How to Stop Tantrums: Just Don’t Go to The Store Anymore

Before you get all upset about that practically inflammatory statement, just hear me out. I know, you’re like, WHAT?! How in the heck am I supposed to do that?? Well, there is a method to my madness. Probably.

Recently kid #3 was sick with a bad cold and I took her to the doctor. I was talking about her symptoms and explained that she was really tired and meltey-downey. The doctor said, “You know what happens when they start getting away with the meltdowns.” It occurred to me that my kids were the exception, and only have a tantrum under extenuating circumstances, like being sick. They’re not getting away with anything, their little brains are just toast. It’s not like I’m a fantabulous mom with awe-inspiring parenting skills, I just use some basic methods to keep my kids on an even keel.

How to Stop Tantrums: Just Don't Go to The Store Anymore

If your precious little one is two or three, you are doomed. They are going to meltdown. They can’t express themselves well enough to tell you what is going on in their mad little heads and hearts. Read as much as you can, take what rings true, and do the best you can.

So how do you avoid the dreaded tantrum?

  1. Analyze your week and note when your kids are grumpiest.
  2. Develop mechanisms to avoid the things that make your kidlets crankiest.
  3. Commit to follow-through in the event of a meltdown.
  4. Apply wine and chocolate (for yourself, not the little).

Analyze your week and note when your kids are grumpiest.

*Please note: If your kids are getting themselves into a tizzy to get what they want, that’s a whole new level of struggle. Someone has taught them to do this by giving in. This is a pattern of behavior they will have to un-learn, and it has to start with changing your own behavior (that’s a blog post for another day). However, if you haven’t ruined your kids yet, you can be nearly tantrum-free if you think ahead.

I was contemplating why my kids don’t really tantrum, and it all comes down to avoidance and basic needs. With four children, we have had only one rip-roaring, puddle in the middle of the store, Scotty-please-beam-me-outta-here, meltdown. The mortification is bad enough, but I know that once I get flustered I get anxiety-ridden, and my parenting skills and patience rapidly evaporate and we just flee the scene of the crime. So I have to apply myself to avoiding those situations that trigger the dreaded dumpling freak-out. Use your strengths so you can set your kids up for success.

I have been fortunate in that I have been a stay at home mom, and Dad has been available to help a lot. He did a lot of the errands like grocery shopping. I had the privilege of having time to put the needs of my kids first. If the kids were tired or we already did some activity, odds were good I didn’t have to go to the store right now. I could wait until it’s a better time. I had the luxury of choosing when and how I took my kids out, and what situations put pressure on their little nerves. Now that we have four kids, there are more demands on my time and I find myself caught running around more. So guess which kid had the legit grocery store meltdown? Yup, kid #4. Trapped at the store after a full day of running around, tired and hungry, my poor kidlet just lost it. At the checkout line, so she almost made it. And was highly visible as she howled.

For most people, they just don’t have the time to choose when to go to the store. You have to go when you need groceries (if you meal plan you won’t need to go as often). If your partner works long hours it seems like cruel and unusual punishment to make them go to the store before they finally get home. If you don’t have a partner then you have my prayers and sympathy. So what can you do to avoid trigger situations like the last-minute grocery store trip?

Over the next week or so, pay attention to when your kid starts to become a grumpy-butt. You can note what was happening when your kid loses it, but that is just waiting to fail. Tune in to what your little is feeling.

You can tell when they start to get frustrated.

Is it first thing in the morning when you’re zooming around?

Is it right before nap time?

Is it during play with siblings or friends?

Is it when they get home from school or early afternoon?

Is it at big brother’s sports practice?

Is it while playing a game after school?

Is it while you are trying to get dinner on the table?

Is it at the store?

Is it at the end of the day?

Once you know what events are triggering upset in your little monsters you can consider why this is happening. Tantrums that aren’t happening to spoiled brats can be boiled down to one of the basic needs for children.

The things that most often spark a tantrum are:

Excess Energy

Develop mechanisms to avoid the things that make your kidlets crankiest.

If you eliminate these triggers as much as possible you eliminate your chances for a tantrum. Some of these are easier than others. The best thing you can do is be prepared. Make sure your kidlet gets enough sleep to begin with. Every time you go out make sure you bring warm clothes, snacks, and waters. If your little has sensory processing issues then you are the first line of defense for them, so pay attention and develop the tools you need to help them.

Let’s take the perilous grocery store trip as an example. The ideal solution would be to take one child at a time with you, and turn it into a learning experience. If you are both well-fed and well-rested, with some fun activities planned, and allowing your child to help and participate in the shopping, you are teaching them a life skill. If you are chasing multiple small children around the store you are less likely to teach anybody anything.

Normally, I know my kids like to go to the store. They like to go out and talk to people, they like to help pick a cheese and smell melons. But sometimes, I know my littlest little isn’t at her best. Then I need to think outside the box to solve our food quest problem without pushing her into a conniption fit. The extreme example is to just not go to the store any more.

Or you could balance your tantrum avoidance with your need for groceries by applying your glorious brain to the problem, and thinking of different ways to change the situation. First, I meal plan so there is only one big shopping trip a month, with small runs for produce and dairy every week or so (monthly is not for everybody, start small). I have a list so I don’t dawdle in the store. I have soups I doubled in the freezer that we can have for dinner so if one day just isn’t working, I can go the next day. See how much good I did for my family with my meal planning? I’m practically a hero, meal planning for these people.

When we do go shopping we are fed and watered, and we bring supplies to keep the troops happy. A monthly trip can take pretty much a whole day, so we bring lots of distractions for both the car and the stores. We pack snacks and a lunch. We plan a break at a park or a walk. If we are feeling rich we have dinner somewhere as a treat, which sometimes means the dollar menu, and sometimes means my love, the buffet.

So say meal planning won’t work for you. What else can you do?

Maybe your wee one is sensitive to noisy places, and going at a quieter time early in the week would be better.

Maybe you can trade babysitting with another mom so you can shop alone.

Maybe hubby can do the little trips and then watch the kiddos while you do the big shopping.

Maybe you can shop online (hello, mother of infant twins).

Maybe your mischief-maker always asks for a treat and loses it when she can’t have one, so you could stop at the dollar store before and get a prize there (not my favorite solution). Better yet, stock up on prizes to deliver for good behavior on the ride home.

Maybe your tadpole is bored to tears and you need to play a grocery game, pack some busy bags, or bring the tablet.

Maybe your bundle of energy can’t take being still and needs to stop at the playground first to burn off some steam.

My secret weapon for avoiding tantrums is offering choices whenever possible.

Within the framework of our predictable schedule, I offer choices whenever possible. Often these are choices that aren’t a big deal from my perspective.

Sometimes it’s the red bowl or the green bowl.

Sometimes it is pick a snack from this basket of healthy choices (without ever uttering the dreaded phrase “healthy choices”).

Sometimes it is choosing which stuffed animal friend to bring along for the ride.

Sometimes it is choosing from two dresses to wear to the party.

Sometimes they get to choose if they want to go to the store first or the playground.

Sometimes they choose if they want a spoon or fork to eat dinner with.

Empower your little ones. Let them feel like they are in control. They are little people with opinions and preferences, and especially when they are newbies and just learning to express their personality, they find comfort in knowing that you are interested in what they like and how they feel about things.

Commit to follow-through in the event of a meltdown.

If this was a basic needs meltdown then this is an opportunity for you to practice your communication. If your offspring is emotionally fried then they may be unable to effectively communicate the issue regardless of their age. Your momdar will tell you what this is before you even get to tantrum time (yes, Dads can have momdar too). If you’re thinking she’s a little tired and might not like going to the store, you already knew she was likely to lose it, you just didn’t listen to your momdar. Use the force, mom.

Just like with a baby, keep approaching different issues until you find the one that solves it. This will give you valuable insight into what is troubling your progeny, which will allow you to be more prepared next time. A hungry kid is a cranky kid. A hangry kid is a tantrumy kid. You know how scary you get when you’re hangry.

If this was a spoiled brat tantrum you can start un-spoiling your brat. Your favorite brat learned to get what they wanted by producing certain behaviors that result in the action they desire. You are the boss of your kids. Suck it up and be the boss they need. This can be really sucky, especially if someone else ruined the kid and you’re doing damage control, but it is an investment in that little person and your relationship with them. If you’re really good I might write a post about fixing them.

Always, always reassure your little one. Your child is not being difficult, they are having a difficult time. Even when they are red-faced and sobbing, and you feel like you are going to lose your ever-loving mind, you still love your little fiend. Crying is ok, sometimes we just need to cry. Being mad is ok, sometimes parents get mad. What we do with those emotions is where we can get into not-ok-land. Even if your little lamb has strayed into not-ok-land and had to have some tough love, you can talk about what happened once everyone is calm and let them know that you are there to help them.

Apply wine and chocolate (for yourself, not the little).

Kidding. Except not really. If you are fried, or losing your poo every time you step on a lego, or finding yourself yelling all the freaking time, then you are contributing to the problem. Both by being a negative example, and your frustration will shorten the tempers of everyone around you.

Find some time for yourself, get a break, savor some self-care, take some online parenting classes. Do what you need to do to get yourself in a good place, so you can be the best parent you can be. Then you can expect your child to be the best little person they can be, and be confident that you can back them up and support them in their journey.

More Tantrum Resources:

More With Less Mom

Shared with Learning From Each Other

Parenting Positive or Otherwise

Photo credits:
Vintage Kate Greenaway illustration from The Graphics Fairy

We hope you enjoyed our How to Stop Tantrums post

[contentblock id=3]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *