What to do when your child has a tantrum in public

Written by: David Gottlieb

A nightmare scenario for many of us parents is when our child loses it at the store, in a restaurant, at the park. Your child starts screaming or worse yet, starts throwing things, and you worry that strangers are thinking what a terrible parent you must be! What do you do now?

First, remember that most parents have experienced something like this, and unless you become overly aggressive with your child, most parents will not be angry with you but empathize with you. For tantrums that happen at home or in the car (that is, in a private place) the rule of thumb is not to argue or talk with your child until he has calmed down. But can you wait it out in public if your child is making a scene? It depends where you are. If it happens in a relatively quiet restaurant, you could bring your child to the car, and wait in there until he calms down. If the tantrum goes on an on, you could bring him home. (This might mean going back later for your spouse and other children.) If
you are outside or in a loud mall, then I would stand there until your child calms down. Wait to talk with your child until he calms down, so that your child sees that he gets more attention when he exhibits self-control.
 
Later on, think about when and where your child’s blow-ups have occurred in the last few weeks. When possible, try to head off a tantrum in the future, by anticipating when your child is more likely to lose it. If in a restaurant or store, tell her before your leave the house what you will order or buy. In other words, you lower your child’s expectations before you leave home. Or if she is unable to contain himself once she is out with you, I would next time arrange for someone to stay home with her while you went out.
 
If you are already out somewhere and you sense your child is getting tired or annoyed, but he has not blown up yet, try to distract him with a funny comment or with an activity that you brought along. Distraction works when it engages your child. In summary, you try to lower expectations ahead of time, or distract your child if you catch his upset in the early stages, and try to pay as little attention as possible if your child is in the midst of a tantrum.
 
Check out Dr. Dave's blog at yourchildisdefiant.blogspot.com
Posted on January 18, 2013 at 9:22 AM