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We all have been there: suffering through our child’s public tantrum. It’s so flustering on its own, but then you get the stares, and maybe even the tsk-tsks. It can make you want to run away from the shop, party, restaurant, park, and never show your face again. We try all the tricks and tips to end the tantrum (and if you aren’t sure what to do, read my post about handling public tantrums), but what if we could stop being reactive, and straight up prevent the tantrum from happening in the first place?
Parents, unite in Mission: Prevent Meltdown Before It Starts.
Before you venture out, see if it’s possible to avoid taking the children out for errands in the first place:
Pay attention to your child and their sensitivities. Are they overwhelmed by outings where there are lots of people around? Are they quickly bored if you aren’t able to provide constant entertainment? If they get the slightest bit hungry, do they become angry or irritable (aka “hangry”)? Have they had their nap (if still napping)? If you know the errand is one that does not mix well with your child’s temperament, age/stage, needs, then see about leaving them home with your partner, friend, parent, etc. We often want to tackle our adult to-do list at certain times, but that often means toting the kids along. It can be an inconvenience to schedule your errands for another time when someone else can watch your children, but depending on your child, that may be the best way to prevent meltdowns altogether.
Consider if there’s a way to get done what you need to do without schlepping the kiddos about town. Our family does our big weekly grocery shop via a handy app that enables us to shop at our grocery store of choice, virtually! I could take both kids with me to the grocery store near our house, but really, I’d rather not. And with this technology, I don’t have to! Food shopping in this way let’s me get what I need, and nothing extra. There’s no impulse buying! And I can choose at what time is best for me for the food to be delivered.
Similarly, many moms shop for clothing, shoes, and accessories online instead of in the brick and mortar stores. So often, we mamas put ourselves last and do not update our wardrobes while our children galavant around in the cutest, on trend clothing. Shopping online lets us update our duds (or, really, buy several pairs of the same leggings) without having to lift a finger, let alone hear our children screaming to an audience of strangers out in public.
Okay, you’ve thought long and hard about whether or not the task at hand requires bringing the kiddos along. You’ve decided this is an in-person errand, and the kids must join. So, now the most important thing you can do is prepare — prepare yourself, and prepare your child(ren).
Prepare yourself, aka stock up like there’s no tomorrow:
I like to stock my diaper backpack bag with a toy or book (or two) for each child. For my one-year-old, I plan to have a chewy toy and something small to play with, like a little car or doll. For my three-year-old, I aim to have a book she likes, a travel coloring book, and sometimes some of her favorite smaller dolls. The reality is children act up most often when they get bored on our adult errands. Heck, we adults get bored on our adult errands, but we understand their importance and make ourselves trudge through them. When our kids get bored, they don’t have much option other than to act out as they vie for our attention. By expecting this, you can plan for it with a few fun toys/books on hand, providing you the opportunity to distract them from the droning monotony, at least for a little while.
When all else fails, food. That’s an old adage, isn’t it? The front pocket on our diaper backpack bag is super accessible and full of food, meaning I can quickly sling some snacks at the kiddos to fill their whining or crying mouths. We usually have at least one snack bar and one pouch per person. I also often carry around little boxes of raisins, and sometimes I have a snack cup full of cereal to occupy the one-year-old in food and fine motor skills activity. Consideration of motor skills earns me an award, or something, right? My older child is not a big eater, and my younger child is, but regardless, they both love snacks. Occasionally we have more whole foods, like an apple or banana on hand, but the beauty of a processed food for this purpose is that if by some miracle they are not needed on yesterday’s outing, they are still in the bag good to go for tomorrow’s. Food has worked for me in several situations where the toys and activities did not last long.
Other things to consider are whether or not to bring the carrier or a stroller. Since I have two mobile children, it is super nice to plan so that I do not have to be wrangling both of them during our outing. At the warehouse store, they both go in the cart. At our favorite big box store, I hunt down the bizarre looking limousine of carts that has two plastic seats. At the doctor and other personal appointments, I bring the stroller to contain the younger kiddo (and let’s be real, to use as a threat for the older kiddo if she doesn’t listen well), and sometimes I bring along the giant tandem double stroller. Believe it or not, sometimes if they are contained together in the double stroller, face to face, they entertain each other and that let’s me off the hook to do the dirty work of adulting.
Prepare your child:
Speak with your kiddo about what you are about to do! And be specific. Not, “Be good” or “Don’t be bad”. That is too vague for little minds, and doesn’t tell them what they should actually do. Give them the “who, what, when, where, why” of the outing. I tend to do it in a bit of a singsong voice — it makes them just a little bit less wary. Sometimes it even helps trick me into believing it won’t be awful.
Who is going? Where are you going? What is it like, and what are you expecting of them? When are you going and for how long will you be there? Why are you going? What incentive may they receive in exchange for extra good behavior?
For example, (cue enthusiam) “I am taking you with me to the doctor because I have an important appointment. It is a quiet place, so we all will need to use our indoor voices. I have a couple toys for you to play with, and I have some snacks too. Maybe the doctor will let you play with some gloves and tongue depressors too! We will be in the waiting room for a little bit before going back into the appointment room. If you are a good listener, play nicely with your toys, and speak quietly and politely, when we are all done I will have a treat for you!”
Expect that your children will require some reminders, so when necessary throughout the errand, remind them of the behavior you want to see, and of the incentive, if needed. Be prepared that sometimes to distract and appease them, you may have to engage in a random bout of “Wheels on the Bus” or “Baby Shark”, or you may have to whip out some hand clap games (anyone remember Miss Mary Mack and Down by the Banks?!) that will blow their minds.
A few toys, a book, some yummy snacks, and the occasional fun engagement from you, and your outings with your children should run a little bit smoother. Keep your expectations realistic and plan ahead to avoid the obstacles. I hope that you are successful in avoiding tantrums! If by chance some tantrums do occur, I hope that they are minor and not even noteworthy (and that the steps from my other post on public tantrums are helpful)!
Love and hugs,
Christina is the writer behind the blog Real Life Mama. She is a mom two littles, a 4-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. Christina and her family live in San Diego, where she is a full-time mama, part-time mental health therapist (LPCC), and round-the-clock blogger, writer, and author. If she ever gets a moment to herself, she can be found singing at the top of her lungs, cooking, and crafting. Thanks for reading!