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Tips on Handling Public Temper Tantrums

You are in the supermarket, and your three-year old is wriggling on the supermarket floor in noisy protest of not being allowed to take home an over-priced stuffed animal. You are sure that your fellow shoppers have stopped in their tracks to focus all of their attention on you and your seemingly untamed tot. As you feel your cheeks flushing even hotter, you contemplate whether it wouldn’t be easier to just give in …

If this scene seems embarrassingly familiar, don’t despair – you’re in good company. Most parents, at one time or another, have had to deal with their child’s temper outburst in public. And most parents will agree that the worst part of this is the embarrassment and being viewed as a “bad” parent.

It is very tempting to give in to your child’s demands at this time, since this will stop the screaming and the stares – for the moment. Unfortunately, “giving in” reinforces for your child that a temper outburst is a very effective way of getting what they want. So, since “giving in” will just lead to the very thing that you are trying to avoid – more temper tantrums – what should you do?

Here are some tips from Carizon’s Community Services staff:

  • Avoid going on shopping outings during or right before nap or bed time or when your child is over-tired. Children are far less reasonable when they are weary.
  • Before you go shopping, talk to your child about the purpose for your trip and what is on the list to buy. Let them know the particulars of what you are shopping for, such as: healthy foods only, towels for the bathroom, or a gift for a friend’s birthday.
  • Decide and let them know ahead of time whether they will be allowed a “treat.” If a “treat” is in order, let your child know about any conditions: Is there a dollar limit? Will it be limited to a food/non-food item? Is it contingent on your child’s behaviour? When or where can it be chosen?
  • Be consistent and unwavering after sharing these “conditions” with your child; in this way your child will not feel the need to “test” the limits. Discussions about, or any changes to your conditions should take place before the shopping trip, and not during.
  • Let your child make some of the shopping decisions, especially if a treat is not in order for the day. Any decisions a child is allowed to make, however small, will help. Some examples are: picking out the type of apples to buy, which aisle to go down first, which colour of tissue box to choose, etc.
  • If there are conditions to the choice that your child can make, let the child know them first – once a child makes their choice, you should not ask them to change it. (E.g.: let your child know ahead of time that they can only pick out the red, unbruised tomatoes.)
  • Include your child in the shopping by giving them a task to carry out. Some examples are: writing out the shopping list as you dictate, striking the items from the list as they are placed in the cart, pushing the grocery cart (some grocery stores have child size carts that a small child can easily push alongside you), helping to unload the cart at the cash register (excellent way to distract a child away from the candy rack), or putting away some of the groceries at home.
  • If a temper outburst does happen – try to ignore your child’s behaviour, while ensuring that your child is not harming himself/herself or destroying the store. Humour helps here if you can smile and make a light hearted remark to an empathetic-looking fellow shopper, such as, “I didn’t know parenting would be so much fun!” This will take some of the tension out of the situation. You won’t feel so self-conscious, and it will also let your child know that you are in control and not about to give in.
  • If you can’t ignore the behaviour, or there is a safety concern, leave your cart and remove your child to a quieter, private area, outside of the store if necessary. Return only if and when both you and your child are calm and in control and have discussed the situation.
  • If you and your child witness another child’s temper outburst: From a suitable distance, discuss with your child how they think that child and parent feel, and a good way to prevent or resolve the situation.

The key to dealing with your child’s temper tantrums in public is to set aside your own embarrassment by trying not to worry too much about what other parents will think – take comfort in the fact that either they’ve been there before, or they may be in your place in the future! And if you happen to pass a fellow parent in a similar situation, give them an understanding nod or a few words of support – it will be very much appreciated!


Community Services delivers services to groups of people where they live, connecting individuals, families and neighbourhoods, reducing isolation and providing resources to create stronger families and caring communities.