Diffusing the Temper of an Angry 3 Year Old (who happens to be a stranger)

Last Wednesday morning I was focussed on Plan A: Walk five minutes down the road to our local supermarket to pick up ingredients for dinner and top up on some essentials (read: I have been living deodorant-free for about two weeks), but when, on exiting our house, balmy 60 degree weather and a vivid blue sky greeted us Plan A was scrunched up, set on fire and thrown to the ground, where I promptly did a dance on its ashes.

I rung The Native.

“Hey, I know it’s only 11:45am, but HAVE YOU BEEN OUTSIDE?  AH-MAZ-ING.  Wanna meet us in the park for lunch?”

He told me to meet him on the High Street in fifteen minutes – fifteen minutes mostly because in most offices lunch breaks don’t tend to happen before twelve, but whoever decided that had not seen this day.

Plan B was a go.

What was not in Plan B was to be waiting in that spot on the High Street 25 minutes later with no sign of The Native.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed something urgent had come up and waited.  As we waited, I noticed another mother.  She was with an apopletic three year old who, being firmly rooted to a block of pavement outside of KFC, was banging on Colonel Sander’s face.  I raised my eyebrows and checked my phone waiting for some indication that The Native was on his way.  


I give him a call.

“Where are you?”  

He says he told me to call him when I got there.  FALLACY.  These are the moments when I wish I recorded every moment of our lives.  ::Rewinds tape::  SEE, Everyone – Vindicated!

At this point, Plan B was still a go, it was just a little crumpled.  I looked up again to see the mother trying to move her daughter away from The Colonel.  She had taken her in her arms and the little girl was smacking her mum in the face.  She was kicking her.  At one point, I think she even spit on her.

I started to watch the other passers-by.  They did the same as I did only minutes ago.  Raised eyebrows, they’d glance over with disapproving looks at the irate 2 1/2 foot tall person and the mother who couldn’t control her.

The thing is, I’d stopped raising my eyebrows because I wasn’t just someone passing by any more.  I had been watching this mum struggle for 15 minutes.  She looked exasperated.  She looked dispirited.  She looked tired.  She looked like she wanted the earth to open in front of the KFC to swallow her up because dropping into a freak chasm in the middle of Town and spiralling to your death might just be easier than dealing with this little girl right now.

I tried not to stare, but I felt a huge wave of compassion wash over me for this mother who was trying her best.  I could see it.  I could see it as she tried to move this little girl from the stubborn, angry place where the little girl was so resolute about staying.

The thing is, I am a huge feeler.  Way too much of a feeler.  I mean, today I teared up while watching Glee during some eternal friendship high school ballad meant to support 16 and Pregnant, Quinn, after Sue Sylvester told someone to leak her secret pregnancy to the whole school.  How dare she?!

Perhaps an irrational feeler.

I wondered if I should try to help.   I tried to watch closely without gawking.

Kneeling down, she firmly stated:

“You have behaved terribly.  We are going home.  You are not going to the cafe.  You will have a time-out.”

The girl screamed louder and began to hit her again.

I then heard the mother with desperation in her voice say:

“What do you think this is doing to the baby in Mummy’s belly?”

The girl, unaffected by this sibling she had little to no emotional tie to, continued to scream.

My Feeler radar went off the charts and I walked over and touched the Mother’s arm gently, not knowing how she was going to respond – not really knowing what I was going to say.

“Are you okay?”

“No, not really,”  she replied quietly.

She didn’t raise her eyes to meet mine.

I didn’t know what I was doing.  I wasn’t really thinking about crossing any cultural or personal lines because I just felt for this woman who was trying so hard.  I knelt down and looked into the round face of the little blonde girl.  She had snot running from each nostril, but had stopped crying because this strange woman had approached her Mummy about her behaviour.  She couldn’t contextualize what people are meant to do in this situation.  I couldn’t either.

“Take a deep breath.  Just try to calm down, okay?  You’re upset, aren’t you? And it seems you are having a hard day, but try to calm down and not take it out on your Mummy.  We are always hardest on our Mummies, aren’t we?”

I talked to her for a few minutes as she looked at me cautiously through dropped eyelids with her gaze just barely lifted from the ground.  As her anger was slowly replaced by confusion her Mother said gently again:

“Now we are going to the car.  We are going home now.”  

The girl started to whimper and then cry.  It was then I heard The Native chuckle nervously behind me.  He didn’t know how to contextualize this either.  This wasn’t in Plan B.

I turned to go and quickly muttered something to her about trying to relax once she got home.

In the half an hour we had together at the park I asked The Native at least five times if I did the right thing and nearly a week later and I’m still wondering if I did.  I’m sure there are some things I said in the course of that unexpected interaction that weren’t entirely helpful.  I didn’t want acknowledging her daughter’s behaviour to humiliate her even more.  I didn’t want to undermine her as she tried to discipline her daughter.  But because I had minutes to watch her, instead of judging her in the seconds it takes to walk by her, I saw a woman who needed a break, who needed to breathe, who just looked so desperate and I felt for her and, rightly or wrongly, that led me to do something.

What would you have done?


15 thoughts on “Diffusing the Temper of an Angry 3 Year Old (who happens to be a stranger)

  1. Steph

    Well done Brit 🙂 I don’t know what I would have done but I’m impressed/proud to be your friend that you did what you did! Most people avoid anything perceived as uncomfortable or awkward even if it could mean really caring for someone. I’d love to hear the woman’s convo w her hubby that night :). I ramble during a 4o’clock feeding 😉

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      I’d be afraid of that convo because perhaps it went like this, “This interfering American lady thought she knew how to deal with my child better than I did….” Hope not, but I’m a worrier. Part of being a feeler, maybe? Thanks for the encouraging words.

  2. MadeByYoursTruly

    You did the right thing. You helped diffuse a difficult situation. The mother would have told you to mind you own if you’d overstepped the mark, which she didn’t, so she clearly didn’t think you had.

    Reminds me of a time that I raced a (stranger) 3 year old to our respective cars. He had been crying, dragging his feet and refusing to move, and refusing to listen to his every-increasingly exasperated father. I looked at the little face, grinned and said “bet you can’t get to your car before I can get to mine!” and set off at a decent trot towards mine. He belted past me, clambered into his car and beamed! His father thanked me profusely, and honked the horn as they finally drove off.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Thank you for that. That’s kind of the conclusion I’ve come to in the end and just hope that it’s true.

      What 3 year old could turn down a foot race, huh? Maybe I’ll have to store that one for when The Duchess get older and is in a strop.

  3. Rach

    Yes, you did the right thing. It could have backfired, but even then it was right to offer support to both the mother and the daughter (feel sorry for the little girl too).

  4. Stacey

    Wow, I hope that if faced with the same situation I would be able to walk over and help as well. You did the right thing. Especially asking if the mom was okay first. By her saying no, she wasn’t I think she was opening the door for you to help. As a mom of a toddler there are times when no matter how many books you’ve read or theories you try to calm your child down it wont work. Maybe the stranger shock factor was needed 🙂 If I was that mom I would quietly thank you in my prayers that night. Acknowledging you at the moment would have been too hard and possibly led to (embarrassing) conversation, but I am sure she was grateful.

  5. Lauren

    Agreed. Maybe if you had watched me struggling with Kendall at Sea World and come to my rescue, she wouldn’t have ended up with “the backpack.” 🙂

  6. MsXpat

    To be hones I would have done nothing, I’m not that brave. I might even has moved a bit away from the location. You never know how someone is going to take you coming into their affairs. You did well to follow your heart, not many of us have that courage.

  7. Crystal Jigsaw

    I would have done the same thing. Why?

    Because I have an autistic daughter who was exactly the same when she was younger, and can still be incredibly difficult when out in public. I was once that mother (without the baby in my tummy) and i was once desperate for someone to help. What you did was wonderful and you should proudly pat yourself on the back. I would kill for a friend like you. What I am also thinking right now is that there is a very strong possibility that child has special needs.

    CJ x

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      That makes me feel a lot better because that’s just the question I’ve asked myself over and over again: What would I want as a mother? Thanks for posting. I’m not sure if she had special needs or not, but I’ve worked with an autistic little boy before and if it had gotten to this point, he always needed some kind of way to break from his anger.


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