Have you ever been in a public setting and felt everyone staring at you as your child melts down into a screaming fit? Ever find yourself avoiding an errand with your little one due to fear that they will tantrum? Ever been humiliated as you walk out of school and your child melts down, all while the teacher says “this never happens with us”. If so, you are not alone — all children tantrum and most children publically tantrum during their early childhood.
Why do children tantrum?
Children tantrum for different reasons — sometimes because they are tired and this is the easiest way to express it. Other times it is because there is too much going on in the environment and they are overwhelmed (ever observed a tantrumming child at a birthday party?). Sometimes it is for attention — when children tantrum they generally get a whole lot of attention! Often, particularly in public places, tantrums occur when children do not get their way — when you tell them “you have to sit in the cart” and they wanted to walk, or you say “no toy/cookie/3rd field trip to the bathroom in 20 minutes”.
How to make it stop
The first key is prevention — talk to your child frequently, particularly when running errands. Make it fun instead of boring. But, prevention isn’t always possible — sometimes tantrums just can’t be avoided. At these times the single most effective way to prevent tantrums is to IGNORE them. No talking. No eye contact. Sing yourself a song about what a good mother/father/grandparent you are and pretend it is not happening. Don’t worry about the people staring at you — their child had a public tantrum yesterday and they are watching you for tips about what to do. When the tantrum ends, very quickly find something pleasant to talk about — “look, the cheerios are in a new box!!!”.
If you cannot tolerate the public tantrum…
Leave wherever you are. Calmly remove your child from the cart/aisle/party and walk out. You can continue to ignore in the car or just go home. This is less effective if your child was tantrumming because they were bored/wanted to leave. In these instances, let the tantrum ensue in the car and GO BACK to the store, even if it is only for two minutes, to show your child they did not get what they wanted.
Above all else stay calm and remember that this too shall pass!
For additional help feel free to call the Psychology Service for an appointment at 832.822.1900.