Taming Public Temper Tantrums
Q. My otherwise calm natured and obedient 3 year old occasionally turns into a monster when we’re at the grocery store or another public place. What recommendations do you have for taming (or avoiding) public temper tantrums?
A. Coping with grocery store tantrums, along with our babies crying on airplanes, can be among some of parenting’s most uncomfortable moments! Several adjustments of our expectations are necessary before we can help ourselves to feel more comfortably on our children’s side as they do what they need to do in a public place.
What causes tantrums?
When children become emotionally charged, they can’t think. They simply can’t function normally. They become rigid and unreasonable in what they want, and are unsatisfied with your attempts to give them what they want. They can’t listen, and the slightest thing may bring them to tears or tantrums. Their minds are full of upset. They can’t get out of that state without your help.
One of the reasons children tantrum while shopping is because they’ve lost their sense of connection. Parents have to find the car keys, make a list, make a few phone calls, get the children dressed, pack a snack or water, rush around, and then drive to the store. Our attention isn’t on connection—life is full of things to do! But this disconnected period of time upsets children’s delicate systems, which are designed to run on the premium fuel of connection, eye contact, play, and thoughtful messages from us.
The help your child needs at this time is to have you set kind, sensible limits, and then for you to listen while he bursts out with the intense feelings he has. This spilling of feelings, together with your kind attention and patience, is the most effective way to speed your child’s return to his sensible, loving self. A good, vigorous tantrum, or a hearty, deeply felt cry will clear your child’s mind of the emotion that was driving him “off track” and will enable him to relax again, feel your caring, and make the best of the situation he is in.
Reprinted with the permission of Hand in Hand Parenting. © 1997-2011 Hand in Hand
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