10 Ways to Defuse Tantrums Before They Turn Into Major Public Meltdowns

If you've ever experienced your own child, or even a stranger's kid, having a major public meltdown, you're familiar with that deep uncomfortable feeling in your gut. Instead of cringing in embarrassment for yourself or that other parent — and secretly crossing your fingers in hopes that you never have to deal with something like this again — prepare yourself by knowing exactly what to do in order to prevent the tantrum before it even starts. You won't be able to keep your child from feeling frustrated at all times, but you can be in control of how they express that upset with some simple tips. Check out these 10 tricks to stave off the tantrums without having to use an angry voice or being the one to make a scene yourself!

  1. Know their triggers: Observe and take note of what typically sets them off in public. Whether they're normally a delight until you pass through the candy aisle or seem to do better in the mornings after a nap as opposed to late afternoons before dinner, being aware of what tends to trigger them will help you to be prepared for it — or avoid it entirely.
  2. Think ahead: Once you know what their general triggers are, you can create a game plan ahead of time to dodge potential meltdowns. Remember, it is much easier to change your errand routine than dealing with a child having a full-blown fit in the checkout aisle.
  3. Distract them: If you sense there's a chance that your child is about to kick off, stop the bad behavior before it even starts by distracting them. Averting their attention can be a powerful tool to avoiding any public distress because it seamlessly gives them something else to focus on. Whether it's a simple task or a funny joke, anything that can take their mind off a potential frustration will be a win for you!
  4. Be positive: Compliment their good behavior and point out positives before things have a chance to go downhill. This will show that you appreciate their behavior and that pride will be an incentive for them to keep up the good work! It will also help them to stay in an upbeat mindset.
  5. Show empathy: Being empathetic to their plight — even if it's minor — will help them feel heard and can prevent them from acting out or making a scene in order for their feelings to be validated. However, this doesn't mean that you have to give into their demands; it just means that you are actively aware of how they are feeling.
  6. Give them a mission: Go into an errand or public outing with set "tasks" that you need their help with. This will make them feel like you are on the same team and that they are not being dragged around against their will. Whether they're in charge of helping you spot certain items at the grocery store or they're tasked with handing in the ticket at the dry cleaners, it's amazing what making them feel valued and giving them an independent project can do to their demeanor.
  7. Look for the cause: If you can tell that something is upsetting your little one, try to look for the cause instead of ignoring it. If you can quickly identify the source — whether they are hot, hungry, or just want to walk on their own — you can help deal with the frustration before it boils over.
  8. Go into it with an incentive: After you compliment their great behavior, offer them a potential treat when you get home if they keep it up. Not only will they start off the outing already feeling good about themselves but you also now have them thinking ahead.
  9. Keep the laugh: Don't let yourself get stressed out ahead of time. If you work yourself into fear of what might happen — and what other people will think if it does — you're already setting a negative tone to the trip. Your child will be able to sense if you are tense going into the situation and their behavior is likely to mirror your negative energy.
  10. Prepare them in advance: Prevent unpleasant breakdowns by explaining what you are going to be doing and your expectations for the trip ahead of time. Limiting any surprises or unknowns will help cut down on your little one trying to push the boundaries because they are going into the situation with a clear understanding of what they can and can't get away with.