The Tantrum That Taught Me Not to Judge

I could feel the sweat building up under my arms. My six-month-old son was safely strapped to my chest in my Baby Bjorn, while my five-year-old daughter followed 10 feet behind. These two were not the problem. The reason we were walking out of Costco, leaving a cart full of goods, was my two-year-old son, Jack.

I was livid.

What started as a simple request for a train half an hour before escalated quickly. “But I want it, Mommy! I want it now!” He had the typical ear-numbing scream, his eyes full of rehearsed tears, and he’d now positioned his body on the floor like a floppy, wet noodle. I found myself in the middle of an all-too-familiar toddler tantrum.

Only this time, I wasn’t home. At home, this wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d just ignore him and walk away, leaving him without an audience for his performance. That usually did the trick. Once he realized Mommy wasn’t watching and he wasn’t going to get what he wanted, the tantrum would end.

But we were at Costco.

Forget the groceries. Abort. Abort! Get out of here STAT.

All eyes were glued on us as we made our way from the frozen food section to the front of the store. Halfway there, I’d had enough of Jack’s pouting and lagging behind. I had to spare these people. So I scooped him up and placed him on my hip next to the baby. My face burned with frustration and embarrassment.

I couldn’t blame them. I’d look, too. I’d stare at the crazy woman with a baby strapped to her, holding a second child on her hip, with a third child struggling to keep up. Jack continued to scream. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

And then it hit me. Deja vu. I had seen this before.

The Tantrum That Taught Me Not to Judge

My mind took me back to Target several years ago. I was still a teacher without kids of my own. I was probably in my own world choosing a nail polish color or some decoration for our apartment. That was me back then. It was all about me.

My self-centered bliss was interrupted suddenly. It was a kid. He was screaming. I looked up to see a boy, about two or three years old, screaming at his mother. It didn’t take me long to realize he was begging for something—something his mom wasn’t going to buy. She turned from him and started walking away, the boy trailing behind.

What is wrong with that kid? Why can’t that mom keep him quiet? If I were that mom, I’d show him. My kids won’t behave like that.

And then it hit me: I WAS THAT MOM. The one whose kid was screaming. The one who couldn’t keep her kid quiet. MY KID WAS BEHAVING LIKE THAT. And I couldn’t get him to stop.

It felt like a slap in the face. I judged that mom so many years ago, and now it was happening to me. I mistakenly blamed her for her kid’s tantrum, thinking she could control it. Now I realized it wasn’t her fault. There was nothing she could do. Jack was acting just like her son had, and I couldn’t keep him quiet any more than she could.

I’m so sorry, lady at Target. I take it all back.

After my workout of buckling three kids into their car seats, I settled in behind the wheel and took a deep breath. Jack was still screaming and would continue until he fell asleep during our drive home. I couldn’t believe I’d just walked out of Costco empty handed. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Target lady’s situation and mine weren’t that different. We’d both experienced our kids throwing a temper tantrum in public. We were both embarrassed. Our mothering had been a show for all to see. One thing stood out in my mind: I shouldn’t have judged her.

Kids have minds of their own. No amount of schedules, rewards, or consequences would have helped either one of us. Kids just throw tantrums sometimes. It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t mine. That day I decided I would never look down on another mom for her kid’s behavior again.

Since my lesson at Costco, I’ve chosen to give other moms the gift of grace. We all deserve a break and some kindness. When I see a mom in a tough situation with a screaming kid, I don’t stare. If there’s an obvious way to help, I do. Just the other day, I pushed another mom’s basket while she carried her crying baby. Other times I just lock eyes with another mom and smile. We both know what we’re thinking: “Isn’t this hard? And exhausting? But, oh-so-fun!” We wouldn’t have it any other way.[hr]

Has your child ever thrown an extreme temper tantrum? Please share it in the comments! Maybe if we hear others’ tantrum stories, ours won’t seem so bad!

Denisse grew up in the South Texas border town of Mission, where she met her best friend and future husband, Ian. After going to college at Texas A&M University, she and Ian were married and moved to San Antonio, where she worked as a preschool special education teacher. She loved her job but decided her heart was at home after having her first baby. Two more children and 12 years later, she still loves being married to Ian and being a stay-at-home mom to their three kids. Denisse loves coffee and taking naps. She writes at


  1. I can relate to this. My son has tantrums when we’re out. People stare but I don’t give in, unless we’re somewhere I can’t take him outside to “get it together” like Church, Airplane etc. I also have learned not to judge. Having raised 4 kids it seems like my last one has been the most challenging. My husband and I now take turns going to the groceries or running errands and leave family errands/outings for the weekends. We both work full-time and our 3 yr old is in preschool full-time. We balance things with our older children by taking them out to a movie while I stay home with our son during his nap on weekends. Thank you for this post. It’s refreshing knowing we’re not alone and supported. In this world it seems like we’re “bad moms” for letting the tantrum happen or for giving in when it happens. We can never win in the eyes of those that judge.

  2. This is a great article! When my son was maybe 18 months old we were flying to visit family for Christmas. He had a full meltdown, throwing himself on the ground, crying, screaming. NOTHING I did could stop it. I just needed him to sit in his car seat so we could board the plane in a few minutes. The hard part was I couldn’t just leave because we were not in a store. 🙁

    I realized as it was happening that I was THAT parent and he was THAT child. I feel like everyone goes through it. I usually stick to my guns but in that case I threw every bribe toy/thing I had at him so we could board our flight. I finally got him strapped in with a bag of snacks that I just let him stick his hands into and have at it, and Mickey Mouse Club House on my iPhone.

    The best part of all of it were the wonderful people sitting around me who praised me for my patients through it all and said some of them might not have handled it so well. It was exactly what I needed to hear, as I was freaked out that everyone was thinking “I hope that kid isn’t on our flight!” I will never forget that it can happen to anyone and it will happen to you, and how wonderful those other people were with their words of encouragement. Remember that even those encouraging words can make someone feel 10 times better. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • I’m so glad those people were understanding, Liz! Airplanes are definitely a place where I am more flexible.. Give the kid whatever he wants so he’s happy and doesn’t bother the other passengers, right? Glad it worked out okay for you 🙂

  3. The important thing is that you took him out of the store. You can’t blame a mom for her child’s emotional outbursts, but you can blame her for reacting inappropriately, or worse, rewarding the behavior. You did the right thing by leaving.

  4. Oh I have been here before. And I hadn’t even made it into HEB before I turned the stroller around. The worst part was, my kid had somehow unbuckled and slid out of the stroller just as an elder lady walked by. She looked at me like I tipped him out of it. Now I tend to give moms with crying little ones a quick sympathetic smile and go on about my business. It happens to all of us I think! At least once…

    • It happened more than once for me. Don’t worry about what others think, Kim. Sometimes I know my kids are tired and won’t be their best for an errand, but if we are out of toilet paper or milk, I just have to do it!

  5. We had one week when my daughter had TWO screaming public tantrums. It’s horrifying that there’s nothing you can do to stop the tantrum, you just have to ride it out and keep your child safe. We’re all in it together!

    • Yes, Melissa! Moms everywhere inevitably have kids throwing tantrums. It’s nice to know there will be light at the end of the tunnel. I can tell you from experience that at nine and six they don’t happen anymore. We’re still working on my four year old. 🙂

  6. As a mom with a VERY willful toddler, I’ve gotten pretty practiced at ignoring the judging glances I get when he chooses the exact. wrong. moment. to assert himself. It still stings, though, knowing there’s this illusion of control I ought to have over this entirely separate human being!

    It also makes me a little sad that people often don’t realize what herculean efforts some toddlers put in to behave most of the time. I watch my 2-year-old child actively make the decision to let an issue go and calm himself so often that I can sometimes understand when he’s drained enough that it’s just not going to happen.

    I too try to help out unobtrusively or share a smile if possible. I’ve been the recipient of some kindness as well, and it’s nice to feel connected to society instead of segregated just because you’re shepherding a small child.

    • I agree with you, Jennifer. For every ONE tantrum, there are many occasions when our children are well behaved. I’ve learned that when things get difficult it’s usually after a long day, a missed nap, or something out of the norm. Still, I don’t want to make excuses for them.

      It’s nice to hear that you’ve received kindness… Doesn’t that make it all better?

  7. It is hard to be a Mom with a tantrum throwing toddler, I too have seen someone leave a cart full of groceries crying toddler in arms. As I watched the lady walk from the store all I could think was don’t leave! It shows your child they have won! They’ve got you flustered and embarrassed. In the future stand your ground. Say no and if your kid misbehave put them in the cart. Sure it’s unpleasant but you aren’t showing your child that every time they don’t want to be somewhere they can throw a fit and you will leave. That habit is 10x harder to break.

    • Hi Jessika!
      Thankfully this happened years ago! My son is now six, and I’m happy so say it only happened once! I like to think that he didn’t win because he didn’t get the toy he was throwing a fit for. 🙂

    • Jessika,
      I know exactly what you mean! My daughter would intentionally scream in HEB when she was a toddler and I KNEW that the reason she screamed was because she wanted out of the store. She was (and still is) a homebody and hated going places.

      I never left the store. I’m sure others wished I would, but I knew that was giving in to the tantrum. Eventually she grew out of it.

Comments are closed.