dealing with tantrums

Dealing with Tantrums in Public Places

I’m still scarred from it. We were flying from Washington, DC to Tampa with a two-year-old and a three-month-old. There were major delays. It was a full flight and we sat at the gate for forty-five minutes. We used toys, movies, snacks, books, and games to keep our kids occupied. My wife is a flight attendant so we are not novice travelers. We finally moved out onto the tarmac as the impatience of our two-year-old was more than building. That’s when the captain told us all flights going south were shut down and he turned off the engines. My two-year-old lost it throwing the biggest tantrum the world perhaps has ever seen. We felt like every eye in the plane was burning into us as we frantically tried to calm him.

Has something like this every happened to you? I’ve had lots of experience. You are in a public place, perhaps a store, and your child throws a tantrum. Everyone always looks to see how the parent will respond. It can be difficult to know how to handle it. Here are four strategies for dealing with tantrums in public places.

A Few Things To Understand About Tantrums

Think for a moment about the world of a toddler. They don’t have power or control of anything. The environment around them is unpredictable and difficult to understand. When I am not in the mood to do something I normally need some time to prepare myself. Throughout the day they are asked to go with the flow of an adult agenda with twists and turns they are not developed to handle. That would be enough to drive any of us crazy. It doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to throw a tantrum, but it does make it more understandable. Try to show some empathy, even when no one else will.

Remove Them If You Can

When you are at home you can try the “ignore it” method, but when you are in public you want to model care for other people. Letting a child moan and wail in public teaches the child that disturbing others is okay. If you are able, remove him/her from the area to a more secluded place. Removing them not only cares for the other people, but it removes them from the environment where they are getting agitated. Their feelings have an opportunity to soothe in the new place, alone with you where it is safe and secure.

Remain Calm

If you are like me there’s nothing that makes me more upset than when someone I’m associated with makes a scene. My insides are exploding. A kid throwing a tantrum is already intense, it doesn’t need more intensity from you. [Tweet This] It may be hard, but do your best to remain calm. If you lose control of your emotions then you simply model that it is okay for them to lose theirs. [Tweet This] Try whispering in their ear. It’s one way to help control your emotions and keep you from raising your voice. But it may also soothe them or at least distract them because they will have to stop screaming in order to hear what you are saying.

Preventative Actions

In the end, the best way to deal with a tantrum is attacking it before it begins. First do your best to limit their sugar intake and anything else that can make their emotions get out of whack, such as food dyes. Create a regular schedule and stick to it as much as possible. Give them an idea of what the future holds so they can prepare themselves. You know better than they do how they respond in certain situations. Warn them about themselves. Recognize when coming off of a night when they were up late or a holiday, when they have had a ton of sugar that they are more susceptible to losing it. Then they have an opportunity to start monitoring themselves.

Sound Off

How do you handle tantrums?

BJ Foster

BJ Foster is the Director of Content Creation for All Pro Dad and a married father of two.

  • Smooth Tyler

    My favorite one was the whispering in the ear. That is a great idea and seems like it will be very successful. Thanks

  • Harman Hall

    I’m struggling guys. My son is 4. He has an aggressive personality naturally, but it goes to its highest levels at school. He’s in a Christian school in our area – a great one. I’m old school. I believe in spanking, but it’s clear that I can’t spank this out of him. My small black boy, will someday be a large black man in a world that hasn’t proven kind to large black men…no matter how educated or affluent they may be. I’ve prayed to God for help, patience and intervention. I’m really struggling with this. As his father, I hold myself fully accountable for his behavior. No matter how strict I am – he is rebellious in ways for which I don’t have the answer. When I was young, I was EXTREMELY obedient to my 6’7″, 250 pound father. Never had to spank me, because I had a healthy fear of him. With my son, his fear does not override his inability to control himself at times. If you have been through this, I’d love your feedback. Otherwise, I’m asking for prayers.

    -Hall, Marietta, Georgia

    • Sam Larson

      Prayers for you, your family and especially your son. I’m no professional, but would offer the following suggestions – a) don’t feed the beast. find ways to help your son develop a sense of calm – reading, getting out in nature, quiet time/prayer time together. b) find a channel to focus his energy and aggression in a positive way – sports or other activities where he can burn it off. If possible, stress teamwork and good sportsmanship. c) hold him accountable, but try more reasoning and non-physical consequences with praise for the right behaviors. Consider also your modeling – be the change you want to see in him. d) Good diet, enough sleep and limits on electronics – we have made this a priority with our kids and can see the difference.

    • AnIndependentwithabrain

      I truly feel your pain. My situation sounds very much like yours. Although I’m not black, my 7 year old son is in the top 98% on height and weight. Add a strong will and it can be chaotic.

      He had problems in pre k as well as kindergarten. We fought the system and finally had him tested out of pocket . Turned out he has AD/HD combined, anxiety, and fine motor skills deficiency.

      After taking legal matters, we finally got him the help he needed and have seen considerable improvement. Part of the support we are receiving is him going to a weekly social skills class as well as a “lunch bunch”.

      These two classes have, do far, improved his behavior in public and with others. He is not perfect, but the improvements have been significant. I also have him active in wrestling which also keeps him somewhat grounded.

      I hope this helps your situation.


    • BJ_Foster

      Harman I think these guys have given good advice. My son is almost nine, tends to be bigger than the other kids his age, very physical, and has always been willful. My wife and I realized that a couple of things have helped us in managing it. First, when my son is tired he is less attentive to our instruction. When he is well rested he is much more in control and obedient. The same goes for his diet. Lots of sugar and particularly artificial dyes (red is the worst) make him lose control. We don’t even let him eat M&M’s anymore. It gives him a chemical response like giving a crazy person cocaine. We’ve also noticed that the more TV and tablet time he has produces the same result so we have limited all of those. When we do he is much more obedient. We also recognized patterns where he would be disobedient and have warned him beforehand that in those situations he normally has a hard time controlling himself and he would have to work especially hard to stay in control. So perhaps have a pre-game talk to set him up for success. Instead of spanking, which I have done plenty, my son responds better to having his toys taken away. If he disobeys he loses his favorite toy for a day. However, good behavior could cause him to earn it back before the day is done. Hope some of these ideas help. I will pray. Relax though, he’s four and you are not totally responsible for all of his behavior. You’re probably on a better track than you think.

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