Nobody likes being in a situation with their child that becomes so overwhelming that it turns into a tantrum, especially in a public place; but there are things you can do to minimise and defuse the tantrum and to support your child, no matter where you are.
The first important note about tantrums and dealing with them is: be kind to yourself, parenting is hard and sometimes it all just goes wrong and that is okay, tomorrow will be a fresh new day. You aren’t alone in this.
Here are my top tips on handling a tantrum (no matter where it happens):
1. Try to stay calm – children instinctively pick up on our emotions, getting angry and frustrated in return will only escalate your child’s feelings.
2. Get down on the same level as your child – be in the same physical place – even if it means getting down on the floor. Be at their eye level. (Read our article The Importance of Establishing Eye Contact)
3. Use a low, slow and calm voice (this makes you seem calm, even if you are actually furious or embarrassed on the inside).
4. Tell them what you see, use clear basic language and make sure what you say is factual, for example, “I can see you are very upset and throwing your favourite toys on the floor”. This acknowledges that you are aware that something isn’t okay in their world and is critical for defusing the situation. (Read our article Instead of “Don’t Cry” Why Not Try)
5. If possible, put their feelings into words, for example, “You want to keep playing instead of tidying up which makes you feel angry” and then let them know that you understand that they feel that way, for example, “it doesn’t feel nice when your body is angry”
6. Encourage the use of calming down techniques (preferably ones that your child already knows), for example, some deep breathing, a tight cuddle, or a comforting rub on the back or hand. Try to practice these calming down techniques during calm times as well so that they feel familiar and safe for your child.
7. Offer them some water to drink, often when your body is stressed and feeling angry, your body gets thirsty and exhausted. Taking a sip of water can help to relieve that feeling while also helping to get back into a usual breathing pattern.
8. If the tantrum is still going, offer them an alternative way to release their frustrations or anger or offer an alternative. Perhaps punch a pillow, go for a run, do some star jumps or clench and unclench their fists. Depending on the trigger on the tantrum, offer an alternative, for example, “after we finish the shopping (or whatever activity is next), then you can come and play again, but you need to tidy up first”
Sometimes, tantrums will keep going despite your best efforts to defuse them. If this happens, give them some space and time, reassure them that you love them and are there when they are ready and try to stay calm. (Read our article Parenting, Putting Your Best Foot Forward)
And most importantly, when the tantrum is finished and over and done with, make sure that your child knows that you love them and care about their wellbeing.