Public temper tantrums


You have to stop at the store with your 3 year-old. He refuses to set in the cart or hold your hand. You notice his changing expression and red face. A temper tantrum is in the making!

Two important words for parents and caretakers – STAY CALM. Abstain from having a parent temper tantrum! Do not mirror your child’s emotion because he will match your emotion and the conflict is on. The louder your voice gets the louder he yells. Children do not learn well when taught in anger.

Screaming, he sprints down the candy aisle and begs for a chocolate yummy. You start to bargain with him by using the “if” strategy or the “threat” tactic. “If you are good then you can play when we go home” or “If you are bad then you won’t get to watch cartoons tonight!”

Delete the words “bad” and “good” from your parent vocabulary. Verbalize the behaviors you want to see. “Use your words to tell me what you want. I will listen to quiet words.” Try verbal soothing with a calm voice tone. If the emotional outburst continues then offer another solution. “Let’s breathe together and blow out your mad feelings. We’ll do it together.” Shaming and blaming is not problem-solving.

A power struggle with a 3 year-old can be frustrating and embarrassing. Refrain from yelling, shaming and arguing. Do not give in to a temper tantrum but consider the purpose. Is he hungry, tired, sleepy, over stimulated or just wanting what he wants and wanting it right now?

Acknowledge that you know he wants the goody. “I know you want that but we are not buying that today.”

Carry a few snacks or small toys in your purse to distract him. “You can play with a toy in my purse or eat a snack. Which one do you want?” Offering two choices allows the child to feel some control in the situation. Address emotions. “I know you feel mad because you cannot have that. It’s okay to feel mad but it’s not okay to yell in the store or yell at me.”

That didn’t work what now? “You can choose to calm down by using your inside voice or we will go set in the car for 5 minutes or until you calm down. It’s your choice.” He cries, “But I want it now!” Let your child know that he is choosing to leave the store by his outburst. Follow through and remove him from the area. When he calms down then you can return to the store. Consistency is essential and after your child learns that certain behaviors have the same consequences he will stop demanding his way with crying and yelling.

At age 3 a child desires to be independent and is unaware of danger, however teaching safety is positive parenting. Prior preparation is needed and safety is not negotiable. Teaching, telling, showing, and repetition are required. “Let’s talk about safety before we go into the store. You must hold my hand at all times or set in the buggy. If you decide not to hold my hand or set in the buggy then we will leave the store.” Your child will learn that in order to stay in the store he must be safe and follow your rules.

Temper tantrums decrease as a child grows and learns to regulate her feelings. If your child does not outgrow temper tantrums then it’s time to see a child therapist or a child psychologist.


Dr. Missy, Ph.D., is a feelings helper, child therapist, consultant, educator, and self-syndicated columnist. She provides therapeutic services at Affirmations, Columbus, Ohio. Contact her at [email protected].

By Melissa Martin

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