5 Practical Tips For Soothing Public Tantrums

Last weekend I witnessed an epic temper tantrum from a four year old. No big surprise, four year olds are some of the most talented tantrum throwers in the world. What did surprise me is how badly the tantrum was handled.
Here is the gist of the story.

We were at a large indoor play place. That’s right a business that caters to children having fun.
The aforementioned four-year-old was there with her grandmother. When Grandma said “time to go kiddo.” The little one melted down. The busy indoor playground was over-stimulating to me I can only imagine how a small child was dealing activity swirling around her.

Grandma was beside herself she didn’t know how to calm her grandchild down. Fair enough grandparents are out of practice when it comes to tantruming preschoolers.  Heck we parents in the thick of it aren’t always successful at handling our little threenagers and fournados.
I give her credit. She was quite kind and calm through the whole thing, but you could tell she was extremely embarrassed.


Get ready because here comes the shocking part of the story.
One of the people working the front counter decided to intervene. She gets down to the level of the hysterical child (actually a good step) and proceeds to get into the child’s space. She then harshly speaks to the little girl.

“You need to stop this right now or you will not be allowed to come back here and play. You need to stop crying and be a good girl for your grandma.”

Really are you kidding me? You are a stranger scolding a child whose obviously already upset.

I actually texted my husband to ask him if he thought it would be okay for me to offer some positive discipline education right there on the spot.
(He suggested that maybe this wasn’t the best time for that.)

Taking the advice of the wise Dr. Brené Brown I am going to generously assume that each person in that situation was doing their best.  I mean I’ve certainly had my fair share of worst bests. Plus I don’t want to turn into a judgmental bitch.

Heaven forbid I let this  learning opportunity completely go to waste so I am going to give you some tips on how to handle a public temper tantrum.

  1. Ignore everyone else and focus on your child.   That little bomb that just went off in the produce department is the most important human of the moment.  Do not let the fear of what the judgmental bitches think sway your emotions.  Your mission is to help disarm the bomb in a way that is kind and calm.
  2. Validate emotions. Both yours and your child’s.  Validating your child’s emotions sounds something like ” I can see that you are really sad that we’re not buying fruity whirls sugary cereal packed with red food dye and high fructose corn syrup. Sometimes I get sad when I can’t have what I want too.”
    Validating your emotions might sound like “Hey mama, this is a crappy situation, but it’s going to be over soon and you can handle this.”
  3. Ask for a hug. All you have to say is “I really need a hug could you give me one?” It seems totally counter intuitive and you may not be feeling all that much like hugging your freaking out kid.  Loving physical contact can do wonders to calm an out of control situation.
  4. If all of the above advice fails go into survival mode. Get to a private place, like the car, as fast as you can.  I know that you’ve worked hard to collect all of those groceries so I am not going to tell you to leave your cart behind.  Pay for the food.  Remember to breathe deeply, then get the heck outta there and let your kiddo work out their emotions.  Do not drive.  It’s not safe.  If you have to stand outside the car for a little bit that’s O.K.
  5. Talk about the behavior when everyone is calm. Not a single bit of reason and rationality can get into your wee one’s brain when they are flipping out like a velociraptor on steroids.  You will come up with solutions to the problem waaaay more effectively if both of you have some time to cool off.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t handle a temper tantrum perfectly.  There are all sorts of biological forces against you in these moments.  It takes practice to have your go to mode of operation in the midst of chaos be calm and kind.

Know that you’ve got this.  You are totally capable of connecting with your kiddos and helping them through their big crazy feelings.  And when you screw up remember to say you’re sorry, no strings attached.

Oh and if you’re an employee somewhere witnessing an epic tantrum offer to help in a way that is not parenting the child.  Perhaps packing up the family’s belongings or putting the shopping cart to the side so they can come back for it in a little bit. “Teaching an upset child a lesson” is not helpful.

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6 Comments

  • Validate your emotions is a hard one for me to remember in those moments. I am fortunate that my kids were pretty good as toddlers but these are still good tools into school age too.

  • Stacey says:

    Yes, yes, yes! This is all spot-on. I love the reminder that the most important person is your kiddo who is having a meltdown. The opinion of random strangers doesn’t matter one bit.

  • Valerie says:

    I love number 4! But seriously, validating the emotion is exactly what I was taught as a special education teacher, and when my little one gets to that point of her life, I certainly plan to use it. They simply want to be heard and know their feelings matter too. It is on us to teach them the proper way to let out those emotions.

  • Amanda W. says:

    That poor grandma! That employee probably made the situation so much worse. I would have totally lost my cool with her. I love that you point out not to drive right after dealing with a meltdown. Being trapped in the car with a kid who hasn’t regained their composure can be so stressful!

  • Brooke says:

    I think number 1 is the hardest to do. Most people want to be seen as good parents! It can be embarrassing when our kids have a hard time in public. It’s a good point though. Worrying about what others think won’t help anything! I like a quote from a parenting CD (I forget the specific person who said it) that went something like this, “Don’t worry about what people in the store think of you. Remember, you didn’t come to make lifelong friends!” It was a wake up call for me. I’m definitely still working on it though.

  • Talya says:

    I totally needed this!! Thank you so much for all the wonderful advice!!

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