Toddler Meltdowns in Public Places

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Before I was a mom, I was one of those people, you know, the one’s that gawk, judge you with their piercing eyes and thought, geez lady, get a grip on your kids.

crying kidsThen I had a child of my own and became the incredible shrinking woman, sinking to the floor in embarrassment with the onslaught of stares while my child cried in the middle of whatever place we were at. Then I had two toddlers, who decided to not only enter the “terrible two” stage together, but use it against me and team up on me during their meltdowns.

It’s a horrible feeling being at the receiving end of those experiences. I’ll never again look at a mother with anything but sympathy in my eyes as she does the best she can to control the situation at hand.

We had one of those terrible two meltdowns in the middle of the grocery store a few days ago. Halfway through my shopping list, Emma decides she must have the cookies inside her brother’s Lunchables container. Kaydee had reached her melting point and wanted out of the cart. Then it begins …

I want cookie. I want cookie. COOKIE. COOKIE! I want out, let me out … as she tries to take a flying leap out of the cart. Then it begins. The tears, the crying, the screaming, the foot stomping. And it continues.

So what do you do?

From what I’ve seen, some parents:

– march their kids right out of the store.We just couldn’t do that, we were only halfway done shopping.

– drag them to the restroom for a spanking.Yes, I’ve seen poor little kids being spanked … not the place or time people!

– continue shopping while the wailing continues. The worst possible solution in my opinion.

So what did we do? We pulled the cart into an empty aisle and each took a child. Jon talked to Kaydee, I talked to Emma … we talked to them like people. There just wasn’t a need to rush to harsh punishments or dropping the cart to run home. Within minutes they started to calm down (with passing shoppers giving us the stink eye) and once they got all of their crying out and understood that we had to finish our shopping, it was over. It was mentally exhausting, frustrating and horribly embarrassing, but we found the solution that worked for us without causing the shoppers too much discomfort.

While this probably won’t work for every family, I’m curious how you handled or still handle toddler meltdowns?

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  1. says

    That’s usually how we handle it too. I have found having a little talk with them off in a corner and then distracting them with something else often helps. Sometimes a little tickle attack and lifting each out of the cart for a quick twirl around in the air is all they need to “reset” them. :)

  2. says

    This just happened to me in a restaurant last night!

    I did the same as you, I took him into the vestibule area, sat down with him while he was crying and screaming and just talked to him while holding him. He calmed down and we had a great dinner after!

    Like you said, that won’t work with a lot of people but it’s worth a try!

  3. says

    Just like you did… figure out what’s wrong, talk to them like humans and explain why their behavior is not acceptable and how they will be just fine once they calm down.

    If this doesn’t work for everyone,you can try promising them one of their favorite treats when you get home if they behave. I have had to pull this one out of the hat a couple of times!

  4. says

    I would always explain to my children before entering a store or restaurant what I expected from them. That would usually work. Along with them knowing the punishment for acting out in public is double. lol. Now, with my 2 year old, I explain to her how to behave and if she gets crazy I speak to her calmly and quietly reminding her how to behave. So far it has worked. My kids normally don’t have meltdowns in public…that is NOT a brag…it just has not been the case. It has happened but not often…and so far I’ve only needed to react firmly and calmly. I have a 2 1/2 year old…so anything can happen though!

  5. says


    I’m sorry to let you know that after toddlers grow up, they move to a different type of meltdown. What I usually do is talk to them before we go out and explain what is expected. This usually works and if we do have a problem in the store, restaurant, etc., then I talk to them (eye level) and usually their behavior improves. I will admit that I have (more than once) bribed my youngest (he would get to do something special he enojyed once we got home) because he used to get into a “broken record” mode and not stop.

    When my kids were younger, a lot of the times, the fault was mine. I would take them out hungry, late in the day w/no nap, or take way too long shopping because we had to travel almost one hour to get anywhere and I would try to squeeze all of our errands into one outing.

    Also, I learned early on to ignore the stink eyes.

  6. says

    i do the same – i pull into a non crowded aisle or area, talk to them and sometimes we reach a compromise. thankfully tantrums are rare now, with a 3 and 4 year old. but when they were 1 and 2, we had our “fun” moments. staying calm is key in those events.

  7. says

    I have been one of those that have just let them wail until they stop. Chan used to cry just for attention when he was younger, and when he saw that I wasn’t giving heed to his crying, he’d just stop. Now when we have meltdowns, I try to talk them down, but it doesn’t always work…

  8. says

    I usually just continue what I’m doing and/or try to distract them with a snack or a toy.

    I used to get extremely flustered when I was a new mom, but the more you get used to it, I think you just learn to deal with it and keep pushing along.

  9. Christine says

    Technically your still one of those people because of the comment “drag them to the restroom for a spanking.Yes, I’ve seen poor little kids being spanked … not the place or time people!”. I have never had to drag my kids to the restroom for a spanking I make them walk or I take them outside to the van. We are firm Biblical believers in spanking when appropriate and will not let any of our children pitch a fit in the store and think they will get away with it. We talk to them very calmly like people to let them know why they are getting spanked they straighten up and don’t do it again.

    • says

      Sorry if I offended you, but I think the punishment should fit the crime. Spanking is a very harsh punishment in my opinion, even disturbing when done in public.

      • Christine says

        Ohh no offense taken (takes a whole lot more to offend me lifes too short you know) just commenting on your post =). We have our beliefs with our children, you have yours hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Yr.

  10. Kelly Smith says

    I have to be honest here… I am a childless woman (though I always wanted to be a Mommy). When I hear a child scream or pitch a fit in a public place, my first reaction is to have SYMPATHY for the parents. No, I do not give them glaring looks – that would be so unfair! Anyone that has a BRAIN would realize that children have minds of their own, and often put their parents in this predicament! I’m glad you didn’t run out of the store, as I believe that sends the wrong message to the child. It gives them negative reinforcement. What you did was POSITIVE reinforcement to get your desired result! ROCK ON!!!

  11. says

    No children here either but it really doesn’t bother me when children throw tantrums in a big public place because you can just walk away–no problem–or I can generally tune a child out. My issue is with parents who take their kids to theaters and their children don’t know how to behave. It’s so rude. The kids stalk, fidget, kick your seat. The only thing worse is having to be with a child on an airplane. It’s hard to focus on a movie when there is distracting noise right beside you or behind you (for that matter, a lot of adults don’t know how to behave either!).

    • says

      Oh gosh, yeah we refuse to do movies with the kids until they are older. But I have to say, I’m horrified by how the kids are going to react when we have to be on a plane for 3+ hours in March. I’m going to try my best to make sure I have enough activities to occupy them but it could get tricky with that long of a flight.

  12. says

    oh boy, I remember those days! I used a combination of methods, I found the real trick was to quickly scoop up my screamer and take him/her just outside the store, having the child out in the open air gave me a break as I wasn’t standing there freaked out about the bad looks we were receiving. I could then calmly stand by my child letting him/her know that we would not be able to
    go back into the store till they’d finished.It worked like a charm 9 times out of ten.

  13. Anne Loyd says

    That’s usually how we handle it when my husband and I are shopping together. But when I have both kids by myself, this is not on option. So I start off with a bribe…They each get two quarters to put in their piggy banks and if they are bad, they loose the first one with a warning and then the second if they keep on with their behavior.

    If that doesn’t work and they are really getting under my skin, all stops are pulled out. I will threaten to take away more….all the toys in their playroom, christmas/birthday presents and I have even threatened to home school my five-year old. I haven’t had to do any of the major things but I’d better stop with the homeschooling one because I don’t want to follow through on that one!

  14. says

    I’m glad your kids respond so well to a calm discussion in a public place. Also that you had two parents to work as a team. I’m not saying that ignoring the cries of a kid is always the best answer, but for some parents and children, it is the only one that works, especially in a public place. I’d rather see a parent ignoring the tantrum than screaming back at them or degrading them in public. And for high needs kids, their senses may be so overwhelmed that screaming isn’t actually a tantrum for attention but a release of tension and anxiety in a situation that they cannot control.

    Just sayin that all kids scream for different reasons. I don’t judge. In fact, I am often the sympathetic smiler in line. Especially when I am without my kids. Other people’s screaming kids are actually kind of cute because they aren’t MINE. :)

  15. says

    Love, love, love your solution! I am one of those people who REFUSE to be embarrassed or belittled because of other people’s judgmental attitudes, so the staring doesn’t really bother me. But, I’ve heard the snide remarks from some people & I simply called them out on it. When mommy is already dealing w/ a meltdown from a little person who just doesn’t understand what patience is or what “later” means, the last thing she needs is smart remarks from people who look like they’ve never been around a toddler, much less had one of their own. I just look straight at them and say, “He’s not even two years old. What’s YOUR excuse?” Puts them on the run & makes me laugh. :D

  16. Maria Malaveci says

    We do the same. We own a restaurant, and the kids can act up even more when we are there. I take them out in the door entrance away from everyone else, and talk to them privately and calmly and try to figure out what is going on.

  17. Leslie Ramey says

    My sister and mom would always bribe my son with about 6 lollipops or a toy when they took him to a store so it made it aweful for me to shop with him. Sometimes “talking” to him did me no good because he would scream and not listen until a lollipop appeared. The only way to break him of this habit was for me to try to talk with him, let him cry a little and if necessary leave the store. I was not going to give in everytime and supply candy or toys, that is not feasible. I asked the babysitters to stop and it took a LOT more training them than him.

  18. Leslie Ramey says

    And.. I am just like Tracy- I am very sympathetic to other parent’s with screaming kids. You know they can’t help it and are just doing their best. We all have to grocery shop so it’s best not to judge others and to just be happy that it’s not your kid screaming this time.