1. Exit the scene. You can’t always ignore a child who is in the midst of a tantrum, especially when you’re in public. If your child starts crying or screaming when you’re away from home, bend down to his eye level and say softly, “We’re walking out of here right now. Do you want me to carry you, or do you want to walk by yourself?” Then do it.
2. Call a time-out. Time-out is not the same as punishment. It provides a break until the child can calm himself down. Make it clear that it is not a punishment. Say in a friendly manner, “You’re upset, so you need to take some time out.” Don’t expect this to have an immediate effect, especially the first few times you try it. But eventually time-out will re-establish calm. Be aware, though, that some children just can’t cope with being left alone when they’re upset. They don’t know how to calm themselves down and may need you to stay with them during the time-out.
3. Stay calm yourself. Showing your anger will only make matters worse. Instead of yelling, acknowledge your child’s feelings (i.e. “I see that you’re upset”) and then arouse your child’s curiosity by whispering something intriguing like, “Let’s go look at the bird-feeder.”
4. Empathize. Try to put yourself in your child’s place. Think of a situation in which you’ve felt helpless or overwrought. Communicate that you understand why your child is upset: “I know, I know. Your were having so much fun playing, you don’t want to stop now.” Expressing empathy lets your child know you’re on his side, even when you have to say no. Note: Forget about spectators; focus on your child’s needs!!!
Jill Kaufman is a certified Redirecting Children’s Behavior instructor in Princeton, New Jersey.