Public Displays of Tantrums

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And How To Beat Them

It’s every parent’s nightmare… pushing the shopping trolley down the frozen foods aisle and your toddler disagrees with something you’ve popped in the basket. It starts out as a mild objection and it develops into a full-blown tantrum. You can feel the stares of a dozen people on your back, your face is flushed red with embarrassment and anger and there is your precious baby lying on the ground making a snow angel of pure rage.

An elderly couple shakes their head disapprovingly, “my children never behaved like that”. A corporate woman who has never had kids says, “I can’t believe your child is acting like that. If I had children they certainly wouldn’t get away with it.” Children laugh at the sight. While other parents, who know exactly what it is like, give you a knowing smile, “Yep, been there done that – yesterday, and the day before”. It’s like a full blown circus and everyone is standing around watching as your child becomes the lion trapped in a cage – and some watching think the lion is hilarious, other’s think it’s disgusting – and then some think about their own lions and how hard it can be.

The fact is, regardless of how old you are or how young you are – if you are, or have ever been, a parent – you’re going to experience a tantrum at some point in your child’s life. Without a doubt. You probably just don’t remember it (or you’ve blocked it out).

The thing is, at that moment you will struggle to keep your cool and it’s hard to prevent a meltdown of your own from occurring. So we thought we’d offer you a little bit of advice that might help you get through the next meltdown – with your sanity in check.


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The Ultimate Meltdown

There is nothing pleasant about a public tantrum, but they are just a nasty fact of growing up. The worst offenders are between the ages of one and four and the reason for this is they don’t have the coping skills required to process the emotions they’re going through. The trigger is usually not getting their way. For young toddlers, it may be that they want a certain toy, a drink, or a nappy change but since they don’t have the verbal skills to communicate that to you they get frustrated and throw a tantrum.

Those older toddlers, though, those are straight up power struggles. They have the language skills to tell you what they need, but they’re becoming autonomous and when they want something they let you know and failure to comply is an invitation to throw a tantrum.

How to Manage Tantrums

Tried and tested, guaranteed to get you through even the worst meltdowns.

  1. Validation

When you empathise it doesn’t mean that you’re agreeing. Understand that during a tantrum your child is being flooded with cortisol, their heart rate is up, they get real stomach aches and headaches. Your biggest challenge is to identify the issue. By empathising you’re calming them down – so when your toddler is throwing a fit over having to go to grandma’s house don’t tell them they love grandma and they’re in a mood, instead empathise by saying things like you feel and right now.

  1. Be Patient

This might be the hardest part, but being patient and compassionate with your tantrum throwing child will actually get the situation over with sooner.

  1. Listen & Repeat

When you listen to their issue you can repeat what they’re saying without agreeing with it. You’re not arguing either, you’re just carefully listening and you should speak with a quiet and slow voice.

  1. The Crash

Your goal as a parent is to control the damage not to argue, stimulate, or criticise. Less really is more here, but remember that what goes up… yep, it will come down.

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It Isn’t Spoiling

Some people may suggest that this type of method is coddling your child, but it isn’t. Dealing with a toddler in a tantrum is akin to dealing with someone experiencing an anxiety attack so it isn’t a case of reinforcing bad behaviour, it’s dealing with the situation at hand.

If you get upset as a reaction to your child’s tantrum it’s more likely to ramp up their bad behaviour, so learn breathing exercises that are designed to keep you calm in these situations. In fact, this very behaviour may encourage your child to join in on the calming exercise.

If you want to mitigate the risks of a total tantrum in public then ensure your child is getting sufficient sleep and that you don’t take them out during their typical naptime. Always travel with snacks, drinks, and entertainment.

You can’t eliminate tantrums altogether, but you can reduce the risk and manage the situations when they do arise. Don’t worry, you got this! Just remember, the next time your child decides to have a public meltdown shut the rest of the world around you out and focus on empathising.


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