Eight Tips on How to Handle a Temper Tantrum in Public

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1. Don’t go out if your child is hungry, tired, or otherwise anxious to be somewhere. This is a common mistake. You might be anxious to pick up dinner at the store, or buy stamps at the post office, but it would be wise to reconsider if your children are on their last legs.

If you really must go out, explain to your children why you need to go out. If they are hungry, let them snack on a high-energy snack. If they are tired, consider offering to read them an extra bedtime story, or offer to put scented bubbles their bathwater as an extra incentive.

Either way, make your trip short and sweet, and don’t try to stretch your luck by adding on extra errands because the kids are doing so well. Not only is not fair – they didn’t agree to that – it isn’t truthful either. If you told them “only one thing,” then keep your word.

2. Don’t worry about what other people think. Don’t allow your fear about what other people think distract you from doing what you need to do in order to handle the situation. There are many children who get away with highway robbery, simply because their parents are worried about them making a scene. If you have trouble remembering this during a meltdown, think this to yourself, “Do any of these people pay my bills?” If the answer is no, then get going on what you need to do.

3. Don’t give your child whatever it is he is tantrumming about. It might seem obvious, but its’ worth saying: if you want to ensure a lifetime supply of tantrums whenever you enter a public space, the surest way to do it is to give in to whatever your child wants.

Even if you were going to buy it for your child anyway, don’t get it. Buy it another time. It may seem cruel, but while you may consider it a move motivated by temporary insanity, your child will consider it open hunting season.

4. Don’t wait until your child is out of control. Okay every parent does it: we often ignore the warning signs of a blow up until it’s too late. Trying to get “just one last thing done” often pushes us to engage in a little magical thinking aka the Little Engine That Could: can you say, “I think he can, I think he can, I think he can…”

A better tactic would be to evaluate the situation as soon as your child starts entering the tantrum mode. As soon as they start moaning, pestering, or exhibiting any other type of behavior, warn them that their behavior is unacceptable, and that if it continues, you will go home. Usually this is enough of a consequence, since most children would rather go anywhere else than home.

And here is where it gets sticky: if your child continues to repeat the same behavior –even once- GO HOME. This is going to be hard to do, since most parents are short on time and trying to get as many errands done as possible. And besides, you probably don’t want to go home anyway, at least not with a bunch of tired, cranky children.

Do it anyway. If this still doesn’t convince you, picture how embarrassed you’ll be when your child lets loose at the checkout counter. Sweet. Not.

5. Remove the child from the public arena. While it is certainly unpleasant carrying away a screaming, thrashing two-year old, it is essential you do so. Firstly, some children actually do enjoy the extra attention provided by passersby. Secondly, even the children who could care less whether or not others pay attention are still revved up by the noise and the inevitable tension around them.

You’ll have an easier time helping them to calm down without all the distractions, so grit your teeth, pick up your child, and plop them down in a relatively quiet place. This could be a parking lot, an out of the way bathroom, or a parked car.

6. Ignore your child until the worst of the tantrum passes. It’s common for parents to try and calm down a child in the middle of a tantrum. Often they’re embarrassed, and feeling the pressure from passers-by, siblings, or spouses. However, most children need a little time to calm down, and to realize that they will not get whatever it is they wanted.

When you see your child start to wind down, go over to them, but don’t start by explaining to them or trying to verbally convince them to settle down.

Instead, go over quietly to them, and rub their backs, or whatever other method you use to physically comfort your child. Then, when your child is calm, don’t hash the argument over. Simply hold out a hand to your child and continue on your way, with a brief “Let’s go.”

7. Stay calm. This is admittedly difficult, and different parents have different ways of handling things. Some parents sit a little away from the child and pretend it’s someone else’s child. Others call a friend for moral support. Whatever method you choose, the situation will always end better if you are calm. Not only will you be able to think more clearly, but your child will calm down quicker too.

8. Keep a sense of humor about the situation. Just imagine, in a few years your children will actually die from embarrassment at the thought of having pulled off their underwear in a pique of rebellion. Not only won’t they remember it, you won’t even be able to convince them that it happened, unless its on camera. Aw, you wouldn’t do that, right?

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