How to Deal With Your Child's Public Meltdown Without Causing a Major Scene

It's the moment that every parent hates: you're out at a restaurant or a store with your child, and they decide to throw (what feels like) an epic meltdown in the most public place possible. Elaine Rose Glickman, author of Your Kid's a Brat and It's All Your Fault, is a firm believer that your child's desire to express their frustration, and your own desire to accomplish a task, do not trump the right of other people to have a pleasant experience. She chatted with POPSUGAR about how to avoid this dreaded situation. Whether you can sense the bout of bad behavior coming on or are feeling helpless about what to do when it starts, this advice can be a game changer in the heat of the moment.

  1. Keep your cool: Remind yourself that every parent has been in this position at one point, and if they haven't yet, it's only a matter of time. Dig deep to stay calm, because how you handle their fit in public will impact how they act while you two are out together in the future.
  2. Remember that you have a responsibility: Keep in mind that when you take your child out in public, you not only have a responsibility to them but also to the people around you. While it might be easier (and more time effective) to ignore their bad behavior, you must take action.
  3. Distract your child: If you are out with your child and you can tell that a meltdown is brewing, try distracting them before things get out of hand. Whether you avoid an aisle, offer to play a game, or assign them a helpful task, switching gears in their mind can be a lifesaver for you.
  4. Be positive: If you can see that your child is about to start screaming about something they want, cut them off by complimenting them on the great behavior they've been exhibiting and offer them a potential treat when you get home if they keep it up. Now you've got them feeling good about themselves and thinking ahead. "You've been able to distract them," said Glickman. "You stave off the tantrum without having to use an angry voice, without being embarrassed, without having to do anything but being positive."
  5. Remove them from the situation: If preventing the tantrum fails, it can be very helpful to move away from where they are melting down. Even if it's inconvenient, take your child outside and stay outside until he or she can compose him or herself. "It's not fair to keep a screaming child in the grocery store just because it's more convenient for you," Glickman added. "It teaches the children that they can behave however they want. That's not the person you want to be — someone who is just so inconsiderate of other people who are around you."
  6. Look for the cause: Sometimes kids are throwing tantrums for no reason, but sometimes they're just really overwhelmed. They could be hungry or tired, or something entirely different could be setting them off. If you get them out of the grocery store, if you get them out of the restaurant, sometimes just being out of that environment will get them to calm down and will let you connect with them and understand what's wrong so that you can solve the problem without having to abandon the rest of your outing.
  7. Don't let them manipulate you: Take precautions to make sure that the behavior won't be repeated. If your little one is throwing a tantrum because they don't want to be at the restaurant or at the grocery store — and they're acting out in a manipulative kind of way — then you have to be careful. By taking the child out of the grocery store, you've given the child what they want. They want to get out of the store and now they're out of the store, so be sure not to cave into their bad behavior and simply go home once they calm down outside.