Toddlers screaming in public and having epic meltdowns is something every parent deals with. It can be very challenging when children do not have verbal communication skills to communicate their struggles properly. Dealing with tantrums in public is not easy, especially when it feels like everyone around you is judging you.
While that is not the case, most people understand the struggles of parenting and are most likely sympathizing with your situation, it is super important we don’t allow the uncomfortable feeling of being stared at to influence the way you handle a teaching moment.
I am not a doctor with a psychology degree, but I am a mother of 2 strong-willed boys and have had my fair share of tantrums in public. We always use a positive parenting approach to dealing with situations and I have been approached post-tantrum and complimented on keeping my cool after a complex meltdown.
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Why Do Toddlers Scream
Screaming in toddlers and preschoolers is common. It is difficult for kids of those ages to form words and thoughts that reflect their feelings.
If the child is not speaking in full sentences and has a smaller library of words to pull from, any frustrations they have will likely come out in the form of a scream, or a loud cry.
Language development directly affects social-emotional development. Toddlers and preschoolers are still learning so much information on a daily basis. Trying to put words together, figuring out what their feelings mean all the while learning to use a potty and trying to follow all the rules that parents set is very overwhelming for little ones.
While it is awesome to focus on all the things that little ones need to have, I find it beneficial to focus solely on the most important skills first, and that is language development.
Helping your child figure out speech will directly affect how they deal with their emotions, which leads to a more peaceful home with fewer tantrums overall.
Toddlers scream for the sole purpose of grabbing your attention. Even though they may have your full attention already, it may not be the attention they were hoping for.
As a parent, how are you supposed to know what they need if they don’t even know what they need? It can be very frustrating.
The good news is, there are effective ways to deal with toddler tantrums in a gentle parenting way, even in public.
What To Do When Your Child Has A Meltdown In Public
A Little Story
Sometimes a toddler meltdown can happen at the drop of a hat. No warning, just full on screaming because you did or said something that was displeasing to the little one.
I’d like to take you back to a moment I had in a grocery store with my 3-year-old. My older child was in school, so this was a [perfect teaching moment for my preschooler.
I had to grab some groceries and of course, thought the process would be easier with one child than 2 and chose to go during the school day.
While calmly shopping for over 30 minutes, suddenly my 3-year-old refuses to go any further.
He simply dropped to the ground and laid down on his back in the middle of an aisle.
I calmly explained to him that we need to continue our shopping trip and I just kept on going down the isles.
Normally, this would prompt him to continue walking with me and we could all move on with our day.
Not this time.
I went back up to him and explained that if he was going to continue lying on the dirty floor in the middle of the grocery store, we would have to go back to the car and leave all the groceries behind. All the groceries, even his favorite snacks.
Unfortunately, this prompted a screaming fit.
I calmly picked him up and left the cart (reluctantly) in the grocery store and walked back to the car.
While getting all buckled up as I was ready to go back to the house, he immediately asked me why the groceries were not in the car with us.
After calmly explaining why I had to leave the groceries behind, he said he would like to go back for the groceries.
We were able to successfully complete our grocery shop with no further meltdowns.
Steps To Handle A Meltdown
The most important thing to do when handling a meltdown is to remain calm and use a firm but gentle voice and keep in mind that frustration and outbursts are common during toddlerhood and preschool years and those blood-curdling screams are not going to last forever.
Chances are, the first time you put this plan into action, they aren’t going to calm down really quickly, however after a few times of going through the same process, the whole thing is going to get easier.
- During a meltdown, your reaction to the behaviour plays a huge role in how the whole thing is going to go down.
- You’ll want to get down to their level calmly
- Explain calmly what your frustrations with the situation are. For example "I know you’re frustrated but I can’t help you because I don’t understand you when you scream. Screaming is hurting everyone’s ears. If you cannot calm down, I will have to take you outside for a few minutes. ”
- You’ll only need to say that once and only once.
- If a second warning is required, you can give a count such as "I need you to calm down by the count of 3 or we will need to go outside” Remember to use a loving but firm voice.
This is a teaching moment. Your child is having a tough time providing the appropriate response at this moment and they need a nudge in the right direction on how to handle these situations properly.
You are sending a message that the behaviour is disturbing to others, so in order to be respectful, we need to go somewhere more appropriate so we can calm down.
There is nothing wrong with needing a few minutes to calm down, even as adults sometimes we need a moment to get our heads in the game.
After the child has calmed down, you can go back to the situation you left and continue your day.
Importance Of Staying Calm During Heated Situations
It is important to stay calm during difficult parenting moments. You’re teaching your child how to handle situations and if you are quick to anger you are teaching your child that kind of behaviour is ok.
Make sure you take a breather when times are hard and remind yourself that these tough moments do not last forever and that you’re doing a great job.