Public tantrums are especially tough because, well, they’re so public. They make us feel like we’re under a magnifying glass and everyone is staring at our flaws. What’s more, many toddlers turn up the shrieking if we seem embarrassed or unsure how to respond.

Avoiding aisle-three meltdowns is a lot easier if you plan ahead. Keep your trips short, organized, and timed to when your child will not be tired or hungry. (Meandering aimlessly through a mall is sensory overload for a little Stone Age brain.) Also, make waits easier by bringing along little snacks or treats (like stickers, drawing materials, or “tagalong” toys that your child gets only when you are out on errands). If, however, these best of intentions don’t work out as planned, you can stop tantrums fast—the Happiest Toddler way.

Here’s a great example of how one mother used connecting with respect using the Fast-Food Rule (FFR) and Toddler-ese to short-circuit her child’s tantrum:

Sandy brought Corey, 22 months, to the toy store while his sister, Chrissy, shopped for a present. It was their third stop that morning. Sandy sat Corey before a display of toy trains, keeping a close watch while she helped Chrissy.

When it was time to go, Corey refused. Sandy made a weak stab at using the FFR. “I know you don’t want to go, sugar, but we’re late and I don’t have time for this right now.”

Then Sandy went to pick Corey up and he erupted in tears. The clerk frowned, Chrissy moaned, and Sandy checked her watch. Corey should have had lunch and a nap an hour earlier.

Ignoring the stares of the other shoppers, Sandy realized she needed to do a better job of connecting with respect. Kneeling next to him, she exclaimed, “You say, ‘No! No, no, nooooo!’ You say, ‘No go home! No! Corey likes trains!’ Corey says, ‘No go home!’” 

Corey’s crying weakened a bit and he stopped flailing, so Sandy continued. She stomped her foot, shook her head, and waved her arms to echo some of her son’s intensity. “You say, ‘No! No, no, no! Nooooo!’You say, ‘NO go home! Corey not ready!’” Magically, Corey stopped crying. 

Then Sandy dropped her voice to a whisper. “Hey! Psssst! Hey! Let’s play train. We’ll be the train…choo! Choo-choo! Let’s choo-choo all the way to the car.”

Chrissy was so embarrassed that she pretended she didn’t know her chug-a-chugging mother and brother, but Corey was thrilled to make train noises and held on to his mom’s hips all the way out the door. 

While public tantrums are awkward affairs, with some planning and practice you can keep the public meltdowns to a minimum…and the private ones, too!

More Toddler Tantrum Tips:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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