a football hold, and ran like the wind.

Oh, we made quite the spectacle running through the store and parking lot, but it was probably the first correct thing I had done all day. I rushed her straight to bed, whispering apologies in her ear along the way. I caused her meltdown. It was nobody’s fault, but mine. Well, mine and the bird’s. At least I know to never, ever make these mistakes again.

What parenting mistakes have you made? Have you ever accidentally caused your toddler’s meltdown? Do you also have an irrational fear of birds? Please comment and share below!