7 Tips to Calm Toddler Tantrums in Public

Sometimes a toddler tantrum comes out of nowhere and some days you know that one is inevitable.

Regardless, they are usually never fun and leave us feeling slightly helpless as parents.

And when one happens in public, oh the pain.  Oh the agony!

Now, we’re not only concerned about calming our child but we the also worry about others critiquing our parenting skills.

These strategies will put you back in control of the toddler tantrum and also help you raise a responsible human being.

Rude kids? 7 parenting discipline magic ideas to handle your strong-willed child's BIG tantrums that require NO bribing or compromising!

Don’t stress

No parent is going to judge you (or at least they shouldn’t) if your two-year-old throws himself down face first on the floor of Target and refuses to move.  It doesn’t mean you can never take your child shopping again or that you are doing something wrong.  All a tantrum means is that the kid has a loss of control and has no idea how to appropriately deal with the situation.

When your kid has a tantrum simply think of two things: remain calm, show them this isn’t an appropriate way to deal with the problem and use a strategy de-escalate the situation.

Take a picture

Ok, I joke.  Don’t take a picture.  Completely insensitive on my part, yes?

Child crying on the floor in Target and I pull out my phone, snap a picture and post it on Instagram.

But the fact is that this behavior is universal to EVERY PARENT with a toddler.

When my 2-year-old son refused to move, I got so many looks of sympathy from other parents coming in.  And if you are like me and that was the third time that day that my son threw a tantrum as soon as we entered a store, feel free to snap a quick picture before heading over to deal with the situation.

It will be perfect for his high school years.

There are also strategies you can use when your child is happy that will make tantrums less likely.

From my experience as a teacher, I can tell you that the techniques I used during the good times were FAR MORE effective at curbing problem behavior than the strategies I used for tricky situations. That will always be the case.

Acknowledge Why They’re Mad

As parents, we usually know what is bothering our kid.  In this situation, my son wanted me to carry him on his hip while shopping.  I gave him the choice of the shopping cart or walking.  He chose neither and instead flopped down near the entrance and refused to move.  I bent down to his level on the floor, got about a foot away from him and said softly,

“I know that you want me to carry you right now and that you are very upset about that.

Give them a Choice

Of course it doesn’t end there.  Next, I gave him a choice.

“You can either walk or ride in the cart”

Both options were scenarios that I could live with.  I really wanted to get my Target shopping done so I didn’t say we would leave and go home, because that’s what he wanted.  He would have chosen that in an instant and it I would have been, “Damn! Toddler got me again.”  (He gets me enough as it is.)

I never offer a bribe either.  Every time I interact with my kids I’m training them and they’re training me.  If I offered him a candy for being “good” and riding in the cart, he would then expect that next time we went to Target.  Then, the tantrum nightmare would never cease.   Candy would become a given every time we go to Target and frankly, I go to Target so much I think my son’s teeth would disintegrate.

Since he still wouldn’t move, I had a couple of options,  I could..

Make the Decision for the Kid

Since I can’t MAKE him walk, I could have picked him up, plopped him in the cart and strapped him in.  However, I know my son.  He is not one to give up the crying when he doesn’t get his way.  I learned this from a little Mother’s Day boat trip where he hated wearing a life jacket. That Target trip would have been miserable with him screaming bloody murder as I pushed that red cart down the aisles.

Wait out the tantrum in a quiet place

Going out to the car is another option.  Once he’s distracted and calm, he usually becomes a much more reasonable baby.  That requires going out to the car though and since it’s 110 degrees and it would require me carrying him anyways, I chose…

Use EXTREME caution on this final way..

Leave Them

Some kids might call your bluff on this, but it has always worked on Dude and it worked with my daughter at this age too.  I see it as, if he wants to throw a tantrum, he can do it on his own.  So I got up and told him,

“Ok, see you later.  I’m going shopping”

And I walked away.

Well, actually I ran and hid behind a shelf when he wasn’t looking.  I then heard a “Ma? Ma?”.  He picked himself up and scuttled in my direction.  When he reached me, I asked him if he wanted to ride in the cart or walk.  He chose the cart and off we went on a happy shopping trip.

The funny part is that at the end of our trip, we ran into another mom with a toddler.  The toddler was screaming.  As we passed, the mom glanced at Dude, looked at her son and asked, “Why can’t you be good like him?”  It took all of my willpower not to pull out my phone to show her what he doing just 20 minutes ago.  By acknowledging he was mad, giving him a choice and then taking action I was able to stop the tantrum and continue in blissful Target shopping.

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JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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  1. I know this is coming shortly in my future… never hurts to do a little prep research!

    Thanks for this article!

  2. If you see me in Target sometime in Chandler, then you might not be surprised at my 7 1/2 year old still throwing a temper tantrum!! Ugh!! I once had an older woman tell me…Isn’t he a little old for that!! I had nothing to say back until later when I walked out of the store with her and told her she should see my temper tantrums:)

    1. It’s hard when older kids have temper tantrums and other people are less than helpful. I wish we lived in a world where we could all support each other rather than criticize. As long as no one is being harmed, there is no “right” way to parent. Keep strong mama 🙂

  3. Saw this on pinterest so thought I’d check it out as I have twin 2 year old girls. This is probably the worst advice I’ve seen so far. Take a picture of it? Your kids notice what you do and cell phones, cameras, social media is everywhere you don’t think he will figure out that it’s getting him attention? And then your responose to him acting like a kid is so also act like a kid and go hide? So..who is the adult? No. When our twins act up we tell them they are not going anywhere until they calm down. They are so used to it by now they get over it within a minute. Once they do we talk to them, tell them we understand how they are feeling but that behavior is unacceptable. If it continues and they waste our time while doing a task then they lose time of something they like, tv, toys, etc. Where is the motivation for him to stop doing it again?

    1. He stopped having tantrums in the store. Every kid is different and while I did use a method with my daughter similar like you used with your twins, it just didn’t work for my son. I had to try to find something that did work. As with the photo, that was my own childish response to the situation – which I admit. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found something that works for you.

    2. She said she was kidding about the photo anyway. Lighten up. And I don’t find the hiding childish. It’s a strategy that obviously worked for her. By saying, “OK, bye, I’m going shopping”, she showed her son that just because he doesn’t get his way doesn’t mean the world is going to stop for him. And hiding was her way of executing that method while still being able to supervise him and without actually leaving a toddler all alone at a store entrance.

      You obviously missed the memo that no two children are alike; while one thing works for one, it doesn’t mean it will work for all. It’s just a suggestion that worked for her, and the world would be a better place if we could learn to support and encourage rather than criticize, and at the very least, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all!

  4. I just wrote about toddler tantrums the other day. I agree with it all. But I never thought to take a picture even though I see memes all over the place. Next time it happens I will have my phone ready for action. Thank you!

    1. LOL Karen! The way I see it. I need to see the humor in it else I will drive myself insane (or the toddler will drive me insane 🙂

  5. Having been a grand daughter, daughter, mother, and grand mother the key points are Respect and Disipline.

    Respect for authority, elders, parents, each other, and self are sorely lacking today. This is learned/taught behavior. Outward expressions show up as please, thank you, sharing, and waiting your turn.

    Disipline of ourselves and our actions comes about through respect. This is a behavior that is also learned.

    A child throwing a fit has already made their choice. At that point, unless the child immediately chooses to stop, the adult parent must step in to address the behavior. The child does not get to “choose” again. Allowing the child to drive the action leaves them in control…not the adult.

    Our society has become excessively childcentric. Children and toddlers are not new. We were all one once and as parents experienced the behaviors.

    Clear cut behaviors that are allowed and consequences need to be addressed and repeated regularly to instill appropriate behaviors. Frequent positive reenforcements on their behaviors help instill repeated good behaviors.

    Consequences need to be addressed with the child before any unacceptable behaviors occur. They need to be consistently repeated so the child is aware of them. Once the unacceptable behavior happens, i.e. the child has chosen, the consequence happens immediately and matterofactly.

    In my opinion, removing the child from the immediate surroundings. Not necessarily going home, but you, the parent, taking control of a situation the child clearly has become overwhelmed in. YES, I know this puts a dent in what you are doing at that moment…shopping at Target, watching a movie, eating dinner. The child immediately gains respect for you as the parent and feels safe because you have taken control of what has become a chaotic situation for the child. As adults, don’t we get overwhelmed with too much stimulus and too many demands along with multitude of choices. We feel ready to unravel and can’t choose, can’t make one more decision. That is the toddler. That was once us…only as adults we have learned Disipline and respect to not throw ourselves down on the floor, kicking and screaming.
    This is why the adult must step up to assume control.

    1. Hi Lisa! Thank you so much for sharing this. I really appreciate it.

      In some points, I do agree with you that our society has become very child centric. However, research has shown that when we are given choices over our behavior, we learn to internally regulate it instead of relying on the outside control of others. It is a constant teaching process. Whereas as a parent, I am not expecting my child to immediately obey me but rather to recognize the stimulus and learn to control these reactions himself. Choices are not a bad thing. But the choices do need to be carefully chosen by the parent.

      Now, this doesn’t happen right away with a toddler. They are learning to test boundaries, define limits and communicate. There will be a little give and a take.

      I can say now however, that I wrote this post about 6 months ago and my son is no longer throwing tantrums in public. He knows the appropriate behavior and acts accordingly. I do not need to bribe, conjole or constantly reinforce how I expect him to behave. Of course, there are those days he just melts down… but it is the exception rather than the rule.

  6. Great article! I will have to remember this when my LO get older. One question however, do you ever baby/toddler wear? My LO just turned a year back in Jan & I still wear him. He is also 26?Lbs (not chubby, just a big kid). It works great bc he is too small for me to trust him to walk around a store & he doesn’t always behave in the cart (he finds ways to turn himself around while bucked lol) but when I wear him I still have hands free & he gets held. Win win 😉

    1. That is an awesome idea CJ! I never did because our baby carrier, a Baby Bjorn, never went up to that weight limit and I didn’t think to get another one.

  7. Thank you so much for the insight. My 3 year old has a speech problem he is nit quite at the communication level he should be at and he has a lot of trouble telling me things and is quite angry all the time there has not been a day that we do not have a tantrum at a store or while in the park. It really takes each ounce of patience i have to not just take him home and put him in a time out. It has been rough n now his 2 year old sister is starting to imitate the behavior. I really wish there where more moms like you who share their experiences so newish moms like me can flip the coin to say so in other ways to try new things we have never taught of. Again thank you

    1. Keep trying anything that works for you Yenifher. Every single child is different.

      One thing I’ve learned as well is that behavior changes. It is probably really rough for you now but once your 3-year-old gets better control of his speech, the tantrums will subside.

      You need a break too! Feel free to put yourself in time out whenever you need. I feel that’s the only way I make it through!

      I get my caramel macchiato and go cry in a corner. Seriously! Parenting is rough and crying is the release I need. And when my kids see they made Mommy cry, they change their behavior.

      We are not super human. We are loving, caring moms. You’re doing a great job!

      1. Again thank you for the help i will try the crying out because i feel so bottled up half the time and helpless.

        My children are really different when they are apart but when they come together they become one lol. I will definitely try and see what works for each of them and tackle the tantrums one at a time.

        Thank you for being awesome. I will keep following you and hope to see more great tips.

  8. I am also AZ local…Scottsdale area. My son has hellacious tantrums and they can last for over an hour. There is too much to type here. But I’m at my wits end. Literally it’s starti to get to the point I won’t leave the house to go anywhere because he’s so unpredictable. I have an 8 year old, 2 year old and 1 year old. Ki am also a former early childhood Ed teacher…I feel I should know how to handle this but really I’m at a loss. Anyways weird request but I’d love to chat more about strategies. I’m starting to loose my mind (and honestly it’s also taking a toll on my marriage) and fyi we’ve been to doc to make sure nothing else is wrong and it’s not. We do have a speech delay but are getting assistant with that. I just think he’s ridic strong willed. Ok rant over. Hopefully you can help a little more! Thanks

    1. HI Dana!

      I just found this and I apologize for not responding earlier. How are you doing? Any improvement in the past month?

      Don’t feel like you should know how to handle this!! Parenting is hard and it isn’t just an automatic response in our DNA. You are doing everything that you can and I am sure that you are a terrific mom. I totally understand how you can be losing your mind over this.

      What have you tried so far to help with the tantrums?

  9. I remember doing the same thing with both of my girls when they were about the same age. I resorted to leaving them and I hid behind clothing racks. And watched very carefully. It worked both times. They are now 40 and 35 and they no longer throw temper tantrum’s but have children who do. Thank you for sharing timeless and true.

    1. Thank you so much Pamela! I’m so glad you stopped by and left me a message! Most of the time when they realize you’re not waiting for them, they get over it pretty quickly 🙂 All depends on the kid though. I hope your daughters are having luck with their kids. Temper tantrums are so exhausting.

  10. I experienced the same wih my toddler. He is 3 and a half now. The only thing he loses control is askng for this and that. I try not to give into every thing and then it starts.. right on the floor screaming. I only stand and watch helplessly until he calms down and i end up putting what he wants into the trolley and at the counter i slowly take it away when he is not watching… when he comes home he forgets all about it and now he knows his limits.. except somedays he would ask me where is my so and so and then ill explain that its not good for u and so on..

    1. That’s a really good tactic of removing it from the cart! Thank goodness toddlers grow out of the tantrum stage 🙂 Mine will be 3 in a few weeks and he is so much more reasonable than he was at 18 months. I want to invite you to come join the Whimsicle Moms Facebook group to share your insights into raising a toddler and also get support from other moms.

  11. I couldn’t tell you if it “worked” for my mother or not, but I do remember her using the “okay, bye” strategy on me as a child… However, I do remember vividly was the feeling it gave me. As a child, nothing made me feel more unloved. This tactic may be a small one, but it had a big impact on me. I’m not trying to be critical, I also want whats best for you, and all the other moms out there. Admittedly, I was a really sensitive kid, but this approach deepened my insecurities. To this day, I see moms do this to their children, and I get flooded with memories of that fear, and heartbreak(again, highly sensitive kid).

    When it comes to my little boy, in everything I do, I try to think of the lasting effect it will have. We set up the foundation of our children’s self-worth. In every case, that does carry into their adult years. Psychologically speaking, a sense of abandonment is the absolute worst thing we can inflict on our babies.

    I know that would never be your intent, but it is a different perspective to consider the possibilities of.

    You seem like a very invested mama, and I hope your kids grow up feeling that!


  12. I was right there work you till you walked away. Thereby triggering an abandoment fear responce. I find if your first steps don’t work, using play or asking him to help me find something often works. And of coarse theres always stay near and wait it out

    1. Hi Candice, thank you so much for stopping by! I get it, the walk away does not work with every kid. Use your best judgement. Every child is different. When I walk away, I always make sure to keep my eye on my child and respond immediately when they look for me. Now, I tell them “I love you, but you are hurting mommy’s ears right now so I’m going to step over here. Feel free to join me when you stop crying.” By telling them where I go, I am not creating a fear of abandonment.

      I did not say this in my intial post because I didn’t do it at the time. But now, it is probably time for a re-write.

  13. These are good. I am particularly pleased that you’re recognizing what will and won’t work with different kiddos. That is imperative to good parenting. We have used the sit-it-out in the car method quite a bit and have found it to be effective.

    I know the taking a picture bit was mostly a joke, but, in the right circumstance and with a child old enough to consider his/her own behavior, it is a good tool so the child can see him/herself from your perspective. It’s one thing to tell them you aren’t happy with their behavior, but quite another to show their own behavior to them so they can see how poorly they are behaving. I don’t put it on social media, but my daughter has been mortified by images of her own behavior (shared only with her, not with the internet) and chose to shape up without me having to say word one. She was school-aged at the time. This sort of method might not work as well with a little bit.

    Another tactic I used when mine were very little was to respond, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak whine” when they would have a tantrum. I said it patiently, but firmly, and basically pretended that I could not understand them unless they calmed down so we could talk it out (and I often explained that I understand what they want but sometimes you just can’t get what you want). This worked well to encourage them to use their words instead of throwing fits. It worked so well with one of them that he was able to recognize when he was tired and ask politely for a nap. My kids are teens now and whining is not an issue in our household.

    Whatever method works for your kiddo, stick to it and be firm! The better you get this under control while they’re young, the easier it is when they’re bigger than you and raging with hormones!

    1. Hi Cassie! Oh my goodness, you scare when you mention the hormones 🙂 These are excellent tips!

      You are right, the picture was mostly a joke. I posted on instagram only because my son was 1 1/2 at the time and I knew that he wouldn’t be affected by it personally. I do agree that pictures (and video!) are often worth so much for in regards to feedback than our own words to our kids.

      Thank you for posting this! I love to hear what other parents are doing.

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