How to Avoid Meltdowns in Public

By Marcia Hall

Most every parent fears that inevitable moment in the store when all eyes are on them because their adorable child is having a full-fledged temper tantrum.  Many parents will go to great lengths to avoid having these meltdowns in public, even giving into every unreasonable demand the non-rational child is making.  However, there are ways to escape this dreaded experience without giving into every request.

Limit the amount of errands in a day you do with your child.  Children have a tendency to get bored and tired more quickly than adults do when it comes to errands.  There is no purpose in the errand for the child; it is just some place he is being forced to go to.  Though it is important to bring a child on errands so he will learn how to interact with people in society, limiting how many he has to accompany his caregiver on can cut down on the number of tantrums in public.

Prepare the child ahead of time.  It is important to prepare him for any type of transition, but going into a store or other public venue requires even more planning.  Give him a list of the events of the day.  “We are going to three places before we come back home: the bank, the grocery store and the post office.”  As you finish at each spot help him to count down how many more places he is going to go.  Remind him what he enjoys about each place and what he gets to do when the errands are done and he can go home.

Help the child release frustrations before heading out in public.  A lot of the time parents and caregivers take an already aggravated child out into public and are then irritated when that child does not cooperate.  If the child is having an off day, find an activity that will help him to release some of the frustration he has bottled up before he leaves the house.  This could be in the form of some type of physical activity, having a conversation about what is bothering him, or playing a special game before he leaves.  Sometimes the only way for this frustration to come out is for him to have a temper tantrum in the house.  Temper tantrums themselves are not bad, they are simply a way that the child has found to release the aggravation he has.

Provide some kind of non-monetary reward for behaving in a helpful manner.  It is not a good idea to get in the habit of promising a new toy or candy when the child behaves well in public.  This could quickly become a big problem because he will begin to expect it.  However, the reward of extra time spent with his parents could be a fantastic motivator for him.

Give the child a job to do to distract him when he is starting to lose it.  Kids need purpose.  This is one of the reasons errands and long social gatherings can get so boring for children.  When parents make the event fun and give it meaning, children become less likely to feel the need to throw a temper tantrum.

Let him have a meltdown without responding so that he can see that it is not an effective strategy.  There are a lot of ways to avoid meltdowns.  But sometimes the best way to avoid future meltdowns is to allow the one that is happening now to happen.  Parents often get extremely worried and anxious when their child is screaming in public because they feel like everyone is upset or judging them.  The truth is that anyone watching who has ever been a parent or caregiver of young children is feeling only empathy for that parent.  The only thing parents should be worried about in the moment is what is best for their child, and sometimes the best thing is to allow him to get angry and scream with no one persuading him with threats or rewards to stop.  The tantrum will pass and he will see that it has no effect on the circumstance he is in so he will be less likely to do it any time soon.

There are a lot of worries parents of young children face that are very real and worthy of caution.  Fear of a child having a temper tantrum in public should not be one of them.  With a few simple steps, parents can confidently venture out into any public setting with even the most temperamental child.

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