The Latest
May 22, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

Public Tantrums! What to Do + What NOT to Do

Pay attention to your child when you're out and about or misbehavior can begin to escalate. Engage with your child for the best results in public!

When your child acts up in the middle of Target, it’s a bit of a nightmare, but the fact is, all little kids have tantrums at some in their young lives. There’s nothing worse than a toddler tantrum: screaming, crying, kicking. Perfect strangers have their eyes on YOU the culprit parent. You want to run and hide, but instead you put your blinders on and persevere.

    “Toddlers are never little angels in public,” says Ann Douglas, a mother of four and author of The Mother of All Baby Books: The Ultimate Guide to Your Baby’s First Year (John Wiley & Sons; $15.99) and The Mother of All Toddler Books (John Wiley & Sons; $15.99).

In fact, when Douglas’ son was 2, he pulled the plug on an entire cash register system while they were shopping at a local store. “He was magnetically drawn to plugs and outlets,” says Douglas.


“Prevention is always the best strategy with little kids,” says Douglas. This may seem impossible at times, but with a few tricks up your sleeve, you may be able to head it off … at least some of the time.

Pay Attention!
One of the best ways to prevent bad behavior is to pay attention to your little one. Before you head out, do a few things:
    • Prepare several healthy snacks for that in-a-pinch moment.
    • Assess if he’s cranky or not. Maybe you can delay your outing for a bit?
    • Before heading out, tell your child what you expect of him. Be friendly and light or this can backfire (especially if your child is cranky!)
    • Tell your child you will put your hand on his arm if he needs to try and be more patient.
    • Try to make a game out of your outing. It can be hard on you to do this, but in the long run it can work magic.
    • Have a few small distractions with you in your bag.
    • Reward good behavior with hugs and kisses and telling your child, “What a good boy (or girl!) you are!”
    • Remain calm. If you feel like you may lose it, abandon your outing in lieu of something else so you can both calm down.


    • Ignore your child. Misbehavior will escalate because he needs your attention.

    • Tell your child he will get candy or a new toy or what he wants if he behaves. This sets you up for a vicious cycle of misbehaviors.
    • Yell at your child. It’s embarrassing and demeaning to you both in public.
    • Spank your child. This doesn’t work.
    • Attack a stranger who tries to intervene. At some level, you have to be aware that others might become an issue when your child is throwing a tantrum. Have a few zingers at the read and carry on. Say something like, “Only another 15 years to go!”
For now, if your child loses it in public, know that every mother has been there before and hang in there. With a little planning and a few deep breaths, both you and your child may come out of the situation a little wiser!

About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.