portrait of sad toddler girl rubbing eyes

How to Deal With Tantrums in Public

A child’s early years are full of developmental milestones. While a child’s first steps have us running for the camera, a toddler’s first tantrums have us running for the hills. Even worse is when these tantrums occur in public. Ideally, most of the work done to control tantrums will happen at home, where ignoring an attention-seeking or demanding tantrum is easier away from the watchful eyes of strangers. However, busy parents have places to go, which means it’s likely that, at some point, a tantrum will happen in a less convenient place.

While many parents have been in the hot seat at one time or another, you can take several steps so it happens less often. First, be proactive. Taking short trips with your child to practice how to behave in public can help your child get used to the rules of shopping, dining out or visiting friends and family. Letting your child know what to expect (“We’ll be getting eggs and milk.”); making the rules clear (“Stay by me…”); and being ready to implement a logical consequence if necessary (“…or you’ll have to sit in the cart.”) will provide a good start.  Involving your child in the activity (“Let’s pick out some apples together”); bringing along a quiet activity for him/her to do in the cart to keep entertained; and remembering that a day’s worth of nonstop errands can have a negative effect on the mood of any child, will diminish the likelihood of a public tantrum.

Now, for the moment of truth: When a tantrum strikes in public, resist the urge to immediately calm your child. The road to your child better controlling his/her emotions can be a bumpy one, but consistency can make the trip go much faster. However you handle the situation at home should be continued in public. Experts generally recommend ignoring the typical toddler tantrum. This ignoring technique gives your child space to work on calming down. Allowing your child to work through this process can lessen the number of tantrums you see over time. The front seat of a shopping cart is a convenient place to allow your child to calm down as you continue shopping. If the front seat isn’t available, a location near you, free of other shoppers or people, will do the trick. When your child calms down, you can give him/her another try walking beside you. If your child keeps composure, praise the good behavior.

Lastly, you should ignore the looks from strangers. Chances are, they’ve experienced this with their own children. And who knows, they might even learn a thing or two.

What are some techniques that have worked best for you when dealing with tantrums in public?

Amy Beschta is a Family Counselor who works with children with and without a mental health diagnosis, and their families.

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