Parenting is not for the weak. Hallmark moments don’t happen every day. Unless you can imagine a greeting card with a picture of a toddler that says: “I want you to have the best birthday ever, so I’m going to scream and yell until that happens!”
The truth is, people of all ages can freak out when we don’t get what we want. The only difference with children is they don’t care who sees it. Their lack of communication skills combined with the desire for instant gratification is a waiting room disaster waiting to happen.
But there are some tricks and tips that moms can use to divert the situation from a full-on throw down to something slightly less embarrassing. These are 5 of my favourites.
Timing Is Everything
To avoid a temper tantrum in public, schedule your outings as best you can so your little ones are well-rested and fed. I understand this isn’t always possible. There were many times when I had to wake up my younger children because my older kid had places to go and I ended up with a grumpy toddler on my hands more than once.
First, pack snacks. Hunger can produce sensations similar to anxiety (source), and just like adults, little kids with small tummies can feel “hangry.” So lots of healthy snacks and a water bottle are must-haves in every parent’s bag.
If your toddler has just woken up or you expect to be gone during regular nap time, a comfort item that is especially dear to them – like a blanket or stuffed animal they snuggle with when they sleep – can help them stay calm.
Know Your Exit Strategy
Knowing what your game plan will be when a tantrum erupts is half the battle won. You might have heard you should just ignore them and refuse to give into their demands. But this is not always the most thoughtful approach when in a public place and others are going to be subjected to your drama. Plus, you might feel inclined to cave in, with the pressure of other people watching you.
So I try always to have an exit strategy mapped out in my head. I like to make notes of where the closest exits to the outside or a more secluded place are, and go there as soon as the tantrum begins. Once in private and free from distractions, you can get down on their level and be authoritative and firm.
Give Them Insider Information
Almost everything goes better when everyone is on the same page. Before you leave the house with your child, let them know where you’re going, so they know what to expect. If you’re going to the toy store, remind them that they’re not going to buy everything they want, especially if you’re shopping for someone else. One of my favourite ways to handle my children’s toy requests is to say, “write it on your Christmas list.” This works 364 days a year.
Also, pre-emptively let them know what to expect if they do act in a way that you don’t approve of. You might say, “Ashton, if you decide to freak out when it’s time to leave Jamie’s birthday party, that tells me that you want to go bed early tonight. We might even have to leave without getting a goodie bag. But if you act like a big boy and say your goodbyes nicely, maybe you can stay up a little later tonight to watch your favourite show.”
Give Timely Warnings
Tantrums can sometimes be avoided if we give our children fair warning. Have you ever had your toddler freak out when they’re having fun, and it’s time to leave? That’s why I always try to give my kids a warning in advance. “We’re leaving in 10 minutes!” Younger children will also need a 5 minute and a 2-minute warning.
Over time, the warning system is one of the best ways I’ve found to help transition children from one activity to another, without the tantrum.
Above all, don’t forget your sense of humour. Twenty years from now, you’ll look back and laugh at the situations that make you cringe in embarrassment now.
The next time your toddler decides to unleash his anger in public, remind yourself you’re not the first parent to go through this, and you certainly won’t be the last.
Jenny is just another mom trying to do her best. She loves making lists and trying to help others find what they are looking for. When she’s not sharing the latest parenting hacks & tips on her blog, you’ll find her trying to help other moms save money by writing epic 5000-word buyer’s guides on breast pumps, diapers, and other mommy essentials.