Why It's Important to Speak Up If You See a Stranger's Kid Publicly Melting Down

Katie McLaughlin viral post
Katie McLaughlin/Facebook

We've all heard the phrase "It takes a village" time and again. But we often don't quite see the power of that truth until we're in the midst of a particularly trying moment --such as during a toddler meltdown at Target! A woman in Pennsylvania was contending with exactly that earlier this month, and Pick Any Two blogger and mom of two Katie McLaughlin took to Facebook to explain, in a now-viral post, how she handled the situation as an observer and grappled with approaching the stranger.

  • McLaughlin, who lives in York, Pennsylvania, shared that she was at Target when she witnessed "a meltdown of epic proportions." 

    target katie mclaughlin
    Katie McLaughlin/Facebook

    "Behind me at the checkout, this 3-year-old was kicking and screaming and flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water," McLaughlin wrote. "I tried to catch the mom’s eye and give her an empathetic look, but she was too busy wrestling with her daughter to notice me."

    The journalist and blogger, who has a 3-year-old and 6-year-old herself, observed that "the mom was doing everything 'right.' She remained calm. She spoke to her child in a gentle, reassuring tone. She was as attentive as she could be while also attempting to pay for her assortment of $10 tees and seasonal decor. But despite her best efforts, the meltdown only got bigger and bigger."

    McLaughlin noticed how the mom's cheeks flushed as she apologized to the cashier. "Say something kind to her, I thought," McLaughlin wrote. "She’s embarrassed and alone and feels like a terrible mother. Remind her that none of those things are true. But then I thought, No, it’s none of your business. LEAVE THE POOR STRANGER ALONE." 

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  • The two ended up in the parking lot together, and McLaughlin saw the little girl fighting "fiercely as her mom strapped her into her car seat."

    "Go to her, Katie, I thought again," she wrote. "This time I did." 

    McLaughlin shared that she approached the mom and said, “Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say you’re doing a great job.” 

    "She looked up at me, blinked twice, and then visibly melted," the writer explained. "Tears started streaming. 'I think I feel as bad as she does.' I nodded. 'I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but you are rocking this.' More tears. 'You have no idea how much I needed to hear that.' I did, though. Every parent does."

  • She urged readers to "start saying it. Let's take the risk."

    "That mom could have looked at me funny," McLaughlin noted. "She could have told me to mind my own business. But I took the chance and we are both better for it. Empathy instead of judgment. Support instead of silence. Community instead of isolation. This is the parenting revolution."

  • McLaughlin tells CafeMom that she ultimately decided speaking to the stranger would be "worth the risk."

    "It was worth the risk of being rejected, or given a strange look, or told to mind my own business," she shares. "It was worth risking that for the possibility of connection."

  • Commenters on McLaughlin's post thanked her for speaking up, echoing the power of such an act.

  • Many shared their stories of being the mom with the tantrum-throwing kiddo.

  • "I feel for every single mom who's commented on my post about her own experience with a child melting down in public," McLaughlin says. "It is such a common and understandable thing! In that moment, it just makes sense to show each other some extra kindness and empathy."

  • McLaughlin's act of kindness made such a huge impression that the mom she had approached took to Facebook to post about it as well.

    "It was amazing to see that she had posted as well, and to know it impacted her the way it had impacted me," McLaughlin says. "After that we did connect via social media, which made the whole experience that much more special."

    How incredibly heartening. 

    McLaughlin's experience goes to show that the smallest, most effortless act of compassion can go extremely far to supporting a fellow human being. Sure, on the surface, these two women may have been strangers, but ultimately, they're both women contending with similar issues in their lives and had the ability to see and support one another.

    "We moms get the message that we have to do this whole parenting thing on our own, without a village," McLaughlin says. "But it doesn't have to be that way. Reaching out to her, which was such a small thing, was one way of saying that I believe we're all in this together."