I rushed along the gravel pathway to our parked minivan. Three of my children ran ahead. I carried a flailing, screaming 4-year-old child.

The over-stimulation of the public park splash pad caused an epic meltdown.

No amount of deescalation techniques worked. Once my child started throwing rocks and sticks, I knew it was time to get out of there.

My three children secured themselves quickly into their carseats, and my other child remained inconsolable writhing on the ground, screaming, trying to throw things. It seemed like ages as I stayed with my child next to the van trying to prevent more rocks from being thrown and waiting for the meltdown to subside.

A woman jogged up to me. I braced myself for judgment.

“You need to get your kid under control.”

As if that thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

“Don’t take that child out in public.”

Basically, I should sequester my child and our family for life.

“You need to get that child help.”

Already got that covered. Therapy doesn’t solve everything.

But, instead, the tattooed, short, punky haired woman said, “How can I help you?”

I mumbled something about my child having special needs, and I wasn’t sure how she could help us. We needed to wait it out.

Undeterred, she replied, “I can get your other children a snack if they need one.”

I told her where we kept our snacks, and she passed them out to my children.

She returned to me and my child, “This looks really hard. I can’t imagine. It’s amazing how you take care of four children, and I struggle to take care of my only child.”

As I chatted with her, I felt the muscles in my body relaxing and I smiled. At this point, my child calmed down, too. Still upset but no longer out of control. I thanked her for her help as the two of us buckled into our van.

Four years later, I have never forgotten the grace of this tattooed stranger because she has been the only stranger to help us in public.

She modeled the support that every parent needs when they take their child with unpredictable behavior out in public.

I like to believe it is because people question how to respond when they see another person’s child melting down in public, so I am going to share what is helpful to parents when their child suffers public meltdown.

How to help a parent whose child is having a meltdown

1. Offer to help

2. Most likely the parent will say they don’t need your help. That’s OK. Offer to do something specific like offer a bottle of water.

3. Say something supportive like “You’ve got this” or “Mothering sure can be tough at times” or “You are a great mom.”

4. Let the parent take care of the child having the meltdown.

5. Don’t offer any advice.

6. Don’t be offended if the parent rejects your help. The child may need space and quiet to calm down.

Parenting a child with public meltdowns feels isolating. The stares and judgment hurt because we want our families to be understood and accepted.

When we take our children with unpredictable behavior out in public, we step outside our comfort zones because we endure possible ridicule from others.

Be like the tattooed woman.

Step outside of your comfort zone offering a simple gesture of kindness and connection to a mom helping her child through a challenging moment.