Why do adults get so annoyed by other people’s children screaming and crying?

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Why do adults get so annoyed by other people’s children screaming and crying?

All parents know the embarrassment of their child having a meltdown in a public place (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

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There is nothing like being stuck on a plane with a screaming toddler strapped to you, unable to leave your seat and unable to calm them down.

It is the stuff of parenting nightmares, which once became a reality for me. I could feel the eyes of our fellow passengers burning into me as they endured my then 14-month-old daughter completely lose her mind.

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I was worried that my parenting skills were being judged, however, I needn’t have worried as not one of the passengers complained, instead, they all offered looks and words of empathy.

Hearing Billie Faiers tell her own flight horror story this week – her son Arthur, three years old, was having a meltdown and kicking the chair of the woman in front, who got so annoyed that she turned round and slapped him on the arm – I feel incredibly lucky to have recieved the response I did.

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I haven’t forgotten those feelings of complete helplessness and the kindness shown to us but, as Billie’s story has highlighted, the tolerance that I received by strangers when my toddler was upset, is pretty uncommon.

Navit Schechter, founder of Conscious & Calm was once in the supermarket when her four-year-old daughter went into full-on meltdown mode. A woman, unknown to her, came up and crossly asked Navit’s daughter: ‘What do you think you are doing?’.

‘I was really annoyed as I felt like she was shaming my daughter,’ Navit tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I told the woman that she was just acting as a four-year-old does and that her behaviour was totally normal – she wasn’t doing anything wrong.’

Navit is right, young children having a meltdown is often due to their lack of being emotionally mature enough to deal with things like adults can. Put them in a situation, such as travelling, or where they have to be patient and wait when they are feeling hungry or tired and they can go from calm to screaming banshee in seconds, causing the people around them to become quite annoyed.

Why do adults get so annoyed by other people’s children screaming and crying?

Why do strangers have such strong reactions to children’s tantrums? (Picture: Getty Images)

But why is this? Why do strangers react so strongly to someone else’s child crying or having a tantrum? Child psychologist Dr Michele McDowell explains.

‘The behaviour can be perceived as rude and as such, be seen as a lack of courtesy towards others that breeches social norms of behaviour,’ Michelle tells us.

‘A negative response can be elicited because the onlooker also attributes the child’s behaviour to poor parenting, and their judgement leads to feelings of irritation towards them.

‘Reactions can vary based on a range of factors. Research has indicated that men, for instance, tend to be less empathetic to crying then women and another factor can be down to where the crying occurs – public spaces are more likely to be faced with negative responses.’

Emma Greenfield, founder of Music for Little Ears and Minds, tells how, as a baby, her daughter would scream whether she was happy, sad, frustrated, or excited – it just didn’t matter.

‘It was really hard to deal with and I had a few nasty comments,’ Emma shares. ‘One woman once looked at me and patronisingly asked what was wrong with my baby, telling me that none of her children ever screamed like that.

‘Another scolded me, telling me that I should tell my daughter to be quiet – she was seven months old – as if that was going to work!

Why do adults get so annoyed by other people’s children screaming and crying?

There’s often a real lack of kindness in how we respond (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘I had already tried singing, speaking calmly to encourage her to settle but my stress levels were really rising as I was getting more and more disapproving looks from the people around me.

‘The woman told me that my daughter was giving her a migraine and that I needed to shut her up. I felt so guilty for disturbing other people’s peace.’

Michele notes that sometimes, those extreme reactions reflect an adult’s own childhood.

‘Such expressions of behaviour can be emotionally triggering for the onlooker who may not have been positively responded to themselves when they cried as a child, and maybe need support themselves,’ she explains.

Being on the receiving end of someone’s frustration can be hard to deal with. Billie, for instance, says she ‘saw red’, which is understandable – hitting a child, yours or not, is never okay.

As hard as it can be though, if you can’t ignore the comments, it is best to respond by calmly explaining how you are trying your best, that your child is acting their age and let them know that their comments are not helpful and are upsetting you. Try to avoid being rude – after all, two wrongs don’t make a right.

And if you’re the stranger feeling irritated by a child’s screaming, Georgina Durrant, author, and founder of The SEN Resources Blog suggests: ‘Offer to help instead.

‘I did this while in a supermarket when the checkout lady “shushed” a kid who was having a tantrum, and really upset their mum. I couldn’t not say anything to her – she looked so upset and alone.’

The perfect way to respond.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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