Expert Parent Advice

Taming Public Tantrums

Nothing invokes fear in the hearts of parents like an all-out public temper tantrum. You cringe as the eyes of other parents (or worse yet, the people without kids) are on you as they watch and wonder what magic you’re going to pull to make it stop.


I’m Amy McCready with Positive Parenting Solutions, and I’m proud to partner with Kids ‘R’ Kids for the Expert Parenting Advice Series.  Today, we’re talking public tantrums – how to prevent them in the first place and how to diffuse them if they do occur. 


You don’t need magic tricks, but before venturing out on your next public outing, consider these 5 strategies. You know they say that prevention is worth an ounce of cure. Our first few strategies will help you prevent the outburst in the first place.


1. Give positive power. You can prevent tantrums and power struggles in general when you give your child plenty of positive power or control over his own world throughout the day. Give lots of choices throughout the day. Every decision means a hit of positive power. 


2.  Give them a job. Prevent tantrums by planning ahead and giving kids important jobs to do at the grocery store. Take a clipboard and a crayon so she can cross off items as you put them in the cart. Kids who can count can be in charge of putting 5 oranges in the bag and selecting 2 green peppers. Instead of shushing them to be quiet so you can zip through the store, you’ll all have a better experience if you plan ahead for ways to make your kids part of the process.


3.  Have a backup plan for boredom. If you have a longer grocery outing planned, be sure to plan a few back-up activities.  You can purchase an inexpensive, handheld CD player and a book on CD or her favorite music ready to go for when she gets bored. 


Do be sure that YOUR expectations are in check. It’s unreasonable to expect a young child to sit patiently as you painstakingly compare the fiber content in brands of bread. Being prepared with a back-up plan will keep everyone happy. 


Now, what happens if your best efforts at prevention fail and an all-out tantrum erupts?


4.     Be unimpressed. Act like the tantrum doesn’t bother you in the least. When you get tense and worked up, your child responds accordingly. In most cases, the child is having a tantrum to get his way or to get a reaction from you. So do the opposite, and don’t give a reaction. By acting totally unfazed (even if it is just acting), it removes the payoff of attention and power for the tantrum, and it reminds your child that you’re not going to jump through hoops and give into his demands to make the tantrum stop! It also allows you to calmly think through your plan of action so you can be more strategic in your approach.


5.  Allow the tantrum to happen. Armed with your attitude of indifference, you want to calmly remove your child to a corner of the store where she can have her tantrum without the onlookers.  Or leave your cart, and calmly and without words, take her out to the car where she can have her tantrum. In this process, be sure to avoid eye contact, and don’t give a lot of verbal feedback.  Remember, a tantrum isn’t nearly as rewarding when we remove the audience. When parents try to “talk the child down from the ledge” or stop the tantrum, it reinforces that tantrums (especially in public) are a great way to get attention or to get mom and dad to jump through hoops to make it stop.  When your child is calm and ready to go back into the store, you can go.


Remember, the very best strategy is avoiding the tantrum in the first place by giving lots of positive power and planning ahead with important jobs she can do while you’re there.


It’s also important to know what kind of tantrum you’re dealing with because they may be handled differently. To discover the different types of tantrums and more strategies for taming tantrums at home and in public, check out the interactive that goes along with this video.


I’m Amy McCready for Kids ‘R’ Kids, and I’ll see you next time!