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How to Coach Your Little One Through Public Temper Tantrums

You, mama, are a Pro at so many things.

I mean just think of all the accolades and awards you have likely collected by now.

  • You can feed all the tiny people in your house while also unloading the dishwasher.
  • You can get all your kids dressed while slow-sipping your morning coffee.
  • You can fold an entire load of laundry while a baby sits in your lap.
  • You can play with blocks and read a book simultaneously in order to keep two kids happy at the same time.
  • You can sing every word of the Frozen soundtrack while taking hairstyle requests.
  • You can take your tiny team to the grocery store while simultaneously avoiding public humiliation temper tantrums.

Oh, you’re still a little iffy on that last one?

Well, you don’t have to be.

You just need a good game plan.

Huddle Up! It’s Game Time.

Within every good mom (ahem, that’s you!) is a good coach.

Every day you huddle up with your little team. You teach. You correct. You encourage.

You call the plays.

But if you’re anything like me, your confidence wavers a bit when it comes to going out in public. All the new variables, distractions, and (worst of all) strategically placed candy can be enough to make you want to sit the bench and just stay home.

But, of course, staying at home is not an option. You’ll run out of coffee eventually.

Can we avoid public temper tantrums all together? Probably not. But, thankfully, you’ve weathered enough temper tantrums at home to know a thing or two by now.

So, step up to the plate. If you bring what you already know to the table and approach your public outings with your coach’s hat on, I’ll be willing to bet that your scorecard will show more wins than hysterical, crying children setbacks.

So, grab your clipboard. It’s time to strategize.

Temper Tantrum Coaching Tip #1:
Set High Expectations

It’s absolutely realistic to expect greatness out of your tiny players. However, it’s a lot less realistic to expect perfection.

Let’s start by thinking about what a successful public outing looks like for you. I, for instance, feel pretty good about a trip to the store if we have had…

  • Periodic redirections (I don’t mind saying, “Please don’t touch that,” or “Please keep your hands out of your sister’s face,” a few times.)
  • Minimal tears
  • No major temper tantrums (You know, the kind of screaming that would shatter the entire glassware aisle at Walmart.)
  • All children accounted for when we pull back into the driveway

Be realistic when you think about what success looks like for you and your kids, but don’t be afraid to set the bar high. Then, once your vision is set, talk about it with your team long before you even leave your house.

Have conversations about how you expect them to behave in public and why you have put those expectations in place. Say things like:

  • When we’re at the store, I’m going to need you to stay in the cart because it’s safer when I know where you are at all times.
  • You might see something you would like to have at the store, but I will often have to say, “No,” because we don’t have enough money to buy everything we see.
  • We will bring five books home from the library, and I know you can be happy about that even if you really want to get more.
  • If you are upset about something while we’re at the store, it’s not okay to scream and lose control of your body. You won’t get what you want when you behave that way.

The more you talk about your expectations, the more she will remember in those near-meltdown moments.

Temper Tantrum Coaching Tip #2:
Know Your Players’ Strengths

Every good coach knows the strengths of her players. It wouldn’t make sense to hand a high jumper a javelin, and it’s equally unrealistic to expect your child to happily grocery shop when he should be napping.

Think about your star player and what triggers his temper tantrums:

  • When is he hungry during the day?
  • When is he tired?
  • Does he struggle with transitions?
  • Do certain settings overstimulate and/or overwhelm him?

You know what things will likely set him off, so either avoid (if you can) going out in public during those peak times or put supports in place to get him through the things you can’t avoid.

My kids, for example, always save their worst behavior for the checkout line. I know in advance that they’re going to start grabbing everything they see at eye level or attempt to escape the cart, so I bring along a few small photo albums to keep their eyes occupied during the home stretch.

Additionally, what do you know about your child(ren) that might serve you well in public?

  • What kind of praise does he respond best to?
  • Does he like counting fruits and vegetables in the produce department?
  • Is he amazed by the automatic lights in the frozen food section?
  • Will he happily greet every other customer you pass in the store?

Use his strengths (this book has really helped me think about my own kids’ strengths) to give him something to look forward to. Engage him positively in the experience, and the entire trip will likely be more successful.

Temper Tantrum Coaching Tip #3:
Make Game Plans

Now that your expectations are set for success and you know everything about your little players, it’s time to start the clock. Think about all variables and potential needs and meet as many of them as you can in advance.

Here are a few things I always try to do before I take my own trio anywhere:

  • Stock the diaper bag. I always keep at least two changes of clothes per kid as well as plenty of diapers and wipes. If your diaper bag is a bit full, this is a great article on how to stock an emergency baby kit for the car!
  • Bring snacks in a really clever snack catcher. Keep in mind how long it will take them to eat as well. A graham cracker is usually only good for one aisle at the grocery store. A container of Cheerios and Craisins? That buys you a lot more time.
  • Make containment plans. Is there a cart that will fit both your kids or should you plan on bringing your carrier? Will your stroller make it easier to get all your kids and a stack of books out of the library?
  • Keep them occupied. If you’ve got a long public outing ahead, bring some toys/activities that will keep them busy. For smaller kids, it might be as easy as a few books or reusable sticker activities. For older kids, think about involving them in the shopping process by letting them help pick out fruit or playing a game of “I Spy”.

Anticipate as many things as possible, and you’ll be more successful when the game clock runs out.

Temper Tantrum Coaching Tip #4:
Keep Your Cool

Missteps. Setbacks. Obstacles. They’re all a part of the game.

Your kids won’t be 100% perfect 100% of the time. Where’s the challenge in that anyway?

Things won’t always go as planned. You might, I’m sorry to say, have to deal with a few public temper tantrums.

And in those moments when the heat starts to rise to your face and you feel the glances of other customers start darting your way, it is imperative that you keep your cool.

Throwing chairs across the gym isn’t going to help your cause.

Take. Deep. Breaths. Stay calm. Imagine the warm bath you’re going to soak in immediately following bedtime.

But here’s something else, while you’re keeping your cool, keep your resolve. You will be tempted to give your child everything she is screaming for in this moment because you just want it all to end.

If you do this, though, you will make all future public outings much more difficult. There is certainly a time for your child to eat a piece of cake, but it is not after he has screamed for it in the middle of the bakery department.

Temper Tantrum Coaching Tip #5:
Analyze Game Film

Good coaches don’t wallow in their shortcomings. They think about what went wrong and try for a better outcome next time.

So once you have removed yourself emotionally from the heat of the moment, think about what exactly happened.

  • What triggered the temper tantrum?
  • Is there something you could have done differently to prevent it?
  • What words did you use in the heat of the moment and what response did they evoke?
  • What outside factors played a role in the meltdown?
  • Did you say, “No” to something unnecessarily? Could you have said, “Yes” instead?
  • What could you have done better? What did you do well?

From there, go back through your expectations with your little one. Talk about what happened, but use it as an opportunity to encourage growth. Keep your bar high and coach him toward it with grace and positivity while also letting her know what you’re going to do better next time.

Temper Tantrum Coaching Tip #5:
Shake Off the Critics

I wish I could tell you that everyone who witnesses your child’s public display of opinion will be supportive and encouraging, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

When you are approached by someone who has a suggestion of what you could be doing better or who just wants to make sure you know the entire store can hear your child screaming, remember who you are.

You are the coach.

You know your child best. You know all the outside factors, and you have a plan. You are going to come out of this unscathed, and your child is going to learn, grow, and do better the next time.

Smile. Walk away. Shake it off. You’ve got a game to play.

Go Ahead:
Get in the Game

Not all public outings are going to be gold medal performances. Sometimes things are going to fall apart, and none of your well-practiced plays are going to work.

If that happens, remember that there’s something to be said for leaving, cooling down in the car, and then trying again. If time allows, a little grace can provide a big, teachable moment.

Keep that in your back pocket, as a nuclear option, but don’t ruin your resolve. You can do this! Nobody is better suited for your toddler’s game than you.

You know your kids, what you expect them to do, and how to get them there. And you’re not going to let any setbacks keep you from success.

So, huddle up that team of yours and get to the game store.

I think you’re out of coffee anyway.


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