6 Ways to Defuse a Child’s Tantrum in Public
We’ve all been there, right? There is one more aisle left at the grocery store, you sense your child has had enough of this shopping trip, you only need one more thing … so you make a dash for it. Too late! The stomping, crying, yelling kicks off another public tantrum by your typically sweet child.
If you’re like me, you haven’t only been here once or even a few times, you have a frequent flyer card for parenting in public. In fact, have you seen that Hunger Games Katniss meme that’s uniting parents on social media? I’m pretty sure that was created for me. That tipped over shopping cart at the grocery store? Me. That epic meltdown when we were seated near a trash can that had *gasp* napkins in it at a kid-friendly restaurant? Me. That child running into the middle of a parking lot because he doesn’t want to go skiing school? Me.
After nine years of parenting, however, I’ve learned a thing or two about defusing a child’s tantrum in public. I wish I could brag that I always plan ahead and sufficiently prepare my 4-year-old son for a successful public outing. But I can’t so tantrums happen. And here are a few ways to stop them.
6 Ways to Defuse a Child’s Tantrum in Public
- Keep Calm and Try Not to React. After experiencing what feels like a million public outbursts by my children, I’ve learned that one of the most effective ways to defuse a meltdown is to stay in control. A big reaction may teach your child that this is the right way to get mom or dad’s attention. You definitely don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. I’ve been there – it’s not pretty. For some children, you may want to react opposite to how they expect. For instance, start acting silly or telling a joke. That doesn’t work for all but it’s worthy of a try to find out.
- Focus on Your Child. This one was the hardest for me to learn. When my now 9-year-old was a toddler and prone to tantrums in public, I was more concerned with the witnesses around me. Nowadays, I ignore everyone except my out-of-control child, get down to his level and try to connect with him. For us, validating his feelings seems to help break the tantrum “zone out” and allows me to redirect him (see next tip) or find a solution together.
- Give Them a Task. Once you can reason with your child, giving him or her a task is a great way to survive the remainder of your public outing. At the grocery store: “Can you help me find the apples and put 4 in a bag?” At the doctor’s office: “My change is all mixed up. Can you organize it by coin?” Anywhere: “I have this really cool pretend hat but don’t know where to put it. Can you show me? How about this tie/coat/pants/etc.?”
- Delay the “No.” A common source of tantrums is when children don’t get what they want. No matter if you set expectations before heading out, kids’ requests can come out of the blue and cause parents real trouble. A good strategy is to delay the request. If your child is asking for candy at the store, for instance, try this: “Candy is a great treat! Let’s get our groceries first and tonight, after dinner, you can choose one special treat for helping me today.” If begging ensues, I say, “You can have candy as a special treat later or none at all.” That typically seals the deal.
- Consider a “Yes.” Depending on the request, you may consider the child’s request. I’m not saying give into them when they are begging or whining for candy – that has pretty poor success rates for future outings. But what about those requests that are really not that bad? For instance, Owen recently asked if he could ride under the shopping cart (Superman style) after his shopping patience limit was stretched thin. Despite getting looks – both good and bad – it didn’t hurt anyone and we survived that trip without a meltdown.
- Walk Away and Try Another Time. Sometimes the best bet is simply to end the outing and call it a day!
Finally, and most importantly, treat yourself to some much-deserved “me” time – organize a parent’s night out, date night with your partner, or lock yourself in your bedroom with Netflix.
Hear from early childhood experts Ellen Galinsky, the Chief Science Officer at the Bezos Family Foundation and Executive Director at Mind in the Making, and Rachel Robertson, the Education and Development Vice President at Bright Horizons, as they discuss common parenting challenges and the science behind parenting that can turn frustration into great skills for life.
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