Inside: 8 tips to help you stop, and prevent toddler tantrums in public.
“No! I don’t wanna go!”
“We just have to run in a for a few minutes. We’ll be done fast. But I need you to either walk with me or you have to get in the cart.”
Cue the screams and tears…
“Well clearly somebody’s not happy” a random older lady said very loudly.
Yea thanks, I know random lady…my kid’s having a meltdown in the store.
I don’t remember anymore why my daughter was so upset, but I do remember what that lady said to me.
Her comment wasn’t said in a sympathetic or empathetic way. It wasn’t helpful to point out what I already knew, and was actively trying to do something about.
I felt angry at the random lady, and embarrassed that people were watching me, and judging me, (at least that’s how I felt).
Toddler tantrums in public can be really embarrassing and stressful for you.
But after surviving the toddler years with two kids, I can confidently tell you two things.
You’ll almost certainly experience a public toddler tantrum, and there’s things you can do to handle that when it happens, and lessen public meltdowns from happening in the future.
I know first hand how frustrating toddler tantrums in public can be.
But the truth is, toddlers are still little people who have no impulse control. These things happen from time to time, and it doesn’t have anything to do with your parenting skills.
It’s just part of having kids.
But if you use these tips, you’ll find yourself ready to take on the public toddler tantrum, and empowered with the knowledge that you can stop some of them from happening.
How To Handle Toddler Tantrums In Public
1. Avoid bringing a sleepy or ‘hangry’ toddler anywhere
Avoid running errands if you have an overtired toddler at all costs!
Unless you can wear your toddler in a baby carrier and they’ll sleep, do your errands before, or after they’ve napped.
Overtired toddlers are notorious for having tantrums over the smallest, most insignificant thing.
Your well rested toddler on the other hand, will be MUCH more pleasant to bring with!
Also make sure you bring snacks. Hungry toddlers also become very ‘hangry’ or ‘hragey’ if you don’t supply them with food.
Learn more about how to stop toddler tantrums.
2. Don’t talk to them during the meltdown
If your toddler is in the middle of a meltdown, don’t try to rationalize with them. You’ll only get frustrated or angry that they’re not listening, and you could end up yelling too.
At the height of an emotional meltdown, your kid’s brain is in primitive mode, which means they can’t understand logic at that moment.
They probably can’t even hear what you’re saying because they’re so worked up.
The best thing you can do is stay as quiet and calm as you can, and let them get those extreme feelings out.
Once they’ve gotten those big feelings out, they’ll go into recovery mode, (which usually looks like sadness) and you can help them feel better by talking to them or hugging them.
Once they’re in recovery mode, they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say.
This tip works best if you can find somewhere quiet to go, which brings us to number 3…
3. Find a quiet area
If your toddler starts to freak out in public, find somewhere quiet to take them.
This helps take away the audience, (all the staring people) which, let’s be honest helps you just as much as it can help your kid!
Plus it gets your toddler out of an over-stimulating situation.
Places you can try are:
- A bathroom
- A family room
- A nursing room
- A bedroom, (if you’re at someone’s house)
- The car
- Or taking them in the opposite direction of where people are, (like away from a playground)
4. Don’t be afraid to leave
Sometimes there’s nothing that’ll stop the storm that’s about to happen, so the best thing you can do is grab your kid, your purse, and head to the car.
Occasionally your kid may calm down once you’re in the car and if it’s a situation where you can go back in, then do that.
Otherwise, sometimes leaving is the natural consequence your child has to face.
For example, if they’re having a tantrum because you won’t buy them a toy, or they can’t get along with their friends at a playdate, leaving shows them that their behavior isn’t acceptable.
5. Use tunnel vision
Feeling like you’re being judged when your toddler is having a tantrum in public is common.
You may feel like everyone’s watching you, but the best thing you can do is to have tunnel vision.
Don’t look at, or focus on anyone else.
This helps you continue parenting the way you normally do.
Sometimes when I would think about how other people were perceiving the situation, I would indulge my kids more.
Like I wouldn’t be as stern as I normally would, or I would give them more chances before there was a consequence.
Consistency is key when it comes to parenting toddlers, so you want to follow through with your rules and discipline as much as possible.
(Read more about how to discipline a toddler here)
When I only focused on my kid and paid no attention to anyone else, I followed through with my normal rules and consequences.
This sometimes helped the tantrum stop because my kids knew what the consequence would be, or that I wouldn’t indulge them.
And even if the tantrum didn’t stop, they still knew the rules and boundaries I set.
6. Offer connection
Sometimes all your kid wants is a hug, but they’re too worked up to ask or to know that’s what they need.
But offering a loving connection when your kid is having a hard time, can quickly stop a meltdown.
I’ve used this tool many times and it really was as simple as offering a long hug, telling my kids I loved them, asking if they’re ok, and asking if they needed water.
Plenty of times this has de-escalated my kids very quickly!
7. Try helping them cope
Again, toddlers are too little to know what helps them calm down. But you can try these coping skills for kids to help them learn to manage their feelings.
8. Don’t feel bad
Above all else, don’t feel like because your toddler is having a tantrum in public, that it somehow makes you a horrible mom.
I know I’ve felt this way, and it doesn’t help if someone, (like random older lady) says something that’s not particularly helpful, or rude when the public tantrum is happening.
But tantrums can happen at any time, to anyone.
It doesn’t mean it reflects poorly on you that your toddler behaves this way in public, (remember they have no impulse control, and they have to be taught over time how to behave appropriately), and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent!
No parent wants their toddler to have a tantrum in public, but it happens. Every other parent has also had this happen.
It’s like a horrible rite of passage into toddlerhood.
But the more you use these tips, the more confident you’ll become at handling toddler’s meltdowns in public.
And if you happen to see a mom with a toddler who’s having a tantrum, offer her a kind smile that shows you’ve been there, or give her words of support that lets her know she’s doing a great job, because it could give her the strength she needs to make it through that tough moment we all know too well.
And truthfully, we could all use more kindness.