We’ve seen them.

Sometimes my well-behaved kids throw a tantrum in public at the grocery store. That's ok. It might actually be good for us. Come see why.

The child screaming, red-faced at the park, oblivious to parental admonitions.

The toddler rocking in the cart, yelling because he didn’t get his way.

We sigh and shake our heads as we move along our way.

Until it’s us and our children.

My toddlers rarely threw real tantrums, but when they have, it’s been at the grocery store.

We can thank God when our toddler throws a tantrum in public. Read why it can be a blessing in disguise for us.

Sure, at the grocery store or in the middle of a crowded park, when we have guests or when we’re visiting a new church, perhaps even the disciplined child knows now is his chance to try out a tantrum and see if it works. What can mom do about it here?

The first time it happened to me, when my first born child who never threw fits was melting down in the grocery store in public, I attributed it to manipulation. And, certainly, some toddlers are expert manipulators.

But maybe there’s something more going on.

Why do generally well-behaved, well-disciplined, and well-loved children still have their worst moments in public?

Personally, I think Providence is behind it.

Before children, or if we have only a docile child or two, it is easy to assume that all tantrums at all times are a result of poor parenting.

Like 1+1=2, a toddler throwing a fit in public without being effectively stopped by a parent = toddler who needs more discipline than he gets.

You know what causes us to think that?


Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6

Those tantrums fell our pride.

And that’s a good thing.

When we are the parent feeling ineffective, it teaches us we aren’t all that. We don’t have it figured out after all. We still need grace.

When we have the red-faced, screaming child in public, it forces us to pay attention to our child instead of our reputation. We realize how deeply we care about what others are thinking, when that’s irrelevant to the moment.

When we are forced to deal with the situation under watching eyes, we naturally adjust our tone and realize with a shock that a harshness we know is unacceptable has become our default reaction.

And when that has been us, more than once, when we hear that screaming child at the grocery store or see the red-faced toddler at the park, we think of other stories that might be playing out instead of ineffective, “worse than me” parenting. We realize we have no idea what story is unfolding there, and that’s why it’s not our place to judge the story. We can offer up a quick prayer, we can offer an encouraging smile, but if we automatically decide the situation is one of moral fault, we should watch our back because

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2)

In other words, those assumptions you made about others as a bystander will be made against you by bystanders.

I know, because that’s been me.

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. (John 7:24)

What should we judge? We should first look to ourselves.

If it’s my child throwing the fit? My concern is my child, not appearances and what others might think of me. What others think is their business and not actually mine.

If it’s a random grocery store stranger? My concern is to love my neighbor. I can at least offer up a quick prayer for them. I can offer them a kind smile. I can, like a gracious older lady once did for me, bag her groceries for her and take them to the car and put her bags in the car while she holds her child.


“I had four kids,” she said, “It’s my turn to help.”

And as I drove home I thought, “I want to be like that when I grow up.”

Those public tantrums are not random.

They are not meaningless.

The public meltdowns are not meant to shame and punish us, but to teach us and move us to repentance. After repentance comes joy and freedom. Not freedom from public tantrums, but freedom from thinking more about what others think than about what God has for us to do right now, in this moment.

Those public meltdowns are for our good if we receive them with open hearts. We can thank God for them. He visits them upon us, and He does it for good.

This Christmas season, as we’re out with family or at the store late with children who have had too much sugar and too much excitement and too much indulgence, let’s remember what we’re called to each moment – not to guard our own reputations, but to care for our children and guide them.

We see in them only ourselves as we are with God, our Heavenly Father. We are spoiled children, tired and overwrought, pitching a fit over nothing. Yet He loves us, comforts us, teaches us, and still takes us home.

Praise God for the opportunity to imitate Him.


  1. Thank you for this insightful post. I definitely have had to redirect myself when I’ve been tough on my son out of my embarrassment and felt bad about it later. When I stop to focus on him and what his problem is and how to properly handle it, and disregard the public part, we both feel much better soon.

  2. Oh man, I want to be like that older woman that helped you bag groceries too! I have had so much public support from older women in particular – it is heartening – and I hope to extend that grace now and in the future.

    When I saw this post in my inbox, I thought “what kind of blessing could be in a public tantrum??” but you’re right. So right. May we all adjust the lens at home and in public to help us get to the heart of the problem instead of just the problem itself.

  3. I read this yesterday and then had it in mind today when my 3yo had a tantrum in the library. (Of all places!) I felt like I handled it pretty well, but boy was it tough! Lol

    1. Hi Lisa! I was just thinking about you the other day, wondering if you were still around. :)

      Sometimes I think, “Ok, I learned this one, I don’t have to have it happen again, do I?!” But I do. Apparently. :)

      1. That made my day to know you thought of me. :) I’ve always assumed that my online presence or absence is pretty much unnoticed.Lol

        My blogging has been much more sporadic since the arrival of baby 5 in June, but I’m slowly getting back into it. I do always read your posts though, even when I don’t comment. Thanks for always being encouraging and inspiring. I so enjoyed the recent planning chat!

  4. Thank you for this! I was worried this might be about some lady at the library whose child was flailing around and crying the whole way out to their car. I’m pretty sure one or two of the people in the parking lot thought I was stealing a child.
    It is so important to show compassion to others when their child is throwing a tantrum. It is such a humbling experience.

  5. Ooh, great post, Mystie! Amazingly enough, I haven’t had the tantrum at the store experience (isn’t that weird? I must be so overdue!) but what I have experienced many times is the 4-7 year old who just won’t stay with the cart and keeps stepping right in front of other people, hangs on the cart and almost tips it over, argues and tackles other siblings…. you know, just generally behaves like a completely discipline-resistant maniac.

    And generally that happens when we try to do Costco after a full day field trip, or the grocery store after a long list of other errands – and I’m sure it looks terrible and I look like a lady who clearly has too many kids to do a good job in my parenting. But I have learned to just keep smiling and apologizing to the people who are inconvenienced and to try and give the child as many little helpful tasks as possible (even if it means he will inevitably dart out right in front of someone’s cart as he grabs the requested item off the shelf!) And really, I wish I didn’t have to tax the kids (and myself! ahem) like that, but sometimes that’s just what has to happen. It certainly is an opportunity for grace and growth!

  6. I love so many things about this post, Mystie!

    When we are forced to deal with the situation under watching eyes, we naturally adjust our tone and realize with a shock that a harshness we know is unacceptable has become our default reaction.

    That is so true!

    And I love it when I receive an empathetic look, comment, or even a helping hand from other older moms. I want to be like them when I grow up, too! Their grace counteracts so well the judgmental looks I sometimes get from people who don’t have kids with them in the store. I probably was that judgmental, kid-less person once, but through the school of experience I now know better.

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