How to survive a public tantrum 

If I’m not qualified to talk about surviving public tantrums then what am I qualified to talk about? After 4 children in 6 years, some fairly major stressful periods and no sleep, I have been subject to a number of Very Public Tantrums.

She does manage to look pretty cute while refusing to join me on a walk home

I can’t guarantee you will never experience one again, but I can guarantee that the following may help, some of the time…in surviving a public tantrum.

1. Care less about the haters

Is it just Taylor Swift who calls people ‘haters’?

Regardless, I am not going to tell you that people aren’t judging you because the deeply unfair truth is that people do judge parents with a toddler/child who is having a meltdown. They definitely shouldn’t be judging you (because anyone who has had children would be lying if they thought they were immune to this) but, you know, we’re adults and we’re talking honestly and so I will admit: there will be people who judge you – and your child – for having a meltdown.

However – and this is the important bit – who cares! If I’ve learnt anything in the last 6 years (7 actually, given that people like to judge the decisions that you make while pregnant); if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that you shouldn’t care too much about what people think about your parenting.

Whether you co-sleep / stay at home / go to work / wean with purees / wean with store bought purees / ad infitum – all these decisions will be judged, and so too will the tantrum. But crucially, the moment you really let yourself care about people’s reactions when your child is shouting in the queue at Marks and Spencer’s, that will be the moment you are going to find it harder to pull your child – and yourself – out of the situation. The less you can manage to care, the easier the situation will be. (She said, red-faced and trying to manoeuvre a shrieking child out of waitrose)

2. Manage expectations

I’m talking about your expectations. Periodically I have a think about how my children are behaving – and this is not a formal appraisal or anything – but I make sure that my expectations are aligned with their age and capabilities. Sometimes I realise my expectations are a little high (she’s only 2! That behaviour is totally normal) and sometimes I realise I could expect a little more (she’s 2! She should be able to accept a ‘no’). Make sure that your trips out take this into account and don’t expect your 2 year old to be patient for hours when realistically you need to build some time to play into your schedule.

3. Manage expectations

I’m talking about your children’s expectations. Before you head out somewhere, make sure they have a sense of what will be happening and how you expect them to behave. If they start to seem like they are on the edge of a meltdown, crouch down to their level, make eye contact and remind them of what you discussed.

If only this step worked every time… but failing that:

4. Consistency

Every child behaviour book will tell you this but it really is important and worthy of another mention. Do what you say you will do – don’t make an empty threat and then expect your child to believe you the next time. When they are in full meltdown/shout mode, take a breath and think about what you are about to say before hissing various threats of consequences under your breath that you have little intention of carrying out. Better to say nothing than something you won’t do.

5. A practice run

Sometimes it can be worth setting up a situation to demonstrate a natural consequence to a toddler. For example, my toddler was having a meltdown every time we went to the park because he wanted to use other children’s scooters and wouldn’t accept a ‘no’ or even a ‘now its time to give it back’. I tried all sorts of distractions and negotiations but it continued for long enough that I dreaded going to the park because I knew what would happen – and it was difficult to demonstrate clearly to a not-completely-articulate 2 year old that this wasn’t acceptable behaviour.

I felt that the only way to show him that this wasn’t acceptable was to leave the park and take him home when he was having a tantrum, but often I had arranged to meet other mums, or was using this outing as a chance for all of us to get some outside time and didn’t want to have to return home, so I would muddle on with various distraction strategies that had minimal impact.

So – whilst this sounds a little contrived – I set up an opportunity to go to the park when I knew it wouldn’t matter if we left immediately. I gave him a clear directive beforehand – ‘shouting at the park about wanting other children’s scooters, means that we leave the park’. We got to the park – moments later he was shouting. I put him straight in the buggy and we went home. This was understandable for him and had an immediate effect. The next time we went to the park he knew where the boundary was and also that I was willing to see through a consequence.

6. Let yourself off the hook

There are times when you don’t want to incur the silent judgement of strangers and that really is fine. These are the times to pass your child a bag of chocolate buttons or give in to their outlandish demands for a Frozen magazine. No one is a perfect parent and sometimes you deserve a break.

As long as this isn’t every time your child has a meltdown, you are not ruining their behaviour or their personality forever – you are being human. And sometimes you really need to get to the front of the queue at Marks and Spencer and you want to do it without a screaming companion.

No this was not an accident. This was a calm dismount of a bike followed by a lie down protest




  1. joe woolf
    January 3, 2017 / 6:08 am

    of course there is always Option 7: sidle away then join the gathering crowd and mutter ‘it’s really shocking how uncaring some parents can be…’

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