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In the last post “From Zero to Meltdown in less than an Aisle”, I talked about ways to prepare for and avoid meltdowns before you go to a public place.  Part II is all about tricks to try while the meltdown is occurring.  Tantrums are just a type of behavior which is most likely serving one of four functions.  The four main functions of behavior in children are to get attention, to get out of something, to get something, and as a result of sensory needs.   The first step is trying to identify “why” your child is having a tantrum.  This is important because you do not want tantrum behaviors to be successful in serving the desired function or the tantrum is more likely to occur in the future.  For example, if your child is having a tantrum because he does not want to sit in the cart, then taking him out of the cart is likely to encourage him to tantrum the next time he wants out of the cart.  Ok, this sounds simple enough until you are in the middle of the store with your child in full-blown tantrum mode.  Take a deep breath, you can do it!  The most important thing to remember is not to let the inappropriate behavior be successful.  Here are other things you CAN do:

Give your child a more appropriate way to “ask”:

If you do not mind giving your child what he wants that is causing the tantrum, having him complete an appropriate behavior before giving in.  For example, model and help him use an appropriate gesture to point to what he wants or word to tell you.  When he or she does the appropriate action (even with a little help from you), give him the desired item/action.


Distract, Distract, Distract:

Toddlers naturally have short attention spans.  Distraction is a powerful tool for helping with tantrums.  Once a toddler’s mind is on to the next item of interest, the tantrum usually resolves.  For example, if your child does not want to stay in the cart, distract him by giving him the boxes of cereal to put into the cart as your helper…or let him make a choice between two options of what to put into the cart.  Talk about what you are doing and what he is seeing.  


Push through it:

Sometimes, it is best to shorten the trip a little and push through it.  If you think the tantrum is to get out of the store, then I would suggest starting small and push through it.  Maybe only pick up a handful of items and then complete purchase.  This helps to set the precedent that sometimes we have to go to the store and tantrums do not get us out of the trip.


Positive Reinforcement:

If you know going to public places is difficult for your child, make sure to give lots of praise for what he or she is doing well.  Also, rewards for appropriate behavior are options.  My note would be to establish this reward prior to versus during a tantrum.  Break the trip into small parts at first and provide frequent rewards to help the child be successful, then increase the time between the rewards.  Rewards do not have to be candy or toys.  Remember, some of the best rewards are social.  Hugs, kisses, pats on the backs make great positive reinforcement.

For children who have special needs

Public outings can be uniquely challenging for children with special needs.  Consider how noise level, social interactions, movement, and crowds may impact your child.  Consider your child’s strengths and motivations to help him or her learn to manage these situations.

Final thoughts:

Remember to consider what works best for you and your child!  These are just a few of many options!  No one strategy will be a good fit your every family.  Your strategies should fit your needs and comfort level!  While tantrums are a part of development, consider the frequency and intensity of tantrum behaviors.  If your child is having difficulty participating in daily routines due to tantrums or you have concerns about his or her development, we can help!  Remember, Babies Can’t Wait!  Contact the Parent Education –Infant Development Program of the RACSB:


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About Brandie

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Join my blog to find early childhood developmental tips, tidbits, strategies, and activities to support children and families.   As a mother of multiple sons (18, 14, 8, 6, and 3), I know that life can be hectic, so all strategies and activities can fit in the context of daily routines and places families typically go.

I am enthusiastic about supporting families who have concerns about their child’s development and helping connect them to desired resources.

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Pouches Visits the Past


If Pouches' experience at History Camp is any indication, your son or daughter will enjoy joining Washington Heritage Museums and the George Washington Foundation for History Camp in Fredericksburg. The week-long day camp will be held June 25-29, from 9:00 a.m. to noon each day.

Young historians discover American history with hands-on experiences as they walk in the footsteps where the history of Fredericksburg, and a budding America, was created. The camp complements the history taught in classrooms with activities such as soap making, code breaking, colonial crafts, penmanship and much more.