How To Handle A Tantrum In Public With Positive Parenting
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How To Handle A Tantrum In Public With Positive Parenting

It’s happening, and you can feel the stares from those around you – waiting to see how your going to handle it. Your child is throwing a full-blown tantrum in public. There’s no denying it can be embarrassing…but you can handle it, because you’ve prepared for it.

Tantrums should be dealt with before you leave the house, in a calmer, quieter environment. Explain to your child what to expect while you are out. Example: “We are going to the Post Office, and then to the supermarket.” Children need to be told what to expect every single time they leave the house, even when you are doing the exact same thing you did last week.

Prepare yourself for the possible outburst. Pick up some stickers, crayons and paper at the dollar store and keep them in your bag. Be sure to have some favorite snacks in there too. If it fits your parenting style, keep a few small special toys for emergency situations.

Let your child know what you expect. Have a talk about their behavior at the store, or the doctors, etc. If they won’t be getting anything while you are at the supermarket, or other kind of store, this is the time to tell them. Example: “While we are grocery shopping, we won’t be buying any toys today.” As you enter the store, a gentle reminder of the rules you have laid out is always a good idea.

Despite all of you valiant efforts to be prepared, things change, your child gets hungry, tired or bored and the explosive tantrum in public occurs. Here are some positive ways to handle the outburst in the moment:


  • Give Your Child Some Attention

Sometimes all it takes is pressing the pause button on what you’re doing and give your child a little attention. Empathize with your child if they are tired or hungry. Example: “It’s lunchtime isn’t it. I bet you’re hungry, I know I am! Let’s get this shopping done so we can go home and have lunch.” Agree to do something you know they like to do, such as go to the park, read a special book, or bake something. The main objective with this approach is for your child to see that you hear them and are willing to address their problems WITH them.


  • Turn What You’re Doing Into A Game

Depending on the age of your child, have them help you shop. If they are able, have them look for the item you are shopping for, or be in charge of the list. Play “I Spy” or look for shapes and colors. Involving your child’s mind can bring them back quickly from the start of a tantrum.


  • Stay Calm

This sounds easy, but it’s not in the heat of the moment. Be sure to keep your voice calm and speak in a quiet slow way. It may not seem like your child hears you while they are in a full-blown tantrum, but you are being comforting in the moment and modeling good behavior. Take deep breaths, count to ten, do whatever works for you to remain in control.

Block everyone else out. Don’t worry what people might be thinking about the situation. All that will do is create stress, which your child will pick up on. Many published studies have shown that people are only judging your reaction to the tantrum. Staying calm and in control, even if it’s not stopping the tantrum, shows that you are a skilled parent.

Every parent and grandparent has gone through this at one time or another. Don’t mistake their stares for judgement. Most are saying to themselves, “Been there, done that,” and feeling nothing but empathy for your situation.


  • Don’t Give In

Why not? If your child gets their way be throwing a fit, they will do it again. And next time, they will scream louder and longer until you give in. Positive parenting isn’t the same as being permissive. Positive parenting involves setting firm limits, and helping your child understand those limits.

Smaller children under the age of 3 will not understand any amount of reasoning because they haven’t developed the skills they need for that. However, you can explain to older children why their behavior is unacceptable.


  • It’s Not Stopping

Try to remove your child to a space where there aren’t as many people. This is not a time out or a punishment. It’s time with your child, giving them the chance to calm down in a quieter area.

Practice some deep breathing exercises that they have learned at home. One of the best ones we’ve seen is “blowing out the candle.” Hold your hand in a fist with your thumb sticking up and have your child blow out the candle. Sometimes the tantrum dissipates and you can continue shopping, or doing whatever it was you were trying to do, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s those times that you must just pick up and head home.

Instead of getting stressed about the event, take a look at what started it. Was it naptime?  Was your child not feeling well? Most times there is an underlying reason for the meltdown that can be avoided the next time. When things are calm at home use the tantrum in public as a teaching tool. Reinforce what kind of behavior is expected of your child when you are in public, and try again. Repetition and firmly enforced limits are the key. You’ve got this.

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