Don't Let Public Temper Tantrums Give You Fits

Filed under: Development/Milestones: Babies, Behavior, Expert Advice: Babies


Stay calm when your child melts down in public. Credit: Felipe Pimentel, Flickr

Tantrums are a normal part of childhood, but that doesn't make them pleasant for parents -- especially when they happen in public places.

Still, there are things parents can do to minimize the stress of the situation.

First, don't be embarrassed by your child's fits, says psychologist Aletha Solter, author of Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry.

"It's normal," sayas Solter, who runs the Aware Parenting Institute in Goleta, Calif.

Solter believes in letting tantrums run their course but, if possible, move the child to a quiet corner of the store or take him or her to the car. Don't punish children or give them what they want in an attempt to quiet them, she says.

"It's OK if she has a meltdown," she says. "You don't have to give in. You don't have to buy the candy."
Child psychologist Rich Gilman also suggests moving the child to a less distracting location and implementing a timeout so the child can calm down. For Gilman, a timeout isn't a punitive measure -- it's an opportunity for children to "get themselves under control."

Gilman, a coordinator of psychology and special education programs at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, counsels parents to use timeouts at home and in public when children are having difficulty with self control or aggression.

Solter recommends calmly telling the child: "I see that you're upset. I'll stay with you until you feel better." By validating their feelings, you help children realize they can share their feelings with you, she says.

If a child becomes violent during a tantrum and tries to hit or kick you, stop them, Solter says. Tell them: "I cannot let you hit. I need to hold your arms right now. It's OK to scream and cry, it's not OK to hit me."

Both experts say parents can try to prevent public temper tantrums by monitoring their children's moods. If a child seems tired or irritable, consider skipping a trip to the grocery store or other outing, they say.

Another way to avoid public tantrums is to remind children on the way into a store or restaurant how you expect them to behave, Gilman says, adding that a child who knows what's expected will try hard to meet those expectations.

Related: Monkeys Throw Temper Tantrums, Too

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.