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7 Tips to Handling Tantrums in Public

By Diane Gottsman

We've all experienced it - the dreaded tantrum in a public place. Little Susie Q is screaming at the top of her lungs while an assortment of disapproving eyes are all focused on you. The pressure is on. You feel certain that there are few people who want you to wallop her, while others have their finger on the speed dial to report you to the police if you even lift a finger to correct her. Add to these concerns, your feelings of humiliation and distress over doingdealing with a tantrumsomething that could jeopardize your child's self-esteem for the rest of her life. (So much drama over the decision to not let Susie have a fourth doughnut before lunch!)

Fear not, you are not alone. There is no foolproof method that works for everyone every single time. There are, however, a few tips for handling a tantrum with a little decorum.

1. Put your child's needs first. It is tempting to worry about what "everyone else is thinking," but make eye contact with your child and let her know you are "present" to the situation.

2. Don't make jokes. This is not the time to try and cajole her back to a calm state. If she is shrieking and thrashing around on the floor, put your grocery basket in reverse, tell the checker you will return another time, and physically walk out of the store with Susie in tow. Sometimes a different environment is all it takes to calm a child down. If she doesn't calm down, leave … quickly.

3. Don't make empty threats. If you say, "Susie, if you don't stop screaming, we will not go to the park," you must follow through - even if it means you must forego the possibility of getting a glowing tan while spending a little time with your mom friends. You must be consistent with your words.

4. Apologize to bystanders while you attempt to gingerly make your way out the door. You need not gush, simply say, "I'm sorry, we are having a difficult morning."

5. Refrain from trying to act like the tantrum isn't happening. Nothing is more maddening to bystanders than witnessing a mother attempting (and tragically failing) to ignore her child's defiant behavior. It is a "lose-lose" for all concerned to pretend that a high-voltage tantrum is not taking place.

6. If a tantrum occurs in church, immediately whisk your child out the nearest exit. If keeping her quiet includes bringing snacks and drinks, make every effort to keep the church pew clean. The patrons at the next service will not appreciate sitting in a puddle of apple juice or slipping across the aisle on chocolate pudding.

7. Movie theaters are not the place to try and negotiate good behavior. If a tantrum begins in the middle of a movie, it is your unfortunate job to remove your child. This may mean that your other children have to miss the movie too, but the other moviegoers will appreciate your good manners.

Children are not mini adults and their expression of anger through an occasional tantrum is inevitable. How we, as parents, handle the situation is what makes the difference. Although we mustn't reward a child after a tantrum by giving in and allowing her to have her way, we can praise the child for regaining control by hugging her and letting her know that our love is unconditional. Don't worry that the patrons at the grocery store may not hold the same feelings of warmth and forgiveness!

Diane Gottsman is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol expert who leads age-appropriate etiquette programs for children as well as adults striving to fine-tune their skills. She has a master's degree in sociology/education. For more information, check out www.protocolschooloftexas.com.

Updated August 2012

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