I was working away at my neighborhood Panera Bread when World War 3 erupted at a nearby table. The two or three year old toddler who had just before been quietly gnawing on a bagel suddenly went nuclear and got everyone’s attention.
I watched as Mom went from shock to embarrassment as her pride and joy let everyone around know that he was very unhappy about … something, and he wasn’t going to take it any longer. She tried placating, fussing, demanding, pleading, and almost weeping to get him under control as we all snuck peeks at the excitement. She was very aware of the attention she was getting! Finally she apologized to her friends, gathered her things, gave up, and left. It was a sad sight.
This wasn’t the first public tantrum I’d witnessed. And, in fact, I’d been involved in a few with my grandson when he was that age. Some I felt like I won, some I definitely lost! So, I started making notes of what I’ve learned and observed and then went digging for other experts’ ideas on the topic of public temper tantrums and how to handle them.
First of all, realize that every toddler has tantrums. Some just seem more embarrassing because they’re yours. “The terrible twos” didn’t become known as such just because of your cranky child. Every mom and dad has gone through the same thing. Forget about others’ judgment. Just deal with your child.
But do be sensitive to the needs of others. If you’re in a church service, a movie theater, or (horrors!) a funeral, quickly and as quietly as possible take your child outside to deal with his or her actions. A restaurant setting is iffy – are there more parents there, or is it a pretty formal place? At the mall or in a grocery store you don’t necessarily need to run outside. You’re probably surrounded by other parents who are more understanding.
PREPARE AND PREVENT
You can often prevent tantrums by preparing before your trip by feeding your child, giving them a nap, and making sure they understand the rules and consequences (“if you decide to throw a fit in the store like last time, you will get in very big trouble”) – and goal of shopping trip (just groceries, no toy). For many children, preparation and a good discussion will help greatly.
You can also prevent some tantrums by thinking ahead for possible triggers your child my encounter. If you know she will see her favorite candy store on the way to your destination, either go a different way or plan time to go to the candy store first. You’re not giving in to her tantrum if you take preemptive action and pacify her before she gets upset.
If these preventative measures don’t work (and they won’t always), the number one advice by most experts about how to deal with a tantrum is to ignore it. Yeah, you say, easier said than done! But remember that your young child is not out to embarrass you. He is screaming for a reason. Granted the reason may be to try to make you go back to the toy aisle, but there is a reason behind the fit. What you don’t want to do is to reward his fit with attention.
How do you handle temper tantrums at home? Probably by ignoring them or sending him to a cooling off place – like his room or a quiet corner. As hard as it may be with thousands of eyes glaring at you for being an awful parent (not really, but it can feel that way!), the best tact is to be consistent. Focus on your child and deal with it the same way as at home.
CHANGE THE VENUE
If you feel you must, you can take him somewhere more private – to a bathroom, to your car, or just outside. But don’t indicate that you are surrendering or attacking. Just move the contest to a different location. Quietly, calmly explain to your child that she is not getting her way, and you are prepared to wait her out. Don’t entertain her or reward her during this time. In some cases, just moving your child away from the triggers can stop the fit. Triggers might be tempting toys, other children, a boring situation, or any other thing that sets off your child. When she calms down, take her back to where you were.
Be careful that you don’t make empty threats – you will HAVE TO follow through on whatever you threaten, so be careful what you say. If you tell your daughter that the trip to the park is off, you’ll have to stick to it. That may mean you’ll miss out on something you and she both need or are really wanting. And what will the results be of the punishment? Don’t make things a lot harder on yourself just for the sake of a scary sounding threat!
COMFORT AND CONGRATULATE
Finally, bear in mind that a tantrum can also be frightening for the child who’s throwing it. Sometimes a child will lose control completely and even scare the child himself. Afterward the storm has passed – immediately after he calms down, you can respond positively. Reinforce your loving relationship with your upset young’un. Congratulate her on getting over her anger. Comfort her with a hug, and reassure her that you still love her, you just didn’t like the way she was acting. Don’t be tempted to reward her with a present, she may equate that with winning the tantrum and try it again!
Tantrums happen (good bumper sticker, huh?). They’re part of a child learning self-control and appropriate behavior. A fit doesn’t mean you have a bad child. It just means you have a child. See it as an opportunity to teach and guide your child and you will survive this phase much more successfully.
PLEASE COMMENT with your own horror story or your personal best advice for dealing with tantrums. Share with others!
Dr. Sears has some more detailed, great advice for tantrum prone children at http://www.askdrsears.com/html/6/t063300.asp
And here are some tips from dealing with autistic children: http://special-needs.families.com/blog/whenyourchildthrowstantrumsinpubli
Love them no matter what!
STEPcoach Bob Collins