In the previous post, I’ve talked about some tips and ways to prevent kids tantrum from happening. But I know, as a fellow mom, in reality it will not be a hundred percent effective every time. It can take time for a child to learn to accept that not everything will happen the way they want it to in life, all the time. I have focused more on understanding the motives behind tantrums and preventative measures last time, because I believe that it’s all the work we put in here that pays dividends. Now, what about if you have implemented all of these strategies and your child still has a tantrum anyway? How do we handle kids’ tantrums, especially if we are in public places?
I’ve yet to meet two parents who’ve ever agreed 100% on the best ways to raise children. Most parents and carers have varied yet passionate opinions on how to deal with a child who is throwing a tantrum.
I’m going to reiterate that these ideas are only my approach, and I enjoy open discussion on the wide variety of ways other parents deal with it.
Don’t be afraid to be creative in your approach, try your own ideas. You know your child better than anyone else in the world.
As always, let’s respect each others’ differences and let everyone have the freedom to have the floor with their opinions.
With that little disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to focus on the tantrums where a child doesn’t get something they desperately want. How do we handle kids’ tantrums?
I have a few ‘constants’ that do not change, regardless of the child’s’ age:
Don’t say no, then say yes after the tantrum.
Your child wants ice cream. For whatever reasons, you’ve said no. Child screams, maybe even throw themselves on the floor. Then stressful situations ensued.
Often it seems easier and so tempting to just say, “Oh, alright then, you can have the ice cream!”. It saves time, and perhaps humiliation, than having to deal with a rolling and screaming child.
If you do this, I guarantee that the tantrum will stop instantly. But I also guarantee that your kid will throw more tantrums in the near future and will probably take longer to move out of this tantrum stage of their lives.
What happens when a child is given in to like this, is that the child is rewarded for expressing their wants in an inappropriate way. No, we don’t expect perfect behavior from a one-year-old or a three-year-old. It’s normal for them to try to see what will work for them.
But it’s up to us to teach them better ways to express this.
When we teach our children that screaming for what we want doesn’t achieve the desired result, over time they will understand better ways to ask for things, also to accept that sometimes no is no.
What would happen if we applied for a job and didn’t get it? Asked a potential love interest out on a date and were rejected? Would kicking and screaming help the situation? No. Does this mean that we expect our children to behave like adults at all times? Of course not.
We expect our children to try inappropriate behavior, and then we repetitively teach them what the actual expectation will be of them in the real world.
We spend this time preparing them.
So if it’s no when my child first asks, then it’s no after they’ve had a tantrum too.
Ignore the tantrum
Yes. Ignore them. Now, if people say, “But what if they’re hungry/tired? They’re upset because they need something!”. Yes, I agree. In those cases, if that is the cause, you deal with it.
But today I’m talking about how to handle kids’ tantrums where a child does not like hearing the word, ‘NO’.
I find that a child tantrumming over not getting what they wanted is much like dealing with someone who is ranting when they’re drunk. You can’t reason with them during the rant.
On the other hand, giving a kid timeouts also will not lead to behavior change in the long term either.
I personally choose not to reward the behavior with attention. Although the screaming sometimes will get louder at first, your child will eventually learn that throwing a temper tantrum won’t get their parents attention.
It’s not that you don’t validate their feelings. You choose to offer them empathy with being there, stay calm, and listening to their rants without verbally responding to them. Remember that empathy doesn’t equate to agreement. Once they have calmed down, then it’s time to talk to them about the situation.
Giving Reassurance and Positive Attention
This publication here gives a great analysis of a typical model of kids’ tantrum patterns. In the beginning, anger will take over and rises quickly, resulting in aggressive behavior. Then it declines thereafter, dissolving into distress.
Often time my son will tell me, after the storm has passed, that he is sad. This is when I realized that during this time, kids feel vulnerable and need their parents’ support to find comfort.
Our mother instincts will then kicked in, we will give them a hug and reassurance. Praise the kid for regaining control, like “Hey, I like that you have calmed down. High five!” or “I love to see you smile again, good job buddy”.
Hopefully, my kids (and yours) will understand that even though mommy doesn’t always give what they want, we will always be there and love them anyway.
Create a diversion
I’ve added this idea more for the very young tantrummers, say between the ages 1-2 years old. Because their attention span can be shorter, often we can redirect the behavior towards another activity or interest. A child may be ready to scream for that ice cream, but if we can say, “Look Buddy, there’s a fire truck! It’s big and it’s red and let’s go play with it/look at it!” sometimes the child will forget all about it.
Some may consider this rewarding the behavior. I disagree. They’ve forgotten their tantrum, and they didn’t get the ice cream, did they?
How to Handle Kids Tantrums in Public Places
Now, as promised, onto public tantrums.
The public tantrum is a whole new level of stress for a parent. You don’t have your child in your usual surroundings to deal with it the way you would at home.
You can’t always put your child to bed if that’s what they need, or ignore them if they are screaming because you’ve said no to them. I mean, you can try, but it’s not always that easy.
As my previous post has pointed out, often the nature of a public outing can be enough to cause a child to throw a tantrum. They might be tired, hungry or bored. They might realize mommy or daddy is rushing around like a headless chicken, and that stresses them out, too.
It’s good to try to ensure your child is well-rested, have been recently fed, etc before going out in public.
In reality, this is not always possible.
Sometimes we need to race out the door at the last minute. Sometimes we can be as prepared as is humanly possible, and a child will still throw a tantrum.
I struggled in the early days of parenthood with how to handle kids in public tantrums, because the strangers who are looking on can make it a humiliating, torturous experience.
Here are some thoughts that have helped me to make peace with public tantrums and how I deal with them:
It’s not a reflection on your parenting ability
Don’t worry about the smug mother who is rolling their eyes at your child. Sure, their child isn’t throwing a tantrum today, they’ll probably throw one tomorrow when you aren’t there to see it. I don’t believe any child or parent is immune.
No matter what, there will always be someone who disagrees with your approach.
I find at public tantrum times, there is always at least one person who believes you should just give the child what they want. There’s always someone who thinks you should be more stern with the kids, and there’s always someone who thinks that children who even dare to throw a tantrum obviously have bad parents.
You can’t change this.
So learn to live with it and learn to care less about what the Karens think of you. When I was a first-time parent, the reactions of other people out in public were able to hurt my feelings, and make me doubt my own abilities. Now, I just realize some people are arrogant, judgemental, and downright nosey. Don’t let anyone intimidate you.
You’re doing the best you can, and that’s enough.
Try to get out of the situation as soon as you can
The main way I’ve found to handle a public tantrum is to leave the place as quickly as I can, and just go home. If the reason I’m out and about is not urgent, it’s better to deal with this at home (or in the car), where there are fewer distractions. In calmer surroundings, they can process their emotions better.
Sometimes, all I’ve found I can do is to pick my child up like a suitcase, kicking and screaming, and walk out of the establishment with my head held high in a completely false show of dignity.
I talk to my child later, when there aren’t a million strangers around telling me what my child needs. By then they have calmed down too, so that helps.
Get The Kids Out of Unfavorable Settings
Kids often choose the best places to have a meltdown. Right in front of the store as mommy’s hands are full of groceries? Great! In the middle of an important ceremony? Brilliant!
Sometimes I’m highly suspicious my son purposely chooses the best occasion to have a tantrum so I can just agree with his demands. Gotta love him.
The best way if the child is having a tantrum in a dangerous place (for example, on the sidewalk full of people) is simply to remove them out of harm’s way. Choose a quiet safe spot and let him take off the steam.
Breath In, Breath Out
I find the most difficult thing to do when my child is having a tantrum in public places is to stay calm and not getting frustrated too. During that time, I tried to remind myself of these facts:
- I can’t control other people’s actions, I can only control myself.
- I can’t tell my kids how to feel and control their emotions, but I can be there to offer compassion and empathy to help them handle their big emotions.
- Tantrum is a learned response. If I get upset easily, my kids will learn that too.
Trying your best to stay calm will make you think more clearly and often helps you communicate more effectively during tantrums. And as a result you can handle kids’ tantrums better and faster.
Now I know there are some brilliant stories and experiences out there amongst mothers alike. I want to hear your best ones. And if something has worked for you with a public tantrum, please do share it!
As a bonus, I will share a great tool to assess the kids’ tantrums, how often they happen, and what the possible trigger might be. By tracking this behavior commonality every day, it can give us insights on how to handle the tantrums better. You can download them here. Good luck!