Terrible Two’s. Threenager. Four going on Fourteen.
Parenting a little human is both amazing and horrible all at once. Your child’s ability to communicate is growing so much and yet the moment something doesn’t go their way they suddenly forget it all. They forget that they can talk and reason. It’s back to banshee screaming, leg kicking, rolling down the aisle at Target.
I was under the impression that this kind of behavior was limited to two-year-olds but I was wrong. We are up into the 4’s now and it is showing no signs of stopping.
Clearly, I was misinformed.
You know that one tantrum, the one that ended up being way worse than the rest? That time your kid lost it so bad in public that you are still afraid to go back to that store because they probably have your photo taped up on the wall in the break room? We have all had one. If there is a wall of shame in the Target break room I am taped up there right beside you!
The hardest part for me about having my child break down in public is the shame I feel about my parenting. Like I am doing something wrong, or at least not doing something right.
Have you felt that shame? Played that game where you beat yourself up over it and swear you are the biggest failure of a mom that has ever lived?
So not true.
Well, at least the part about you being a failure. What REALLY matters is that you know in your heart that you are a great mom.
If you need proof, just look at the fact that you are spending your free time researching how to diffuse a toddler tantrum when you could be doing something way more fun… like sleeping, or showering alone.
The thing is, we were all little at one point in our life. We probably all laid down in a shopping aisle and screamed because our mother wouldn’t buy us whatever brightly colored cereal we wanted.
How to deal with a toddler tantrum in public
First, I just want to say this, because it really is important. Do not focus on what you think others might be thinking. This situation is about you and your child. End of story. Unless you are someplace totally inappropriate for a tantrum, like a wedding or funeral. In that case, skip all these steps and just get out of there.
Address the problem or toddler tantrum as its happening
If you can, address the problem right at the moment that it is happening. Don’t wait until you get back to the car, or until you can get somewhere private. Once you’ve gotten to that point your child is less likely to remember why they even got upset to begin with.
My mom always used to say “just wait until your father gets home.” This kind of thinking does two things. It takes the authority away from you and gives it to another person. In the future why would your child see you as an authority figure when you are willingly giving that authority away? The second problem is that it removes any sense of urgency. The tantrum is now, why would the solution need to wait several hours?
I know public places aren’t the best to try and “parent” but try to find a semi-secluded place and get to work on diffusing the situation.
I can vividly remember a monstrous tantrum in the coffee maker section at Target a few months back. My husband, who is horrified, starts racing towards the exit and I stop him. We have a tense exchange where he insists that we have to leave so we don’t bother the other shoppers. Number one, its Target, it’s like the international stomping grounds of the SAHM community. Number two, we are supposed to be teaching her, not avoiding teachable moments because they make us, the parents, feel a bit uncomfortable.
Anyways, I send my embarrassed husband along, move my daughter into an empty aisle and let her thrash for a few more moments before I get started diffusing the tantrum.
Here are the steps to diffuse a toddler tantrum in public
Address yourself first.
Kind of like putting on the oxygen mask in an airplane before you attempt to help anyone else. Give yourself a pep talk, a quick one obviously since we are in the middle of a nuclear meltdown. No matter how angry or embarrassed you are you should try to address this tantrum in a calm and reasonable manner.
Kids will pick up on your emotions. If you go in angry or upset this will do nothing to help them process their feelings and will instead project your own feelings onto them as well.
So take a deep breath and promise yourself that you will stay calm.
Physically touch your child
Sometimes your kiddo just needs to be brought back into reality. Laying your hands onto any part of their little body can help.
It can also help your child to focus on you. If you aren’t physically tethering your child to you by touch their little senses are trying to take in everything else around them. Trying to concentrate on one thing when you are three is totally impossible. Touch will give them a sensory receptor to focus on.
Force eye contact
By force, I simply mean that you need to continue to request that your child looks at you until they do. When their gaze starts to move onto something else continue to force them to make eye contact.
I honestly have to repeat “look at me” about every 10 seconds when my daughter is having a meltdown. But here is why it works. She is tethered to me with touch, usually, I just have my hand on her hip so she doesn’t feel restrained. If I am forcing her to look at me that is a 2nd sensory receptor that she has to process. Little brains aren’t really equipped for multitasking so it takes a lot of effort for her to focus on both. That means a lot less effort that she has to put into her tantrum.
It also gives you the ability to give your child non-verbal cues. You can convey calmness, which can help calm their little brains. I would suggest trying for calm and understanding over anger and frustration. Emotions are so BIG when you are 3. If your child thinks that they are getting in more trouble the tantrum is likely to continue.
Explain yourself calmly
At this point, your child should have returned to a slow simmer instead of a full boil. Now that they are focused on you and not their tantrum simply explain whatever it is that needs explaining. If its a toy that you said no to, explain the why. If its a “time to go” situation, explain the why.
Your kiddo might try to get you to see their side of the story, about why they NEEDED that toy. Listen and then assert your authority. If you said no initially, stick to it. Do not try and give a reward for overcoming the tantrum. This just continues the cycle of misbehavior.
The most important step in handling a toddler tantrum in public
Now, this is important. In order for this to work you have to all these steps together! Keep the focus on yourself and your child, ignore everyone else. Keep your clam no matter what craziness is coming out of that little mouth. Continue to hold eye contact and maintain a physical touch. Keep doing all these steps until you regain control of the situation. And then keep doing them until the situation is COMPLETLY diffused.
I have TWO wild, crazy, strong-willed little girls and these techniques work about 90% of the time. Give it a try, I promise you will see results that surprise you! If you want to see my crazy kids in action follow me on Instagram!
Just for fun, leave me a comment and tell me the craziest temper tantrum your child has had in public!
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