Throwing a fit – or a tantrum is a way for the toddler to assert their needs to you. Frustrated for “not getting what they want” they take you to tantrum city. Not the happiest place in the world. Here’s everything you need to know to handle a toddler tantrum in public, successfully.
What does a toddler tantrum look like?
- rolling on the floor,
- stomping their feet
- crying or screaming out loud (seemingly uncontrollable)
What is a tantrum?
The frontal cortex of the brain is what helps humans make rational decisions. At this age, this is not developed completely yet. So emotions take over and a tantrum is born. This is a developmental change that toddlers go through. That’s why when you try to reason with your toddler, it doesn’t work.
A tantrum is quite simply put – the moments in the life of a toddler when they are overwhelmed with strong feelings. What makes moments intense is that they don’t know how to process these strong feelings. Between the ages 1-2 years, toddlers may not communicate with words, but actions? Oh yeah, they are all about actions.
What makes the toddler tantrum in public so difficult to handle?
To handle a tantrum in public can be so embarrassing for a parent. Ask me. The feelings of people looking at you, judging you. After all, the way the kids behave reflects the parent’s characters. Am I right or am I right?
Have you ever thought this while dealing with a toddler tantrum?
“Maybe they think it’s my fault the kid is acting out that way.”
“I’m such a bad parent.”
Most parents feel embarrassed and ashamed that the kid is being so “ill-mannered” in public. I’m sure you did too, at first. Don’t lie. Such thoughts consumed me and I had no idea how to deal with tantrums in public – at first.
In that tense, unpredictable moment you feel vulnerable. That vulnerability can quickly turn to anger. Angry that you don’t know how to console your toddler. This confusion and the anger, stresses you. Our bodies when under stress, wants to be relieved of it. After all, stress is harmful to your internal systems.
How to Respond to Toddler Tantrums
Your body turns to a fight or flight mode. You get ready to take action against this stress.
Your adrenal glands send the hormone cortisol out in your bloodstream that raises your blood sugar and blood pressure.
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When you are under stress, you brain fails to make rational decisions. When you handle a toddler tantrum, you cannot afford to be stressed. That adds more fuel to the fire and makes a bad situation, worse.
The stress may drive you to resent your child or that moment when you cannot control things. So what do you do then? You probably,
- Scream back at your kid?
- Threaten them?
- Bribe them?
- You spank them or whack them hard it make it stop? …
Don’t be an asshole parent.
Bullying your child into submission may work at a superficial level. In most cases, this terrifies the child and they cry out some more. So how to deal with this then? Remember, YOU are the adult here.
Let’s back up a bit and read my story.
We go to the play park every evening. We have a routine to keep. So an hour before bedtime we need to get back so can have dinner, brush teeth, nurse and go to bed.
It was one of those days, except I had overstimulated Baby #2 who needed to get to bed right away. Like an alarm clock that is snoozed a lot, I gave Baby#1 some warnings before we had to get out of there. I got her near the exit while explaining why we needed to leave earlier than usual. She had made new friends and wanted to stay.
In that power struggle when I needed her to come while she wanted to stay, a tantrum exploded. She was flat on her back, swaying her arms and legs, tears streaming down her face. I could’ve yelled, I could’ve pulled her out of there, as I had done a few times before. But I remembered I had prayed about this to God and there has got to be another, more peaceful way out of this. I needed to be calm so God could give me the wisdom to handle this toddler tantrum in public.
The Bible verse I read that day Helped! Acts 23:16-22
This is a story of how religious leaders and the Jews at the time wanted to kill Paul. Paul was an important man who brought the Good News about Christ to the 1st-century people. Before Paul followed Christ he was the one going around killing Christians.
One day as he was one his way to annihilate Christians, Jesus – who woke up from dead – appeared to him. The light was so intense that Paul went blind. Three days later, he was able to see again when Ananias prayed for him. From that day, Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit began to learn and teach about the power of Christ and the love of God to everyone. So the leaders obviously hated that and arrested him. That’s when the Jews and the religious leaders plotted his murder. Paul’s nephew overheard the plan. He promptly shared this inside information to the Roman authorities and SAVED PAUL’S LIFE.
Paul who was so instrumental in spreading Christianity in the world was saved by a child. That’s how important children are to God.
The commentary for this verse in my Life Application Study Bible, says –
“It is easy to overlook children, assuming they are not old enough to do much for the lord. But this young man played an important part in protecting Paul’s life. God can use anyone, of any age, who is willing to yield to Him. Jesus made it clear that children are important.
Matthew 18:2-6 New Living Translation (NLT)
2 Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. 3 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
5 “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. 6 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
This reminded me that bullying my child just because I feel embarrassed or stressed in public is not good. It can’t be an excuse anymore. I had to be rational when I handle a toddler tantrum in public. And of course, God helped me, as he did with my drug addiction and family problems.
The Day I successfully handled a Toddler Tantrum in Public
Since it happened in the evening, I realized we were close to dinner time. She must be hungry. I took a deep breath and pulled out a banana from my veggie basket. (Yeah, instead of stocking up my fridge with a week’s supply, I buy fresh veggies and fruits every other evening. It’s a money-saving tip.) I digress.
I was calm and I offered a peeled banana to my screaming toddler. She was distracted. She remembered she was hungry. Her need for food trumped the need to play. Woo hoo. And so she took the banana from me. I spoke to her in calm tones about the activities that will follow – dinner, movie, brush teeth, nurse, and sleep. The prospect of the comfort of her home and routine enticed her. She followed me all the way home, calmly.
Every day isn’t as successful
I have struggled with this. Dealing with tantrums is exhausting. Just last night Baby#1 brought the house down because she didn’t want to wash her hands. This wasn’t rational and certainly not acceptable. I didn’t deal with it in the usual way. Offering a banana at the time would be stupid, no? I had to be firm. I had to let her cry it out. And then explained how this behavior was unacceptable. These times remind you that even though you know “what” to do, you can’t do it. Maybe I get lazy, maybe I’m too tired. Maybe I need a different approach.
Once you get to know your child, you will know what works for them.
Simple Tips to handle a toddler tantrum in public
#1. Be calm to handle the toddler tantrum
You need to think straight to figure out what exactly is bothering your child. These strong emotions and intense feelings are never “out of nowhere”. There is always a reason and you need to be calm to figure that out.
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If you find yourself getting pressured or feeling angry, walk away. Gather your bearings, breathe deeply, and come back to deal with the toddler tantrum in public, or otherwise.
#2. Figure out the trigger for the toddler tantrum
Understand the context of the tantrum.
- Is your toddler hungry?
- Tired or sleepy?
- Is your toddler over-tired?
These unmet basic needs. This makes toddlers irrational and turns them into psychotic little creatures who seem “stubborn” and repulsive.
Meet your toddler’s basic needs.
#3. Hold your toddler close.
Having a tantrum can be a traumatic time for the toddler. They have no idea how to control themselves or their emotions. Hold them close so they know you are there for them, even at their worst.
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Whisper or talk your child in a soothing and calm voice. It will be comforting for them.
#4. Know which tantrums need your intervention
Toddlers and little children are not all that innocent as they are preassumed to be. Once they get into the habit of being bribed or rewarded, they work very hard to win games in their favor. They may act in a certain manner to get what they want. This is where disciplining your child is important. I don’t mean the type of discipline which is mindlessly hitting your children in anger. YUCK.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. ~Ephesians 6:4
When you discipline your children, they learn to obey you out of respect. Not out of fear. That’s the goal.
So when they act out inappropriately, it is the parent’s job to teach them the right way from the wrong. If we forget that then there will be fake tantrums. Those drive you crazier.
#5. Don’t drive them to tantrums
I do that sometimes. I forget to give her a snack and then by dinner time or lunch time my toddler is famished. Or because I need to go out, we miss afternoon naps and by evening she is super cranky. No wonder it triggers a few tantrums.
We need to be alert about our children. We need to know what works and what doesn’t. It is a constant learning process. I am learning every day.
But what about the public, Liz?
It’s not about the public but about your child and you. It’s not the public’s business how you deal with your child. A child that you raise, love and care for every day. Well, for the most part, the public (if anyone is watching) would see how the God is giving you the grace to deal with tense situations in a calm way. That would be a lesson for other parents. Remember to pray to God for your children every day and He will give you the wisdom to deal with everything.
I am open to learning. This is just a basic framework that works for me. What works for you?
What do you do when your child throws a tantrum? Speak your mind, comment here.