Five Tips for Dealing With Public Tantrums

Doesn’t it seem like there are a million tantrum triggers while we are out?  Sit in your seat, don’t touch that, you can’t have that, I am not buying that, we are not going to the bathroom for the third time, I don’t have any snacks, don’t wander away.  Who can really blame them for breaking down?  Here are some tips to minimize tantrums for pre-school and school age children while out:

  1. Plan the trip for a time that works for your child.  If your child is tired and hungry, get ready for a tantrum.
  2. Talk to your child on the way out about the behavior you expect and letbring something for entertainment.  “We are going to the grocery store and you will need to stay in the cart (or near me).  This trip is for what our family needs not for extra presents so we won’t be buying candy, toys, etc.  Let’s make it a fun trip by —–”.  Bring a book or small toy and make the trip as fun as possible by involving your child.  Weigh the apples, help you find the pickles, cross the items off your list, whatever is appropriate for your child’s age and is fun for them.  Electronic games tune your child out, I do not recommend them for routine errands/visits to stores/etc.  Clearly tell your child that if he/she misbehaves you will have to leave and if they cannot calm down they will not be allowed to go out with you next time.
  3. If your child starts with a tantrum, there are a few ways you can handle it.  •Try distraction first, “We are not here to buy toys, can you help me find…” and this may redirect things.  Don’t use too many words and don’t go into a major discussion. •If things are escalating, you may need to leave.  This is incredibly inconvenient but should be done BEFORE there is a huge tantrum.  Don’t lose your cool.  It will only make things worse.  Just tell your child that yelling and screaming aren’t allowed at the —–, so you are going to the car (or outside) to cool down.  Sit quietly in the car (or outside) and do not engage.                                                                                     •If you sense your child is calming down, you can try again.  If the child does not calm down, if the tantrum was full blown or if you go back in and they have ANOTHER tantrum then you need to follow up on your consequences.                       •If things don’t go well you are fuming because your errand was truncated or because a play date was ruined, tell your child you will talk later when you are calm.
  4. If your child does throw a tantrum or cannot calm her/himself down then leave and arrange that the child stays home with a babysitter for the next outing.  (Plan ahead and make the outing something that your child enjoys but don’t go overboard:  think library, not family trip to amusement park).  Explain in a kind voice,  “I take children with me who can behave in public.  We’ll try again next time if you think you are ready”.  Tell the babysitter to keep things dull this visit.  Next time you are going somewhere, give the control back to the child and say, “Do you think you are ready?”.  See what happens.  I know it seems like a lot of work but it is worth it to teach your child reasonable behavior in public.  For the older child, I would consider requiring that he or she pay for the lost time or event.  When my youngest son was rude at a violin lesson and we had to end early, he paid for the lost lesson time.  He was mad but he didn’t do it again.
  5. Don’t have unreasonable expectations.  Errands can be boring and parents do A LOT of them.  Limit the number of errands, bring snacks and a book or toy and engage your child as much as possible to keep things positive.  Take their age into consideration.  Do remember that they are learning valuable life skills (patience, dealing with boredom) so don’t feel that you need to go overboard and get a babysitter so that they don’t have to go with you or give them constant entertainment.
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