how to deal with a public tantrum

Every parent knows the feeling: you’re almost done at the grocery store, though your little one has clearly been done with this excursion for at least 10 minutes. You try to hurry to get them home, but it’s too late — the crying, stomping, and yelling has begun.

This can be a mortifying and frustrating experience for parents. Fortunately, there are some ways that you can defuse the situation.

stay calm

When your child is throwing a temper tantrum, it’s essential that you remain calm. Keep in mind that a temper tantrum is a bid for attention. When you have a big reaction to what they’re doing, they know that this behavior will get your attention. You don’t want to reward this behavior. Staying calm is one of the best ways to defuse a temper tantrum. For some children, acting the opposite of how they expect you to react may help, such as by being silly or telling a joke.

focus on your child

When your child has a temper tantrum in public, you may feel extremely embarrassed. You might notice other people watching and seemingly judging. It’s important to tune those people out and meet your child where they are. Get on their level, and validate their feelings. Connecting with your child can help them to refocus and give you the opportunity to redirect their attention or work out a solution.

give them something to do

Once you have talked to your child, it can be helpful to give them a distraction to ease the rest of the outing. Give them a task to focus on. For example, at the grocery store, you might ask them to find two lemons and put them in your bag. If you’re in a waiting room, you could have them reorganize your change for you. A task takes their attention away from their tantrum.

delay saying “no”

Sometimes, a tantrum is due to your child not getting what they want. This is tough as a parent, because going out in public often means unanticipated actions from your kids. If this is the case, try delaying saying “no.” For example, if your child is asking for candy, you can say, “Sounds delicious! We are going to finish grocery shopping, but after dinner tonight, you can have a treat for being so helpful at the store.” If they push back, you can say, “You can wait for your treat, or you won’t get it at all.”

but maybe say “yes”

You could also consider saying “yes” to your child’s request. This doesn’t mean that you should just give into whining — you don’t want to set that precedent. However, some requests aren’t that bad. For example, if your child asks to ride in the cart when you usually have them walk beside it, this may be enough to keep them calm for the rest of your trip.

end the outing

In some situations, you’re not going to be able to prevent the tantrum from spiraling out of control. If you’re not making any traction with these strategies, it may be best to simply end the outing early and call it a day. Know when to give up, and try again another time.

give yourself some “me” time

Finally, prioritize giving yourself some “me” time after dealing with the stressful situation of navigating a temper tantrum. In fact, it’s best to be proactive and schedule this into your calendar regularly. When you’re feeling stressed out and spread thin, it’s a lot harder to respond the way you want to. Care for yourself, whether that’s planning a date night, going out with your friends, or having your partner watch the kids while you curl up with a book for the evening.

At our Montessori preschool in Houston, we’re happy to help parents raise kind and polite kids. If you’re looking for a Montessori school, contact us to schedule a tour!