How to Manage Toddler Tantrums in Public

July 24, 2011  |  
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Out of all the kids I have, my fourth child, the little girl peanut, is the two-est two-year-old I’ve ever had.  She smacks her little brother in the face sometimes if he gets too close and she’s not in the mood for butterfly kisses; her favorite word is “No”; she thinks my laptop, which I frequently use because, uhm, that’s how I make a living, is the enemy, and swats at it if I don’t give her my full, 1000% attention.

Oh…and then there is the tantrums.

A few weeks ago I took the three youngest kiddies to our town’s children’s science museum.  They were all tornadoes of activity from the sensory overload of all the exhibits.  Fun was had by all, save for one last obstacle: you can’t exit the museum unless you go through the gift shop.  It’s a common dirty trick.  The baby decided she wanted a box of I-don’t-know-what’s. I told her “No sweetie.  How about a little rubber ducky instead?”

She didn’t go for it so I took the box of whozits away, and then she threw herself on the maple hardwood floor, doing her best to impersonate one of those dudes from Breakin’ while screaming at the top of her lungs, her tongue curling in that little “u” and vibrating like when Whitney Houston hits a high note.

I looked at her for a few seconds.  The cashiers were also looking at her.  So I said, “Hi little girl, where’s your mother?”, then stepped over her to look at the rubber duckies.

Maybe because I’m on my fourth two-year-old, I’m less worried about tantrums and even less worried about losing face in public when one of my progenies falls out.

So if you ever have to deal with a toddler, here a few things to keep in mind…

It’s a phase.

No really.  It is.  Tantrums at two to about four years old are normal (I repeat NORMAL) behavior.  They walk and talk, but they are still babies.  Tantrums tend to come about when a child cannot articulate what they need, or what is bothering them in a way to make you understand.  Your child might say, “I wan da doo doo down!” and if you don’t understand that she’s saying “I want the window down!” get ready for a tantrum.  (By the way, my oldest daughter really did say that when she was two).

They can’t find the words

The language capacity of the average two-year-old is about 150-300 words, and if what she wants or needs isn’t comprehended, her emotional reaction may appear to be anger, but is probably fueled by frustration.  Be patient and try to figure out what the heck the child is trying to say.

Sign Language

Teaching your child sign language for basic needs, like the sign for “I want to eat,” and “I have to poop and I don’t want to do it in my crib!” reduces stress for both you and baby.

Respect Your Child’s Schedule

If you are shopping at the Macy’s semi-annual sale during nap time, then why are you surprised when Junior runs around like he’s done a line of cocaine, popping in and out of the racks, yelling and throwing himself on the carpet?  It’s his nap time!  Kids lose the tentative control they have over their impulses the more tired they get.

Spanking Only Makes it Worse

Threats of spankings don’t work until children are able to process consequences for their actions.  The spanking is more for you than for the kid, so just don’t do it.  “If you feel that your child is using tantrums as a tool to get his own way, give him verbal cues and use body language that says you don’t do tantrums. Be aware that toddlers know how to push their parents’ buttons. If you are a volatile person, it’ll be easy for your child to trigger an explosion from you, ending in a screaming match with no winners. You send a clear message when you ignore his fits or walk away. This teaches him that tantrums are not acceptable. This is part of toddler discipline, says Dr. Sears, the official toddler whisperer.

Christelyn D. Karazin is the co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate and Relate Mixing Race Culture and Creed (to be released April 2012), and runs a blog,, dedicated to women of color who are interested and or involved in interracial and intercultural relationships. She is also the founder and organizer of “No Wedding, No Womb,” an initiative to find solutions to the 72 percent out-of-wedlock rate in the black community.


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  • amber

    I started spanking my daughter when she was 1 or so only to keep her away from danger such as playing with outlets and such and it did not work she is now 2 and she hits me right back so now i am a firm believer in simple time outs it works great she hates it i love it i dont have to hurt her to get my point accross spanking is not the answer in my home

  • jackie

    I have a two tear old little girl thatll cry when she doesnt get what she wants, what kid doesnt? Its normal behavior for a child and you dont have to use violence all the time to correct the problem . Try talking to the child and explaining why instead of usibg violence to scare them into acting right

  • Taisha

    Yes, inflicting violence on a child seems to work really well. No wonder so many black men then inflict violence on each other and end up in prison. Hitting others to get them to do what you want is wrong. The black community needs to man up and admit that the cycle of violence has to stop. Let's stop it at home! And cherish those children, they are a gift from God.

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  • Steph

    Here is a fish for the troll: <°|>>><<

  • Melissa

    I am just appalled at the spanking and pinching advice here on this comment board. I have three girls, all under 7, and each of them has gone through this phase, but it's short and sweet. Why? Because I get down to their level and simply tell them no. There's no arguing, or offering substitues. The answer is no, calmly and with authority, and with no attention given to their tantrum. Yes, I have had to endure screaming through stores, but each time you say no, and then explain to them why, then tantrum gets less until they realize that it's not going to work. Now my children will ask for things, but if I say no, they accept it and we move on with life. Each of them has had about 2-3 big store tantrums before they gave up. cont'd below…

    • Melissa

      Anyone who would hit a child, or use seemingly harmless means such as pinching (yes, the public is non the wiser, but you're physically hurting your baby) to reason with their toddler is not teaching their child anything except coersion and bullying.

      My favorite parenting techniques were learned from Dr. Harvey Karp, "The Happiest Baby on the Block" and the Happiest Toddler on the Block": Common sense approches that validate your child's needs and help lessen their frustation at being unable able to fully communicate.

      When I see a parent spank or scream at thier child IN PUBLIC, I often worry that when, in the privacy of a home, these acts often can, and do, turn into abuse.

      How well do you, as an adult, react when another person grabs you, hits you, or gets in your face?

  • QuietlyLaughing

    Ok, this post is pure COMEDY! This woman has lost her minds. If there are any pregnant women out here DO NOT listen to this woman. We've all seen those kids in the store acting a fool falling out on their parents while they turn a blind eye and pretend they don't hear them. Well guess what??? It doesn't bother you but it is bother EVERYONE around you! Get a clue and get your kids under control.

    Here's a tip taught to me by another mother when my daughter first tried that mess with me. So that the you're not acting ignorant and yelling at your child in public or being embarassed by your untamed toddler you pinch in the inside of their little hands. You will get a squeal at first but after about their second episode they will stop. This has worked for everyone I have told. The great thing about this method is that the public is non the wiser.

    Good Luck!

    • Steph

      Absolutely agreein with you, pal. If you teach the kids respect, you do not have to use violence. I have four brothers and sisters, and now two kids (7 and 5) and none of them needed to be spanked. We learned discipline without fear, and this is what I teach my children now.
      The little one threw a tantrum in a mall twice, I waited until he calmed down and then explained to him that he disturbed all the people around him, and encouraged him to ask some shoppers, which he did. After he heard twic from strangers that he made their ears hurt, I just needed to say "Do you think the people around you want you to scream over that toy?" when his lip started to tremble and he became quiet.

  • ALM

    The first picture of the child crying= free birth control for some of us without kids

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  • nursedred

    I don’t think you should have to spank your children in public. They should already know mommy don’t play that falling out mess before we ever leave the house. Every one of my kids got one time to try me in public and I gave them a real reason to cry without a soul knowing what happened to them. Then they shut up real quick with a look and a warning. I don’t believe in bringing out the belt or at my house the spoon for every little thing theres other ways of discipline that are effective and that should be the last resort. Spank them all the time then what do you do when they really do something bad? Kill them? I’d hate for them to be so traumatized they pee when they hear a belt buckle. But I will be respected at all times.

  • Coriander

    Sound advice…. So sound I'll avoid having a toddler all together.

    I don't agree with spanking. Why inflict violence at an early age. There are other ways to discipline a child. I wasn't spanked and I turned out okay.

  • CiCi & CoCo The birthday girl-The Besties

    Spankin.. U gotta spank em.. I use to pee myself everytime i would hear the belt clink off the hanger when i was about to get my butt whooped. Kids are brats..

  • DJ1969

    Hmmm. This is her fourth child (and it sounds like they are all still little) and this is the one giving her fits. Mama sounds like she's tired and lets this little one get away with too much. All of that "advice" sounds real cute, politically correct, and downright white, but the answer to managing a toddler tantrum in public is easy: SPANK THAT ASS!! Kids can act crazy, but sometimes parents have to act crazier.

    • Lisa

      Downright white? And you, my dear, sound downright racist. I hope you realize this at least.

  • Ebony

    I agree with those above.. It is ABSOLUTELY all about discipline at home. Most of the tantrums I see toddlers throw has nothing to do with language barriers. The kid is usually just a brat. The kid acts up at home and the parents are amused. They think it's cute that their 2 year old has an attitude. So the kid amps it up. "Mommy thinks it's funny so I'll give her more"
    And then they have to take this mini hellion out and now the brat show hits the road. Only in public what they thought was cute at home is embarrassing.
    Good luck getting the kid to stop. They've already confirmed that this behavior is acceptable. The parents need the spanking.
    Kids give you what you put in… Garbage in.. Garbage out.

    • Guest

      Spot on. My two cousins were the most obnoxious, bratty toddlers. Their parents would laugh at the behavior and think it was so cute and sassy. My mother always said they were going to be in for a world of hurt when they got older and it happened. The kids are now eight, and one of them just got pulled out of a private school for behavioral problems. My uncle said it's because the kids picked on her, but I think it was because she's a spoiled, bossy brat who couldn't get along with other kids because she was never taught properly.

  • jones

    People don't want to spank, because they think it's wrong. Perhaps, their are one or two kids in the face of the earth that don't ever need a spanking…but the rest probably do. I got spankings as a kid…excuse me…I am from Georgia…whippings. 🙂 In todays society it might be called abuse, whatever, it worked. My parent's loved me enough to teach me right from wrong…too bad a lot of parents today don't do that with their kids. I feel sorry, for anyone that doesn't put their foot down with their kids. The bible says if you raise child up the right way it will stay with them until they are old…and they will give you rest…be blessed.

    • Lady L

      You are plain stupid.

  • jones

    I have twins that just turned 19 this month. I NEVER had a problem taking them out, here's my secret, when they were at home they were disciplined. So, when I took them out, they acted the same way they did at home. You see what I mean…kids that are not disciplined at home are not going to act like it in public. Why do people think that it's not important to teach their kids to be respectful, not only of others but of themselves? We are living in a dying society.

    • amie

      She gives in to this child and you can tell by the way she offers a substitute item instead of NO ITEM!!!. Don't blame the child.

  • Kayla

    spanking works. lol but the discipline starts at home, teaching them to not act out in public before you get in public is good. and growing up i remember my mom never hesitated pulling me in the public bathroom and whooping my ass.

  • Ash

    Umm spanking works if used correctly. Worked for me and currently my four year old brother. It has to be held off long enough so the kids recognizes that you’ve had enough and that’s the next step.

    • Bill

      Wow, how about responsible parenting instead of violence? Spanking just shows that you think it is acceptable for a stronger person to beat a weaker person.