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What can I do about my child's public tantrums?

Angharad Rudkin

Clinical child psychologist


Your preschooler is getting better at realising that life won’t always go her way, but she’s still likely to throw tantrums occasionally.

Trips out of the house are especially likely to trigger a meltdown, whether you’re on a fun outing or a visit to the doctor.

Tantrums are more likely when your child’s tired or hungry, so try to plan your trips out for times when she's happy and well rested. Bring a snack and a drink along, as well as something for her to play with if she gets bored.

Tantrums can be triggered by frustration, too, so think about which parts of your day could be difficult for your child.

For example, if you know that she's always tired after nursery, try to avoid doing a detour to the shops on the way home.

Adjusting your schedule to meet your child's needs doesn’t mean you’re giving in to her or letting her win. You’re just being aware of how she's likely to react and acting accordingly.

You won't always be able to avoid tricky situations entirely, but a little planning ahead can help.

When you do see a meltdown coming on, try a distraction to head it off. Ask her what she'd like for tea, or point out something interesting. It could be anything! A plane, a digger, a big dog on the other side of the road, just as long as it stops her in her tracks.

It's not always possible to avoid or prevent a tantrum, though. Once one starts, try to stay as calm as possible, and remember that losing your temper won’t make your child’s tantrum end any sooner. It'll only teach her that anger is an acceptable way to get what you want.

Even if she's in mid-meltdown and not listening, get down to her level, look her in the eye, and gently but firmly tell her that you'll have to leave the shop if she doesn't calm down.

If the tantrum continues, simply take her by the hand and leave, even if you have to come back later to finish your shopping.

If you can't leave completely, try to move into a different area. For example, if your child starts to show the warning signs of a tantrum in the doctor's waiting room, take her outside for a change of scenery.

You may feel as if everyone’s watching you as you walk out with your screaming child, but keep in mind that your child isn’t trying to embarrass you. The other parents around you have all been in the same situation. Rather than judging you, they’re likely to be sympathetic.

Your child's tantrums are likely to be distressing for you, but being that out of control can also be scary for your child. Once the tantrum is over, give her cuddles and reassurance.

Praise her for calming down, but don't give in on the issue that caused the tantrum. If it was time to leave the playground when she threw the tantrum, it's still time to go when the tantrum is over.

Ease your child’s disappointment by acknowledging her feelings, and promise to read her a favourite story when you get home.

As your preschooler matures, her tantrums will gradually disappear. Until then, try to be sensitive to her needs, and take special care in situations where she’s likely to have trouble staying calm.

In rare cases, tantrums that are particularly frequent or violent could be a sign that your child needs extra help managing her emotions.

If you're worried that your preschooler's tantrums are more severe than those of other children her age, speak to your GP or health visitor for further advice. They can also support you if you're struggling to cope with your child's tantrums.

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Last reviewed: July 2017
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Comments

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https://imageserve.babycenter.com/15/000/079/P4drmETAeGKDGzHIXdafrYV1d1ncMihb
First I didn't know what Terrible Twos meant but I found out with my 2 boys.. It was a difficult time for us, not really knowing what to do.. Luckily I read an article on a blog tantrumshelp.info and tried the method they talked about. Wow, that really opened our eyes. It worked and our boys behave now. Can really recommend it!!
https://imageserve.babycenter.com/15/000/079/P4drmETAeGKDGzHIXdafrYV1d1ncMihb
I find that treating my child like an adult, albeit one who needs more help works best. If I remind her how well behaved she was last time we went shopping and the reward she got when we got home, she is much more likely to behave. And not because Daddy wants her to behave but because she wants to behave. It's all about preparation and focusing on the positive behaviour.
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