How to Deal with Public Tantrums

Dealing with meltdowns can be more challenging in front of others. From parties to restaurants, learn what to do during public tantrums.

Public TantrumsMy kids have tested me in front of others, and the embarrassment was real.

From family parties to the zoo, I know what it’s like to try to placate them as they rolled on the floor, screaming and kicking. I’d feel the eyes of strangers peering our way, wondering what in the world was going on. Even as I tried to act calm and in control, inside I was ready to crumble in a heap.

Disciplining kids in public places can be rough, especially when it feels like others are judging you based on a few seconds of observation. Other times, you worry that your child’s behavior is disruptive to others, especially when you’re not able to discipline in the privacy of your home.

Thankfully, I’ve picked up a few effective techniques during these meltdowns. These are the tips that helped me respond swiftly to prevent an outburst from escalating. I’ve also learned how to take it in stride, not react to a trigger, and remind myself that this is all normal in the first place.

With patience and consistency, hopefully you can find the tips and tactics to use the next time your child throws public tantrums:

1. Remove your child from the situation temporarily

I can’t even tell you how many family parties we’ve been to when at least one of my kids cried. The reasons varied, from feeling scared about a big dog to not wanting their picture taken.

When you aren’t able to calm your child right then and there, remove her from the situation. Doing so has many benefits:

  • Her current situation is overwhelming. A change in scenery can be all she needs to calm down.
  • Moving her elsewhere keeps her safe. If she’s breaking things or hitting others, removing her makes sure she doesn’t continue.
  • She’s not out on public display. She may cry even more when she feels like she’s a show and everyone is hovering over her or meddling in her business.
  • Because you’re in public, you should consider other people as well. Yes, your focus should be on your child, but be considerate of others who may not want to wait for her to calm down.

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2. Focus on calming your child

Once you’ve removed your child, focus on calming him down. Fair warning: this can take a while.

You see, your goal isn’t to calm him down as fast as possible. It’s to calm him down, period.

The more you rush him to snap out of it or show how anxious you feel, the slower he might calm down. Imagine trying to feel peaceful when someone is scowling at you to “stop crying already.”

Instead, hold him in your arms. Let him know you’re on his side, and that you understand his feelings are real. Practice deep breathing, modeling it yourself to see if he can catch on.

These antics may seem petty, but he’s still young and doesn’t understand our world the way we do. Hug, pat his back, or kiss him on the head. Let him know through body language that it’s okay to feel the way he does and that the bad feelings will go away soon.

Why You Shouldn't Tell Kids to Stop Crying

3. Talk only once your child is calm

When your child has calmed down, then you can explain the situation. Acknowledge her motives or big emotions and find a way to relate to her feelings. Maybe that’s saying, “It gets loud with all those people, doesn’t it?” Or “You wanted the balloon but the other boy took it.”

Then, correct her behavior. Let her know it’s wrong to hit other people or encourage her to use her words next time so people can understand.

Only once she’s calm is it time to say anything. Otherwise, she won’t listen, much less remember, any lessons you’re trying to teach when she’s too angry.

4. Offer your help

One of the best ways to end the conversation with your child is to ask, “Is there something I can do to help?”

Let him offer suggestions of what you can do to help him as he re-enters the scene. If he comes up with no ideas, offer a few of your own. He could sit on your lap for a while, or you could take him to your sister’s room when he feels overwhelmed again.

Knowing you’re nearby to help can make him feel less alone and frustrated.

5. When all else fails…

During winter break, my 4 year old, husband, and I went on a weekend trip to the snow. I was pretty excited to go on a ski lift and imagined building snowmen and sledding down the slopes.

Instead, after a measly two slides down and not one snowman made, my son was having none of it. He was afraid of the snow lift to begin with and didn’t understand what the big deal was. Meanwhile, here I was feeling upset after having stood in line and paid $100 for this experience.

Still, I realized the best course of action was to know when to let it go. When removing him or placating him with hugs didn’t work, the next best thing was to leave.

This sucks, big time. Sometimes you drive a long way to see family. You had already ordered your meal and felt embarrassed to ask the waiter to bag it instead. Or you paid $100 for a ski lift only to end in a bad mood for everyone.

We do our best, but sometimes our best move is to go home. Don’t worry: you’re not letting your child determine your plans or letting him walk all over you. These are his genuine feelings and fears, and we need to admit that it isn’t going to get any better.


The most important thing to remember? We all go through this. Any time you feel like all eyes are on you, remember that every parent has gone through the same thing.

But to make those moments less frequent, try the tips you learned above. To start, time your outings so your child is in a good mood. Make sure he took a nap, and have snacks ready. Don’t take him on too many outings so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

Other times, you’ll need to remove him from the situation to calm him down. Let him know it’s okay to feel upset, and offer your help on what can make him feel better.

We all go through this. Remind yourself that you’re not alone—even when you make your exit while carrying your crying child.

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  1. Yea, my 2 year old loves too cover his ears whenever I try too soothe him, or tell him he cant have the balloon. This advice was great, and that’s all there is to say. 🙂

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I hear ya, Freya <3 And thank you for your kind words!