Toddler tantrums. Anybody with a 3-year-old has experienced these ever popular, ground-breaking, earth-please-suck-me-in moments in public. I’m sure you can just imagine it now. The red face, yelling, screaming, falling down on the floor, tears pouring from the cheeks. Public tantrums are dreaded, uncomfortable and downright humiliating. But more than anything – they’re common! As a matter of fact, you’d be struggling to find a parent who hasn’t had at least one embarrassing tale to tell when it comes to their little one breaking down in the middle of a crowded place. So take comfort in knowing that you are most certainly not alone.
Yes, this is a common occurrence with children and it’s something that’s normal and part of their development. Our little ones are growing up and emotions are something new for them. Since they don’t know how to express them in any other way, they appear in the form of tantrums. Young children aren’t equipped in regulating their emotions yet, and thus combining the experience of unfamiliar emotions that they cannot even put into words, with the inability to regulate those emotions, is a recipe for a meltdown.
Many public places, such as stores and amusement parks, are overwhelming for children due to the many sensory stimulating aspects, not even speaking about all the things that your little one wants, but cannot have. When dealing with temper tantrums at home, you can give your toddler his space, in a safe and quiet environment to calm down. But in public, if your child’s volcano erupts, you can’t just ignore it because his behaviour is disturbing other people, and you end up feeling like a failure of a parent.
Still, just because they do happen doesn’t mean they have to happen. Because going out in public with your child should not be something you dread. Here are some ways to tame that toddler tantrum:
- Prevention is better than cure
First of all, be proactive. Taking short trips with your child to practice how to behave in public may assist your child get used to the rules of shopping, dining out or going on excursions Letting your child know what to expect (“we are going to the shop to buy milk.”); making the rules clear (“Stay by my side…”); and being ready to implement a logical consequence if necessary (“…or you’ll have to sit in the cart.”) may make way for a good start. It is also useful to plan your trips around your little one’s nap time. Rather visit a public place before your child gets over tired, or after a nap to ensure that there will be no “tired-tantrums” along the way. Rather keep your trip short and sweet, than planning long, full day excursions – a whole day of running errands will have a negative effect on anybody’s mood.
- Be Prepared
Hunger and fatigue can trigger tantrums, so make sure your child has eaten already and is well rested before you go out. Boredom can also drive a tantrum. Take along an activity for him to do in the cart to keep them entertained.
- Give your little one a job
Give your child a special task or job to do while you are running errands or doing some shopping. Let your child help you pick out some groceries, play a game with the first letter of each item you put in the cart, allow your child to help pack the items in the cart etc. When little hands are busy, little minds get less upset.
- Stay in control of your reaction
Your child will look up to how you react in stressful situations. Your reaction to the tantrum can lay the ground for how the situation might play out. Always try to keep your voice calm when dealing with temper tantrums. Stay in control of the situation, as soon as a child realise that their tantrum is getting to you, and it probably is because you’re concerned about what other people are thinking, it may only escalate. Your anxiety reinforces hers.
In order to make sure your reaction is spot on, it’s important to understand that there are two types of tantrums: upstairs (manipulative) and downstairs (meltdowns).
According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, Upstairs tantrums come from the more highly developed “upstairs” part of the brain used for logical thinking, regulating emotions and evaluating consequences.
With this type of tantrum, the child makes a conscious decision to act out and push the limits to get her way, and can also decide to stop acting out as soon as you give in to her demands. Simply put, these tantrums are designed to manipulate you.
With an upstairs tantrum it is best to simply not react so he doesn’t get a power payoff from acting out. Remove yourself from the situation–no eye contact, no talking down, and no negotiating.
Downstairs tantrums deal with what Positive Parenting Solutions calls “meltdown” tantrums. These tantrums are controlled by the downstairs part of a child’s brain, which handles such tasks as breathing, blinking, and instinctual reactions. In this type of tantrum, the child has been pushed beyond his physical or emotional limit and “melts down” as a result.
Here the child is so upset he can no longer access his higher-level “upstairs” thinking, such as using any form of logic. Which explains why telling him “the blue plate is in the dishwasher” gets you nowhere when he’s tired and hungry after a morning of errands.
Your reaction to a downstairs tantrum is equally as important as your lack of a reaction to an upstairs tantrum. Here is where your child needs you to help him calm his big emotions while you make a mental note that you’ll want to do some training on managing overwhelming feelings in the future. (Amy McCready, Positive Parenting Solutions)
- Stand your ground
Even though you might feel embarrassed and tired of your child’s tantrums, you must not give in to their demands. If you do, you’ll be reaffirming their behaviour and they’ll continue to repeat the same behaviour to obtain their will in future.
- Change the scenery
You can feel the tension building up, that little face begins to squint in rage and before you know it, balls are being thrown, tears are being shed, and a full-on public tantrum has begun. With the tantrum in full-swing and your anxiety increasing by the second, the best thing you can do in the moment is to change the scenery. Find a more private area or space, perhaps the bathroom or your car outside, and remove both yourself and your child from the scene. Even though the journey to a more private space might be daunting and embarrassing, finding a more private place to deal with the tantrum will help calm your nerves and allow you to focus on helping your child without any other distractions.
- Don’t make a big deal of it
When your child is calmed down and able to reason, you have to encourage them to ask for forgiveness and explain that aggressive attitudes won’t get them anywhere. This is the way to put an end to tantrums, so that the child understands that, no matter how much they cry and yell, they won’t get their way.
- Accept the apology
When your child get to apologizing for his behaviour and is willing to ask for forgiveness, forgive them, support them, and forget about what happened. Do not continuously punish or degrade your child by going back to the situation and allowing your emotions to get the better of you. Make peace and move forward. In fact, this is how your child will learn to handle situations in future as well.
No matter how many children you have, or how long you’ve been a parent, dealing with toddler tantrums, whether at home, and even more in public, is never easy! We’ve all been there, battling through the humiliation, anger, sadness, and complete desperation that comes up when it seems as if the whole supermarket’s eyes are focused on you. Always remember to keep your calm, a calm mind is a proactive mind. Your child will grow up, and the toddler years won’t last forever.