Imagine yourself enjoying a movie in the theatre while digging into the caramel popcorn packet. And suddenly, your toddler starts screaming, snorting and thrashing. While you are trying to console him or her, you are worried about how embarrassing the whole situation is and how you are ruining everyone’s movie climax. While no doubt the public meltdown of the toddlers puts you in an uncomfortable situation, all it requires is patience to understand that it is normal and it can be dealt with without freaking out.

According to handinhandparenting.org traditionally, it is considered that children who create tantrums in the public are a nuisance. Their freshness, curiosity and frank expression of feelings, which somewhat sums-up their public outbursts, are not welcomed in the society that essentially believes in children being in control of their parents. Besides, the tradition of child-rearing has descended the idea that children who “misbehave” should be treated with criticism, punishment, scolding, shaming, or isolation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Meltdowns are a fact of childhood. They do not happen on purpose. A child vents out his/her frustrations or miscommunicated needs through meltdowns. 
  • Toddler meltdowns in public should be dealt with love, kindness and patience. Never freak out or lose your temper in these situations.
  • Do not think about the judgemental people around you and your crying toddler. Rather focus on your child. 
  • Do not accede to the child’s unreasonable demands often and easily. Try to ignore as much as possible. Otherwise, they will repeat it each time when he or she wants something.
  • Be prepared beforehand when you know that the child is likely to have a meltdown. Talk to your child, prepare them for the day and pack toys or food if possible.   

Meltdowns are a fact of childhood

To begin to deal with a screaming child in the public, it is important to change how we think about it. A toddler meltdown is never on purpose to annoy the parents or people around. It is a complex phenomenon in which an emotionally charged child as a result of a sudden change in the surrounding starts venting out the emotions without thinking, and by asking or doing unreasonable things. Besides, is it not their frank expression of emotions, whether good or bad, that make children different from adults? “Meltdowns are terrible, nasty things, but they’re a fact of childhood,” said Ray Levy, PhD, a Dallas-based clinical psychologist and co-author of Try and Make Me! Simple Strategies That Turn Off the Tantrums and Create Cooperation, according to Parents.com. These tantrums help in clearing the child’s mind from the disturbing emotions and make them relax. Parents should understand that the child is just expressing the irritation and has no sense about public and private space.  At this situation, the child needs closeness, kindness and patience. They should be dealt with respect, attention and love, without criticising as a bad child or an incapable parent.

There are ways also to prevent tantrums by letting your child know what she should expect in the trip. She can be said how much time it will take, what she will find there and after this ends, what else interesting they will do. This will help the child to understand the situation, become familiar and avoid getting frustrated because of undesired or unknown situations.

Here are some tips on how to effectively deal with your toddler’s emotional breakdown in the public and in the right way.

Avoid what people think; focus on your child

First of all, ignore the judgemental strangers around you. They don’t matter as much as the wellness of your child. Rather concentrate on your child than thinking about the people around and becoming more self-conscious. It will only aggravate your irritation and then your child’s. Besides, people are very busy in their own lives. It is not always true that people are watching you and passing judgements, keeping aside their own mess.

Ignore or give them space to vent out; do not give in

Take your child to a relatively quieter place, sit down with her and pretend that you are not listening until she stops screaming. Eventually, she will calm down. According to Diane Ryals, University of Illinois Extention Family Life educator, “Tantrums become a problem when parent start giving in to the child too soon or too often, teaching the child that tantrums are an effective way to get what they want.” So, try not to accede to whatever the child demands in this situation. Ignore as much as possible but without being harsh or rude. Even if sometimes you lose your temper, practice healthy ways like taking deep breathes, thinking that your child is frustrated and she needs some love and space.

Also Read: Postpartum Depression: I almost wanted to give up my child for adoption

Create diversion

If you can’t move away to a quieter place, try creating a diversion for your child so that she forgets about her meltdown. Engage by showing something interesting or play little games while picking the grocery. Levy Ray says, “Children have pretty short attention spans—which means they’re usually easy to divert. And it always helps if you sound, really psyched when you do it.”

Be empathetic and give them incentives beforehand

Giving a big, firm hug is also very effective in supporting and empathising with your frustrated child. This gesture conveys your child that they are secure and that you care about them. Make them know that you understand their frustration and that it is natural. You can also offer incentives to behave in the public area where getting out or distracting is not possible. However, this should be done before arriving at the place and when the child starts crying, you can remind him about the treat you promised.

Try to prevent the meltdowns by preparing beforehand

Prepare them for the day before taking them out

There are ways also to prevent tantrums by letting your child know what she should expect in the trip. She can be said how much time it will take, what she will find there and after this ends, what else interesting they will do. This will help the child to understand the situation, become familiar and avoid getting frustrated because of undesired or unknown situations. Try to play with children and build a connect before taking them out. This can again make them feel secure, loved and diffuse difficult situations. Make sure they have been fed, had their nap time.  Know the pattern of their tantrums – when they occur, how long it continues, etc. and be prepared with toys or food when the meltdowns happen in the public.

Also Read: Public Spaces Need To Be Accommodating Of Nursing Moms: #WorldBreastfeedingWeek

Appreciate good behaviours so that they will repeat

Good behaviour of your child in the public can also be built by teachings while she/he is at home. Look for opportunities to appreciate your child’s good behaviour simultaneously teaching him how to behave in certain situations. As a result, the child will know how she should behave when the situation actually happens and what behaviour will earn her appreciations and gifts.

To begin to deal with a screaming child in the public, it is important to change how we think about it. A toddler meltdown is never on purpose to annoy the parents or people around. It is a complex phenomenon in which an emotionally charged child as a result of a sudden change in the surrounding starts venting out the emotions without thinking, and by asking or doing unreasonable things.

Teach them sign language

Sometimes, tantrums are because children cannot communicate their feelings or needs in their limited knowledge of the language. According to Parents.com Dr Hoeker says, “Their communication is limited and yet they have all these feelings, needs, thoughts and wishes. When you don’t get their message or misunderstand, they freak out to release their frustration.” He further suggests that teaching sign language to children can be effective to understand their thoughts. They can be taught certain symbols when they need food, milk, or sleep.

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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