Public Tantrums: How to remain the parent

Angry Girl

We have all been there, in fact you can read about one of my experiences here. As our children get older, theoretically the tantrums get easier to deal with, we can explain things more, empathise with how upset they are about not getting every single toy that catches their eye, they become a little more conscience on how to behave in public.

Though there are always going to be times when they are tired and no amount of reasoning can console the heart-wrenching screams of agony wailing through the aisles.

What can we do then?

The most obvious option is our initial reaction: through gritted teeth inform the child that “no means no”, pick up said child, walk out of the shops to the car and go home.

The next option we have is to give into the child, though this may only work the first 10 times before we run out of money and resort to option 1.

Sure, these are options, though not as effective as we would like them to be.

There are 5 stages we can employ as tactical operations:

  1. Anticipation:
    We need to anticipate that when we go to the shops, these tantrums will be a likely hazard. In this anticipation, we need to make sure that we are not building up our defences to brace ourselves, instead we need to accept that this is likely to happen, though in our preparation we can remain in control.What this does is prevents a self-fulfilling prophecy of our emotions transferring to our children, they smell stress and it causes anxiety for them.
  2. Preparation:
    In this stage, we can assertively (not aggressively), explain to the children while in the car, “I just need to let you know that we are going to the shops now to buy a birthday present for Sally for next week. Now when we get there, I only have enough money to buy this present and get a few groceries for dinner, so I won’t be able to buy anything else today, okay?”
    This conversation isn’t going to stop them from asking, if it does – cheering! Though this conversation is vital for the next stage.
  3. Diffusion:
    So you walk into aisle four with all the Shopkins toys proudly on display, you have already checked with Sally’s mum and she confirmed that yes it is a highly desired product, so it is an unfortunate aisle to walk into with your child who also desires to collect this line of plastic.

    It starts off well, your child is excited to pick out things that they like under the guise of “Sally would really like this!”, so a gift is chosen and it is time to leave, when the whine begins.
    This stage is crucial, it is a tightrope and sometimes it fails depending on the circumstances.
    At this point we need to remember that we cannot 100% control anyone else but ourselves. Look at your breathing, take note of your body language, what message are you sending?

    Crouch down to your child’e eye level, firmly explain that you “can see that you really want this toy and to not have it makes you feel really sad. I do love you and sometimes I need to say no because I love you. Remember in the car when I said I only had money for this present and food for dinner? This means that I really can’t buy anything else, does that make sense?” and allow your child to respond without being interrupted.

    This can feel like it takes a huge amount of time, though consider how much more time and stress would be involved if those first two options might take stage.

  4. Advance onto the next destination:
    To help your child to forget about those toys, moving onto the next task as quickly as possible will really help to prevent a major meltdown.
    Children love choices and being given decisions. As the next task on the list is to get some groceries for dinner, here you can engage in conversation of what to actually have for dinner, this should also help for a quick exit without getting distracted by other strategically placed desirable objects.Now here is another hidden difficulty, we need to make sure we don’t get distracted by anything else on the way, otherwise this communicates to the child that we have double standards – we need to remain self-controlled for our child’s sake.
  5. Debrief:
    Well you have hopefully made it back to the car with your shopping list ticked off and with minimal tears. This stage is important to continue this new cycle the next time you go to the shops and any other time you go out in public.Take the time to debrief with your child how things went and express your appreciation for how well your child did, ask them how it felt and point out that it feels a lot nicer than when they lose control. This is another moment you can come back to in the future when they start to get angry for not getting their way, to remind them they can do it and how nice it feels.

    Then repeat stages 1-5 whenever going into public, it will start to become more natural and effective the longer you apply this approach.

Now I feel it is important to mention here that this is not a foolproof procedure, many different circumstances can challenge it’s effectiveness – stress and fatigue factors, time constraints, physical health, etc.
If you are reading this, chances are this is an area that is really causing some difficulties for you; and chances are you have applied absolutely every tip, technique, and strategy under the sun and it just isn’t working. You may need a more individualised plan tailored to your needs, so who can you turn to from here?

  • A parenting course (you will also get support from other parents in similar circumstances);
  • A parenting expert – there are people who specialise in this area;
  • A counsellor – there may be some approaches that have been handed down through the generations and looking at the family dynamics on a whole may shed some light on the issues at hand;
  • A GP – there are many health issues that may cause mood swings and uncontrolled emotions, it would be helpful to rule out any potential causes.

A reminder you are the parent, you have the control and you can do this!

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