Dealing with meltdowns can be more challenging in front of others. From parties to restaurants, learn what to do during public tantrums.
I’d be at a family party with relatives and friends around, or the zoo, trying to placate one of my kids as he rolled on the floor. Other times, the scene would erupt at a restaurant or while grocery shopping, and strangers would peer our way and wonder what in the world was going on.
My kids have tested me in front of others, and the embarrassment was real. If they weren’t kicking their legs, they were throwing things or yelling. They didn’t always act like this, but they’ve all hit a stage when they behaved unruly in public.
I’d try to put on a calm face, but inside, my frustration was growing.
What to do when your child throws public tantrums
Disciplining younger children in public places can be rough, especially when it seem like all eyes and ears are on you. It feels like others are placing judgment on you based on a few seconds of observation. You also worry that the tears and screams are disrupting others and are embarrassed when the crying doesn’t end.
Thankfully, I’ve picked up a few effective techniques during a temper tantrum. This is what 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. Because 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 your child 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.
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 your child’s 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 then-four-year-old son, husband, and I went on a weekend trip to the snow. I was pretty excited to go on a ski lift to play in the higher parts of the mountain. I 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 darn 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 and that you’re a bad parent, remember that every parent has gone through the same thing you are.
We can do our best to time our outings so our kids are in their best moods. We make sure they took a nap and have snacks ready in the diaper bag. And we won’t take them on too many outings so they don’t feel overwhelmed, holding their hand so they feel safe as they experience something new.
We can do all these things, and many times they help, but other times, they’ll still throw public temper tantrums, whether we’re ready for it or not.
When that happens, remove your child from the situation to comfort and 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, from the new mom to the grandmother who remembers this all too well. Remind yourself that you’re not alone—especially when you make your exit while carrying your wailing child.
Get more tips:
- Your Guide to Handling Tantrums
- How to Stop Kids from Fighting Every Day
- 5 Things You Shouldn’t Tell Your Kids
- How to Stop Your Toddler from Running Off in Public
- What to Do When Your Kids Don’t Listen to You in Public
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get your copy of the Quick Guide to Handling Tantrums—at no cost to you: