Week 6 Lesson
Likely, this is a familiar scene: You're in the cereal aisle at the grocery store as your toddler eyes a box with a princess on it. She grabs for it, and begins to whine as you tell her no; you cart her away as she lets loose a torrent of screeches and tears.
So, what now, Mom? You could …
- Ignore the tantrum—and the raised eyebrows of passing shoppers—and continue to the next aisle.
- Pull your shopping cart away from the main flow of the store, remove your child from the cart and allow her to finish, staying near her until the emotions fizzle.
- Leave the store and head for home.
- Leave the store and walk around outside until your child calms down.
- Go to your car, let your child scream it out, and return to the store once the tantrum passes.
There's no real wrong answer here: The right tactic has much to do with your needs at the moment and your comfort level. If you're in a hurry and don't want to deal with the tantrum now, go ahead and buy the cereal. Realize, though, that toddlers quickly learn that if a tantrum produces desired results, it's an effective tool for manipulating you: Do this a time or two, and watch as each of your "No" responses is met with a meltdown. (As you don't want to make this a habit, build in extra time in your day to deal with unpredictable emotions.)
Addressing the tantrum as it happens is a more proactive, long-term solution. Where you let your child throw his fit and subsequently calm down is a personal decision. Yes, it is painfully embarrassing to be the parent of the child whose screams are only amplified by the store's high ceiling and too-faint Muzak, but you're certainly not alone: There isn't a parent in history who hasn't chaperoned a similarly distraught toddler to the bathroom (or produce aisle) to calm down. When you remain composed and in control, others will see that you're managing the situation as best you can.
Feel comfortable, as shoppers wheel around your thrashing little one, to say to anyone who stares or glares, "He's fine, the tantrum will pass. If not, we'll leave." And to bystanders offering unwanted advice? Say, "Thank you, but we have this under control."
Week 6 Project
Notice the public places where your child typically throws a tantrum—the grocery store, the mall food court, the pet shop—and avoid bringing your toddler there for a few weeks. Locations can spur repeat tantrums, and your child's developing brain is to blame: He recognizes familiar places at this age, and it's as if he unconsciously reasons, "We're in Target. Hmm, what do I do here? Oh, right, I have tantrums. I'd better get one started."
If you absolutely can't refrain from visiting a tantrum-inducing place without your toddler, re-arm yourself with the Do's from Week 4.
Avoid Attracting More Attention
When your child pitches a fit in public, stay near him, for the sake of emotional support and safety. But try your hardest not to get caught up in the drama of the moment: It can be hard to positively address your child's behavior when you're overwhelmed by what other people are thinking. When you manage the situation calmly and effectively—that is, you don't respond to your toddler's shouts or swats with screams or spankings of your own—passersby will go about their business. If bystanders start gawking at the two of you, it's probably best to pick your child up and move to a private place until the tantrum subsides.
Have compassion for other parents riding the same stormy seas: When you're in a public place witnessing someone else's child throwing a tantrum, offer the adult in charge a little support by gently asking:
- "Is there something I can do to help you?"
- "I've been there, I understand. The tantrum will pass soon."
- "May I get you both some water?"
Read all seven steps in this series: