Curbing Public Meltdowns

Does it always seem as though whenever you are out in public, whether it be the grocery store, a restaurant, or the library, your child is having “meltdowns?”  Young children can often have difficulties adapting to their physical surroundings, even though to us as parents it just seems as though they are “acting up.”  These outbursts can be frustrating for parents, and cause us an elevated level of stress and anxiety.  Additionally, public meltdowns can cause unintentional friction and angst between us and our children. Miss. Heather spoke with our friends at The Rhode Show about meltdowns. Watch it here!

Here are some tips and tricks to help you and your child’s public meltdowns:

  • The first thing we have to do to manage tantrums or outbursts is to understand them. That is not always as easy as it sounds, since tantrums and meltdowns are generated by a lot of different things: fear, frustration, anger, sensory overload, to name a few. And since a tantrum isn’t a very clear way to communicate (even though it may be a powerful way to get attention), parents are often in the dark about what’s driving the behavior.

  • It’s useful to think of a tantrum as a reaction to a situation a child can’t handle in a more grown-up way—say, by talking about how he feels, or making a case for what he wants, or just doing what he’s been asked to do. Instead he is overwhelmed by emotion. And if unleashing his feelings in a dramatic way—crying, yelling, kicking the floor, punching the wall, or hitting a parent—serves to get him what he wants (or out of whatever he was trying to avoid), it’s a behavior that he may come to rely on.

  • So the goal with a child prone to tantrums is to help him unlearn this response, and instead learn other, more mature ways to handle a problem situation, like compromising, or complying with parental expectations in exchange for some positive reward.

  • Communicate with your child – children who have tantrums in public often exhibit this behavior because we have not communicated our intentions as adults, where we are going, or what the expectations are.  Set the stage for your child – inform them of what you are going to do first, next, and last, so that they understand and can anticipate what is going to happen.

  • Reward positive behavior – if this is an ongoing issue for your child, reward their successes!  Let them “practice” going to the store, the library, the movies, etc. through playtime at home.  And, when they successfully have a visit to a public place, celebrate their success!

  • When your child has a tantrum, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent!The best thing you can do is stay calm. Unlike your kicking, screaming child, you have the ability to control your emotions and restore the peace.

  • You can’t bring your child to his senses by raising your voice or making threats. Getting mad will only escalate his emotions. And if you punish him for having a tantrum, he may start to keep his anger and frustration inside, which is unhealthy.

  • Keep in mind that children are more likely to lose their tempers when they’re hungry or tired. So if you’re about to embark on a marathon shopping trip, for example, try to make sure your child is fed and rested.

  • Frustration is also a big tantrum producer. If you know your child is going to insist on visiting the pet store when you go to the mall, make sure you have time to do it or think twice about the trip. Thinking through his probable reactions, the consequences, and the alternatives isn’t really “giving in” to him; it’s being a wise parent.

Heather is the Director of The Children’s Workshop in Lincoln, RI.  She first started her journey with the TCW family in 2007 in our Smithfield location as a Kindergarten teacher.  She then entered the company’s Management in Training Program, working in several of our locations while also training staff in various areas of early childhood education. She holds a BA from Providence College in Elementary and Special Education as well as a Master’s Degree from Rhode Island College in Early Childhood Education.  Her true passion is not only working with children, but sharing knowledge with families and teachers in order to provide the best early learning experience for all young learners. She is also a member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Rhode Island Childcare Director’s Association, as well as the Rhode Island College Early Childhood Advisory Board.