Dealing with tantrums at home is difficult enough, so handling them in public can fluster even the most composed parent. But it's often the judgmental eyes that keep you mom from losing your cool, remind yourself that you’re a good parent, and heed these practical tips from experts:
1. Be ready for the tantrum and plan ahead So you’ve got a family day at the mall planned ahead? Anticipate the meltdown before it even happens. According to Dr. Rhea Lopa-Ramos, a school psychologist from the St. Luke’s Neuro-Development Center, “if a child is tired, stressed, or hungry, this raises the possibility of having a tantrum.” So, pack snacks, toys and books as distractions, and take rests.
“Frustration is also a big tantrum-trigger,” says developmental psychologist Judith Hudson in a column for BabyCenter. “If you know your child is going to insist on visiting the pet store when you go to the mall, make sure you have time to do it, or think twice about the trip. This isn't really giving in to your child, it's just predicting how he's likely to react and thinking through the consequences and alternatives.”
2. Exit the scene Leaving the scene is often a good strategy for handling tantrums in public, advises Hudson. And, clinical psychologist Ray Levy, who is the co-author of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation, also says the same to Parents. “If your child starts melting down over a toy or candy bar he wants, pick him up and take him either to a different area of the store or outside until he calms down. Changing the venue really can change the behavior.”
Having all eyes on you and your upset kiddo may make it harder for you to deal with the tantrum and raise your temper as well. “Becoming harsh or punitive won't help end the tantrum and will only get you more upset and angry,” says Levy. “Remember: Your job is to remain as calm as possible. Leaving the situation helps everybody, even if it means you'll have to go back to the store later to finish your shopping.”
3. Don’t give in In the height of your child’s tantrum, buying that lollipop may seem like the only way to calm down the storm, but try not to give in. “Tantrums become a problem when parents give in to the child too soon or too often, teaching the child that a tantrum is an effective way to get what they want,” says Diane Ryals, a family life educator at the University of Illinois Extension, to SheKnows.
4. When your child has calmed down, give him a hug Toddlers are yet to learn how to control strong feelings (such as anger, frustration and sadness which lead to tantrums). After a meltdown and when your tot has calmed down is a really good opportunity to teach him self-control.
Giving him a hug, acknowledging how he feels (“I know leaving the playground made you sad but it’s getting late”), and congratulating him on calming down on his own reinforces the message that you love your child and that he can handle big emotions. The idea is to empower your child, says Lopa-Ramos. “If you give them the skills they need to problem-solve, they will be better adults when they grow up.”
5. Remind yourself that you're not a bad parent Take it from a child expert: your child’s tantrums are nobody’s business but your own, says Hudson. “Your child will have tantrums, and some of them are bound to happen in public. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent, only that you're the parent of a 2-year-old.
“Regardless of any looks you get, remember that your child doesn't understand your embarrassment. Public tantrums aren't meant to humiliate you, so treat your child the same as you would if the tantrum happened at home.”