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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