How To Handle A Temper Tantrum In Public

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Would you like to know how to handle a temper tantrum in public?

Let’s first acknowledge that there is nothing worse than having to handle a temper tantrum in public. All those judgmental stares and half-whispered comments just as you’re standing there with your toddler’s arms and legs flailing all over the sidewalk. So if you want to know how to handle a temper tantrum in public, here’s my answer to Monique.

Hi Annie.

I think that I usually handle my almost 2-year-old’s tantrums quite well (I ignore her! ), but I struggle with the question of how to handle a temper tantrum in public. I find it challenging to manage the staring and questioning of “whose kid is that?” while I leave her laying on the floor screaming while I go off and help my older child get ready to leave the place we are at. I’m never far and am keeping an eye on what’s happening, but feel like I’m being a negligent parent. I’d love to just remove her from the situation, but often that is not a feasible option with my older one in tow. Suggestions?


Hi Monique.

That’s a really good question. I understand how you feel completely. It’s very hard to handle a temper tantrum when you’ve got your hands full like that, and people can often be judgmental when they shouldn’t be. After all, I don’t think anyone should criticize you until they’ve walked a mile in your shoes.

how do I handle a grocery store temper tantrum

Preventing Toddler Tantrums

In terms of how to deal with it, though, let’s first look at what you can do to prevent toddler tantrum meltdowns in public. Firstly, try to do your outings at a time when your children have been fed and your little one is fully awake. That means you’ve given your daughter enough time to awaken from a nap, if she was taking one. Then cheerily state your expectations for the trip up front and look as though you expect the kids to behave as you’ve asked.

When it’s time to include them in your shop, let your two-year-old “hold” unbreakable things and help put them in the cart or help you find the bananas or the oranges. You can make it slightly more challenging for your older child. Let your children try weighing things, and let them help you put the articles on the conveyor belt at the till and help you carry items out to the car.

Preventing public toddler tantrums: don’t offer too much choice.

Just make sure you don’t do what many parents do, which is to offer your toddler too much choice in the store, as that’s one of the main causes of temper tantrums. If you want to understand how choice can be so corrosive to toddlers, read this.

How to handle a temper tantrum in public: pay as little attention to the fit as possible.

If your youngest still decides it’s worth her while to throw a fit, first you have to analyze whether it’s a big enough temper to leave the store or more of a whiny cry session. If it’s the latter, you can continue to simply ignore her and engage your older child in looking for something close by (i.e., look occupied and not bothered). Then when she’s finished, just resume your activity.

Examine how bad the temper tantrum is.

If it’s the latter, it becomes a lot more difficult, and I’m afraid there are no easy answers. But there is something you can do to help yourself through such an eventuality. Bring something in the car that will occupy your older child for a short period of time. Then, if your youngest throws a big fit, I would suggest you’re much better off to simply “drop” your shopping in a quieter spot and go out to the car with both children.

Put your youngest child in her seat and completely ignore her, then pay tons of attention to your older child. Weather permitting, stay outside the car. Perhaps your older child can help you be mommy’s special helper and help you check the tire pressure! Anything that makes you appear busy and occupied and unconcerned about your child’s screaming fit. A lot of this comes down to being a good actor!

If you were going to do groceries before the temper tantrum you must do them after.

Then, when you notice your little one’s temper has subsided, take her out of the seat and resume your activity. Don’t make a big deal of her temper. Everything is ok, and she’s now back to doing things with you. The idea you want to give your child is that if you were going to do an activity before the meltdown, you must do it afterwards, so go back and resume doing your groceries. With any luck, your cart will still be there. Doing that shows your daughter that her meltdown has not altered what you do with your day. It probably won’t take her long to figure out that if her temper doesn’t get her anywhere, there’s really not much point in having one. That really is the key to how to handle a temper tantrum in public.

Prevent temper tantrums by spending time with your child together, letting her help you.

Just make sure too—as I’m sure you’re already doing—that as she gets bigger, you give her opportunities to vent her feelings in a positive way. The best way to do that is to include her in your day-to-day activities. If you’re sorting socks, let her help and hand them to you, or if you’re cleaning the kitchen, give her a cloth too. It’s amazing how kids open up and talk when you do things together, and it really helps prevent a lot of issues later on. If you would like to know how to talk to your toddler to further prevent temper tantrums, visit my page on behaviour solutions that work here. Or you can read more about handling toddler tantrums with this post

For personal help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.

Hope that helps,


Is taking risks with children a good idea

Is your child out of control?  Is your child having tantrums at night?  Did you know?  There are lots of answers to other parenting questions at other sites that I write for, like Kiddycharts UK.

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