How To Survive a Tantrum in Public (Ages 3 and Up)

Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash

 

It’s just another day running errands.

I’m juggling a shopping list the length of my forearm, a wiggly child who is constantly touching things, and a purse that must have an anvil in it, judging by the weight.

I’ve barely walked into the store when we walk by the toy aisle. (Why do they put the toy aisle right by the doors so we have to walk by it every time??)

And the rest is history.

You all know the story.

1-For my little one, it starts with pointing and jabbering on about the coolest (and always most expensive!!) toy.

2-Then, the heartfelt plea. (“Please, please, please, please!! It’s all I’ve ever wanted in my whole life!”- NOT TRUE. Haha)

3-Next come the promises. (“I’ll never ask for anything ever again!”- Let’s place bets on how long this will last. Anyone for 5 minutes? Anyone? Nobody? Yeah, me neither).

Of course, I’m trying to calmly and logically explain all the ins and outs of money, and how we have to work hard for it, and how we don’t have a lot of it, and how we don’t always get the things we want, and how sometimes we have to wait and work hard before we can buy things.

4-And then Fit Hits the Shan.

She clenches her fists, then her whole body tenses. She is so uptight that she starts shaking all over. She releases all that tension in one blood curdling scream, then she sobs and falls to the floor, crying. She refuses any help to calm down. If I try to pat her back reassuringly, she hits me. If I try to hug her, she pushes me away. If I try to hold her, she does the limp noodle thing.

Even though it’s the same old thing I deal with every day at home, it’s so much worse in a public place!!

EVERYONE is watching…. I can just imagine their thoughts right now.

  • “What a terrible mom.”
  • “Is she seriously going to allow her child to act like that??”
  • “Can’t she do something about this?”
  • “That child needs some discipline.”

So…. What am I supposed to do????

  • Minimize the Circus Show

My first step is always to find a quiet place to handle the problem. This puts me back in control my minimizing the embarrassment and getting me into a parenting mindset. 

Basically, the point here is that the attention from other customers makes me a little less suited for handling the situation because I’m distracted by my feelings of embarrassment. I’m not a good mom when I’m not focused on my child’s needs. But that’s not all! The attention from other customers can make your child feel overstimulated or encourage them to continue the battle for the battle’s sake.

So trying to fix a major tantrum right in the middle of all the chaos of a packed grocery store or restaurant just doesn’t usually work.

The more things are going on, the harder it is to focus.

Find a quiet place. That could be a bathroom in the store, it could be an empty section of the restaurant or an empty aisle, or it could mean walking back to your car for a break.

Sometimes it’s not possible to find a perfectly calm and peaceful location. In that case, go to the QUIET-EST place available to you… even if it’s not entirely silent. The point is to help you and the child focus on the problem and on a solution.

  • Listen to the Signs My Body is Giving

Your body mirrors the chaos that is going on around you. Your heart rate elevates, your blood pressure rises, your vagal tone increases, your breathing becomes more rapid. Watch for these signs in yourself because they keep you from feeling calm.

That’s why I always recommend the same calming techniques- count to 10 (this keeps you from reacting and gives you a chance to think), take deep breaths (slowing your breathing slows your heart rate), and take a break (allows you to focus on your body and take the time needed to control your physiological reactions).

Only when I have control of my own body can I be effective at helping my child.

I’ve found that these are great teaching moments too. If my little one sees me using deep breaths, she is more likely to try them herself. I can turn an unpleasant situation into a positive example for my daughter to learn from.

  • Don’t Give In!

Remember, your child is learning from each experience they have with you.

You don’t want them to learn that tantrums are effective ways to get something that they want in an inappropriate way. If a child learns that mom or dad will give in to their demands, the tantrums can be longer, louder, and more intense than they were before because it’s the fastest way the child knows to get something he wants.

No bueno.

Instead, model for your child how he or she can get what they want and need in a positive way. Remember that at the root of every tantrum is a legitimate need! The child is just trying to communicate with you. If you can help them do so in a positive way, then you’ll both benefit.

If you really feel the pressure to give in to a tantrum, think of something very easy that the child can do to earn what they want rather than just giving it to them. For example, let’s say the child wants a piece of candy, so he starts jumping up and down and yelling. Rather than just offering the candy (which would be rewarding them for having a tantrum), say “You can have a piece of candy if you ask nicely for one.” In this way, the child is being rewarded for asking for the candy rather than being rewarded for having a tantrum.

Don’t teach a bad lesson without meaning to. Be intentional in your response! 

  • Treat it Like Any Other Tantrum

All tantrums have the same rules.

1-Think from the child’s perspective to see if there is an easy solution. Maybe the child is hungry? We can fix that! Maybe the child is bored? We can have races or he can write on the shopping list or he can help me spot the next item I need- anything to make shopping fun! Are we shopping right before nap time? Maybe I can change my schedule around to go at a different time.

2-Be conscious of the opportunity to teach the child something with this experience. Remember the values you want to teach and find a way to incorporate that into this situation.

3-Don’t just react- be intentional in your parenting. Make sure you are calm and ready to handle the situation appropriately.

4-Follow through. Never give in to a tantrum. Rather, remind your child of an appropriate way that he or she can meet the need at the root of the tantrum. Help the child practice asking nicely or using effective communication.

Obviously, this all looks good on paper.

The application is another story.

The hardest step for me is to stop and think before I react to the situation.

I find myself thinking of better ways that I could have handled the tantrum after the fact.

But that’s ok because I find that I fail like 10 times in a row and then on the 11th time I remember. The only reason I remember is because I have thought 10 times of how I would like to handle the situation next time. All this repetition finally sticks in my head and the 11th time is successful.

So don’t get down- just keep preparing for next time until you remember.

  • Keep Trying!

There is one more step that I recommend to parents.

In all this, our overall goal is to help the child learn appropriate ways to cope with a situation that she doesn’t like– some sort of public activities like shopping or eating at a restaurant. Of course, we have to be patient and give the child as much time as they need to learn those skills. Nobody learns a new skill overnight.

But it’s important to keep trying to teach a little more whenever the child is able to handle it- and that means returning to the situation. Yep, I’m saying to please bring your child back to the store sometime. It doesn’t have to be in the same day, or the next day.

But keep trying! Give the child lots of heads up so that he knows what to expect, remind the child of different ways that she can cope with being in the store, and let her know that you’re on her side. Try to set yourself up for success by taking care of the little things- make sure she’s not tired or hungry or bored. Then give it another go! 

I like to empower children with a word or a sign that they are getting frustrated or overwhelmed. Then, we can take breaks from doing something they don’t like to do- and avoid a full blown tantrum. Even if the child cannot talk, this can be a great time to utilize infant signs, like “all done”.

Children get better and better with practice and patience. Don’t loose hope- you and your child will be better for your struggles! 

 

I hope these tools make you feel a little more prepared for your next day of running errands.

Keep up all your hard work as a parent and don’t fret about the small things.

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

 

Share with any parent who has dealt with a tantrum in public!

Please subscribe to my email list for weekly updates in the world of parenting!

Advertisements

Every Parent’s Nightmare- Tantrums

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

 

If there is one all-encompassing word to describe “when fit hits the shan,” it’s “Tantrum”.

This is everything from stomping feet, to flailing on the floor, to screaming, to physically attacking people and things. It’s basically a name for every parent’s nightmare… especially if tantrums happen in public.

In our case, tantrums started when our baby hit 13 months. She will tighten up her hands into fists, her whole body shakes, and she screams bloody murder. This is usually followed by crying and falling to the floor. Sometimes when my husband and I try to help her calm down, she will push us away or hit us.

So, being good, responsible parents…. What are we supposed to do?

I know, this seems weird because children aren’t really that logical. Thinking from their perspective often sounds something like “I am the boss of you…” or “My daddy can beat up your daddy!”

But seriously, the kid usually has a good reason for his actions, but it can be hard for them to tell us what that reason is. Unfortunately, kids suck at communication. It’s not their fault. Honestly, lots of adults suck at communication too.

When we stop and really look at why the kid is acting out, usually we can find a good reason that we’ve overlooked.

  • Maybe a situation really isn’t fair.
  • Maybe he’s hungry and that makes him irritable.
  • Maybe he’s tired so he’s grouchy.
  • Maybe he’s bored.
  • Maybe there’s so much going on that he’s having sensory overload.
  • Maybe he needs your attention but doesn’t know how to ask for it.
  • Maybe he wants an item that someone else has.
  • Maybe the physical limitations of being a kid are frustrating (I can’t reach that, I can’t take the lid off, etc.)

Even though some of these things sound like kid problems ALL of them involve real feelings. So take a second, look around, think, and see if there is an obvious need that can be met. Sometimes this solves the problem before we even get started.

And by all means, don’t trivialize the situation because, no matter how insignificant the problem seems when compared to adult woes, it matters to your child!

The problem with this step is that young kids don’t have the skills to tell you what they want, so it can be really hard to think from their perspective. If only they had the skills to tell us exactly what the problem is.

With my 13 month old, I find myself offering her anything I can think of that she might want, and she just hits things out of my hands because I have apparently got it wrong. Of course, that is super frustrating since I am trying my best to meet her every want and need.

Even when it is very clear to me what my kid wants during a tantrum, she’s just acting to nasty that I don’t want to give it to her. Not in a vindictive way…  I just worry that she will be rewarded for acting out.

I have learned through trial and error that there are always alternatives to just giving kids something. They can always earn things by improving their behavior.

So just because my kiddo is obviously pointing to the toy on the shelf that she can’t reach (while tantruming to try to get it) doesn’t mean I should just get it for her simply because I know what she wants.

How do we know when to give kids what they need to prevent further frustration and when to hold out to make sure we aren’t rewarding the tantrum? Keep reading!

  • A Learning Experience

What do you want your child to learn? What do you want them to become? This varies depending on your values as a parent.

  • Some parents want a child to be independent.
  • Some want the child to know how to empathize with others.
  • Some want kids who can problem solve.
  • Some parents want children to learn to cope with their emotions.
  • Maybe you want all or a mix of these things.

Your focus will probably change depending on how old your kid is and what their strengths and struggles are at the moment. If your kid is good at empathy, you might focus on something else… maybe problem solving. Or maybe you want to perfect that skill so it’s exactly what you want to focus on!

It might even change from one tantrum to the next based on the circumstances.

Whatever you value, make that your focus and tailor all your reactions to her behavior based on what you are trying to teach.

During a tantrum the other day, I tried to complete this step but all I could think was, “What I value is a child who isn’t screaming in my face! And hitting things out of my hands!! And embarrassing me in the store!”

Sometimes, it is really tough to think past the initial problem to focus on bigger issues like independence or problem solving.

Of course, we all want the best for our kids. The next step will help with getting past the day to day frustrations so that you can focus on the bigger picture.

  • A Fresh Outlook

The big thing to remember is that each tantrum is a teaching moment.

Usually, your natural reaction in these situations isn’t to teach- It’s to put an end to this behavior as quickly and as effectively as you can.

Stop for a second. Take a deep breath, take a break, count to 10, use a calming tool (click on the image below!), whatever you need to do to delay that initial reaction long enough to think it through. Intentional parenting is always better than just reacting.

If you lose your cool and yell at your kids…. Who’s learning? The kid? Nope! You? Hopefully!

Well, let’s halt. That’s not entirely true…. A kid can learn from these moments but they don’t always learn what you want them to.

  • They can learn that yelling is an appropriate way to handle tough situations.
  • Or, if you have a resilient child, they might learn that being yelled at isn’t fun and that they don’t ever want to yell at other people. We all hope for this, but unfortunately most kids fall in the first category.

If this happens, don’t be afraid to go back and make it a teaching moment after the fact. You can show your little one how to say sorry. You can teach them how to fix a relationship that has been bruised. You can help them practice forgiving another person. So all isn’t lost!

Don’t beat yourself up if you have imperfect parenting moments. Those… oddly enough… are good for kids because they open up a whole new world of teaching moments for you, so don’t think you have to put on a perfect face for your kids all the time. Kids need to see someone handling mistakes well if they are to be expected to handle mistakes well themselves.

I have found that this is the most difficult part for me. To just stop before I say or do something I’ll regret later.

And having enough humility to apologize to my kids. Sometimes I feel justified for yelling because I was right and the kid was wrong. But that’s no way to live life and not how I want my daughter to learn to act either. (Click the image below for a great children’s book to teach your child about apologizing!)

This is usually the last straw that helps me get over myself and go apologize to my kid.

She’s always so kind and forgives me right away. But I’m not so kind. I don’t forgive myself as quickly.

This might be a perpetual problem for parents. Or at least for me. But it is something I’ll keep working on.

With the community built through this blog, we can all help each other learn to forgive ourselves for our parenting mistakes.

  • Carry Out your Teaching Moment…. Even if it’s Hard.

Remember earlier when you decided what you value? Now it’s time to make that happen.

This isn’t easy.

First of all, make sure you aren’t giving in to the tantrum! This just teaches kids that tantrums are an effective way to manipulate mommy or daddy into giving them what they want. This is a tough pattern to break once a kid learns it.

So, find out what the kid wants, then offer him an appropriate way to earn it rather than just getting it.

  • Using words is one of the best ways for a child to earn something they want. Use one of these phrases:
    • “Say please.”
    • “Tell me what you want and I will get it for you.”
    • “Ask nicely.”
  • If a child is tantruming about a task, give a shorter version of the task before allowing them to take a break.
    • “You don’t have to clean your whole room now, just pick up one toy, then you can have a break. But you will need to finish the room after you calm down.”
    • “You don’t have to finish your homework now, just keep working for one more minute. Then take a break. But you will need to finish your homework after you calm down.”

I’ve seen parents make the mistake of making it really, really, really difficult for the child to earn the thing that they want. This teaches the child that it’s easier to yell and scream rather than try to do what you’re asking, so they will just keep up the tantrum.

Offer your child a really easy way to earn the thing they want. Then, it is clearly a better option to, for example, “Just say please,” rather than putting all this energy into yelling and thrashing on the floor.

When the easiest choice is the positive behavior, the child is more likely to use it. Then you can slowly increase the difficulty of the task once the child masters the easier things.

  • Clarity and Consistency

But what about when you’re just plain tired? Sometimes… It’s just easier… to not. Not do anything. Not worry about teaching. Not follow through.

I have noticed that if I give in even once, the tantrum is worse the next time and harder to get rid of.

It’s so much better if my kid just knows what to expect from me. If she clearly knows that mom means what she says because I’ve always followed through in the past, then she doesn’t test me so much. If she isn’t sure if I will follow through or not because I didn’t follow through last time, then she’s more likely to push my buttons.

As difficult as it can be to be consistent in the moment, I keep myself straight by thinking of the bigger problems that happen when I fall off the wagon.

I’ve seen kids who rule the roost. They dominate the household while their parents cower before them and meet their every want (not their every need- their every WANT!). It’s seriously like watching a dictator bossing around his servants. Here’s a few of the memories I have from these households.

  • A 5 year old beating his dad, who had a disability, by jumping onto his back, kicking and punching him repeatedly, and yelling hateful comments about how lazy and worthless his dad was.
  • A mom terrified to run errands because of how powerless she felt with her children. She couldn’t go shopping without buying them whatever they wanted, and it was ruining the family financially.
  • A child who could eat whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. His parents would ask him not to but didn’t have the courage to really stop him. As a result, his health was failing. He was overweight, had diabetes, and frequently needed medical intervention.
  • A child who ran away from his parents every time he didn’t get his way almost got hit by a car. Not like, the car was generally near him. He really ALMOST GO HIT. He got the candy that he wanted.

I’m afraid of these scenarios.

I’ve promised myself that I will never, ever allow my home to look like that. I was lucky enough to see this before I ever had kids, and it changed my parenting for the better. Some people aren’t that lucky.

Unfortunately, parenting doesn’t come with a handbook.

We often don’t realize what kids can turn into until the habits are already created. Then you’re left to try to fix it, which is much, much harder than preventing it.

For all of us who have a chance to prevent bad habits in our children, please know it is worth it to prevent.

Make the choices daily that will create a better life for you and your kids.

Don’t give in to tantrums.

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

PS. Click the image below for a great resource on setting and achieving your goals!

Please share with any parent who deals with tantrums every day!

Please subscribe to my email list for weekly updates in the world of parenting!

If I’ve Heard It Once, I’ve Heard It a Thousand Times… Parenting Cliches

Photo by Kevin Borrill on Unsplash

 

There have been many, many times during my career working with children and families that I have wondered “How in the world I am employed??”

I really should be out of a job.

After all, I teach the most obvious things. It’s just basic parenting skills- things like:

You know, all the everyday stuff that parents deal with. Nothing special.

And I got paid pretty well for it too, considering it’s information that everyone knows already. WHY was/is my advice worth money to so many people???

Sometimes I was surprised that the most basic of solutions solved gigantic problems– the kind of problems that terrorized families for years. It wasn’t me! It’s not like I invented some amazing cure to make every kid turn out perfectly.

I didn’t do anything revolutionary.

Just the same, old fashioned, good bits of advice that everyone knows. Or so I thought. Until I started teaching a lot of parents who DID NOT know. 

Granted, I went to school and had a lot of experience doing this stuff.

I started to wonder if parenting clichés aren’t as obvious as I thought they were. Did I know them just because I was trained to know them? If I hadn’t had the education I had and the jobs I had, would I be just as surprised to find out these “obvious” things as the other parents were?

Or maybe it’s just that nothing about parenting is obvious?

Here’s what I found out.

  • The Turn Off- Why Clichés are BAD!

Lots of parents seemed surprised when I offered my advice. I assumed their surprise meant that this was either 1) A new concept for them or 2) they had never considered that an old cliché could fit their situation.

Now, I believe that both assumptions were wrong.

With a little more digging, I learned that most if not all parents knew the material I was presenting- at least in theory. They knew that kids need social experiences, healthy food, consistent routines, and appropriate challenges.

And yet, something was blocking the follow through for these parents so that those things weren’t happening.

My next question was, “If they know these things already…. 1) Where is the problem happening? and 2) Why are they surprised to hear something they already know?”

After a lot of thought and observation, I started dividing my clients into two groups based on their reactions to the parenting advice I presented.

Here are the two categories of parents- using a Bible story to illustrate.

1-THE COMMANDER:

The Bible tells a story of a great commander. He led a strong army and held great prestige- until he contracted leprosy. In desperation, he searched out a prophet and healer in the hopes of being cured.

The healer advised him to wash seven times in the River Jordan and the leprosy would be cured. Now, the River Jordan is a muddy, filthy, sad excuse of a “river”. Not the beautiful rivers we typically think of.

The commander is immediately offended. He refuses to stoop to that level to bathe himself in mud. He is of high status and power after all! So, he leaves angrily and does not even try the healer’s suggestion.

If I could put this attitude into words, here’s how it would sound:

“I am surprised that you are offering me such a simple solution. I have already tried all the simple solutions and won’t try any more. If it were simple, I could think of the answer on my own. I will not try your solution because it is too easy and therefore must be invalid.”

2-THE SERVANT:

The Bible story continues:

As the commander is angrily riding home in his chariot, his servant ponders what just happened.

Eventually, the servant works up enough courage to challenge the commander. The servant reminds the commander that if the healer had asked him to try some grand, spectacular, courageous thing to earn his health back, the commander would have tried it. Gladly. 

Why then would the commander refuse to complete something that is easy and simple?

The commander is humbled. He follows the healer’s suggestions and is cured of his leprosy.

If I could put this attitude into words, here’s how it would sound:

“I am surprised that you are offering me such a simple solution. It seems like I have already tried something similar to that, but I will try again. If it works, my problem could be solved! If not, I’m not out anything and may even be closer to a solution. Why not try?”

The problem with clichés is that people don’t accept them anymore.

By definition, they are overused and that takes away from the power and truth of what is being said- even when it’s exactly the right answer to a problem. 

  • Facing Reality- Why Clichés are GOOD!

The problem with clichés being bad is that clichés are good!

They are almost always right! That’s WHY they are overused. People repeat them and repeat them because they are true. They are universal. They help in a variety of situations and problems.

The problem with clichés isn’t the cliché. The problem with clichés is that people get too prideful to accept them because they’ve heard them before. They assume that because they have heard the phrase many times, they must be living it perfectly. But they’re not.

The problem isn’t the cliché- the problem is the person.

  • It’s NOT Obvious When You’re In It

I’m not saying people are idiots.

I think most people are smarter than even they understand.

But being inside a real live, explosive situation is infinitely different than observing from the outside. The answers seem obvious when you are looking in objectively, even though they are not obvious to those who are swamped with emotions and frustrations and a million other things going on.

When I became a parent, I was surprised that I didn’t have all the answers.

I know, how silly and prideful could I be?

But I assumed that I had seen enough and learned enough that parenting would be easier. But it wasn’t and it’s because of this principle.

I can see things in other people’s lives (because I’m an objective bystander) that I can’t see in my own (because I’m emotionally attached to the situation).

And I believe that others can see things in my life that might not be clear to them in their own life- for the same reasons.

  • If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It

Sometimes we can see places that we could improve. But it’s still hard to make it happen.

When I became a parent, I found that I had to force myself to live the principles that I had always taught to other parents… and I was surprised to find that I didn’t want to!

I didn’t want to because it was hard.

Even though I knew that those typical parenting bits would work, it was still hard.

I had to change old habits and create new ones that fit into this new world of responsibility and teaching. That gave me new empathy for all the parents that I had taught.

I realized that even though you know a cliché (but true) fact, it is harder to put it into practice EVERY SINGLE DAY. Often multiple times a day.

Why don’t we have a plethora of perfect parents running around? Because the grind of the day to day gets to people. If we could all focus on our parenting and nothing else, I bet we could perfect it. But we can’t. We need energy and time and focus for all the other things in our lives that we are responsible for- jobs, taking care of our home, supporting our community.

Parenting is hard, so we mess up sometimes. Even at the things that we know.

  • Emotional Support Goes a Long Way

There was one last surprise for me in all my observations.

There seemed to be a third category that I didn’t notice at first, beyond the Commanders and the Servants from the Bible story.

I don’t really know what to call it… But if I could put the attitude into words, it would sound like this:

“I know what I need to do. I am humble enough to try your suggestions. I just can’t do it on my own. All I need is a little extra push. I need someone to keep me on track or someone to tell me I’m doing a good job or someone to remind me why what I’m doing is important. I just don’t want to be left alone with all this on my shoulders.”

I loved working with these parents. These were parents who knew what to do, but they lacked confidence in themselves.

With just a tiny bit of help, they were wonderful and successful parents. They often excelled at the principles we taught as soon as they learned to trust themselves as parents.

Sometimes we don’t follow clichés just because our struggle is something different, something inside ourselves.

A little help goes a long way!

  • Clichés are Cliché for a Reason

What is a cliché?

Something that has been said so much that it is overused.

But what motivates people to repeat something that much? Something that everyone has heard already?

Because it is true, it works, and it’s universal.

To me, a cliché is a simple principle that applies to almost anyone’s life in a variety of different situations.

 

This blog is full of clichés.

And that’s on purpose.

Parenting clichés work.

And I don’t want to or know how to reinvent the wheel. I’m not smart enough. So I’ll stick to what smarter people than me have said. And repeated. Over and over.

Even if you’ve heard it before.

Because it works.

And I’ll try along with you to be a little better at applying those clichés into my day-to-day.

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

 

Please share with any parent who feels cliché.

Please subscribe to my email list for weekly updates in the world of parenting!

 

Photo by Kevin Borrill on Unsplash