6 Ways to Handle a Toddler Temper Tantrum in Public

Grocery stores are a prime place for toddlers to have temper tantrums.
Keith Brofsky / UpperCut Images / Getty Images

You can’t rationalize with a toddler. They have emotions that they simply don’t know how to handle. And, when they’re tired, hungry or feel like they have been wronged in some way, those emotions explode.

And when those colossal meltdowns happen in public--whether you’re in the middle of the grocery store or you’re in a restaurant--it’s humiliating. People stare and they seem to be judging.

But, really, step back for a minute.

What parent hasn’t dealt with a public toddler temper tantrum? You might think the other people are judging you, but more likely, they’re sympathizing with you.

So now matter how embarrassed you feel, the key to managing a temper tantrum is to respond appropriately. Here are six ways to deal with a meltdown in public:

1. Ignore it the Best You Can

If your toddler’s meltdown isn’t impeding anyone else, just let her be. You can’t reason with her, so let her meltdown on her own time. When she chills out, then you can talk to her. Ignoring inappropriate behavior also teaches your child that a temper tantrum won’t get a reaction out of you.

2. Redirect his Attention

If your toddler is melting down because he wants to get on the swing at the park, try to divert him to going down the slide. If he wants a cookie at the grocery store, ask him to help you pick out the best kind of fruit.

Get his mind off what he’s freaking out about, and he’ll be much more likely to calm down quickly.

Toddlers have a short attention span--but it helps if you sound very excited about whatever you’re diverting him to.

3. Stay Strong

If your little one is having a freak-out because you said no to an item or activity, it’s tempting to just give in so he calms down. That’s not a wise parenting tactic, though, as it just teaches the toddler to throw even more tantrums.

Instead, firmly tell him to stop throwing the tantrum, but only tell him once. If that doesn’t work, then it’s time to leave. But whatever you do, don’t let him see a tantrum is an effective way to get what he wants.

4. Exit the Situation

When worse comes to worse, take your child out of the situation. This might mean leaving a cart of groceries behind or saying a quick goodbye to a friend.

If you think your child will calm down with a little bit of downtime, take your grocery cart to customer service and ask them to hold it until you come back. Take your child to the car and let her take a bit of a breather until you’re both ready to return.

5. Soothe Your Child

It’s easy to get mad at your little one for having a temper tantrum, but remember that toddlers don’t have the skills to control their emotions yet. Just imagine not having the language skills to properly communicate what you want! Respect your child’s emotions, and listen to her needs without giving into unrealistic expectations.

Say something like, “I know you’re feeling sad right now but we can’t go to the park.” Naming her emotions is a great way to start teaching her about feelings. Give her a hug to let her know that you’re there to support her.

6. Keep Your Expectations Appropriate

Don’t expect your 2-year-old to stay quiet during a movie and don’t expect your 3-year-old to wait patiently while you’re getting your taxes done. When you are in challenging situations that can’t be avoided--like an extra lengthy wait in a child-friendly restaurant--have snacks and toys available.

When those temper tantrums do flare up in public despite your best efforts--and they will--take a deep breath. Remember that it happens to all parents and staying calm is one of the best ways you can role model how to deal with frustration. Soon, your child will learn to deal with uncomfortable emotions in a more appropriate manner.

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