As a young woman, I would see children throwing those nasty temper tantrums in the grocery store, and I would swear to myself (rather self-righteously) that my kids would never behave that way. A few years later, once I had my kids, I was amazed to find myself in various public places with my own offspring throwing dramatic temper tantrums. My compassion for other parents increased a thousand-fold with the first public tantrum. I also realized how little I had previously understood about normal childhood development.
One Mom said: "The books I read while my second child was in her 'Terrible Twos' said to ignore temper tantrums, and they would go away. I remember letting her lay on the floor in the restaurant and yell because she could not have a candy. We pretended to ignore her. This advice has really cost my daughter. She is in her twenties and still has temper tantrums. Nobody won. She did not get what she wanted when she threw the temper tantrum, and I didn't get what I wanted. In pretending to ignore her, I also didn't teach her what I wanted."
There could be many different reasons for a young child to throw a temper tantrum....
The following approach works best if you're not emotionally engaged. If you don't let your children push your buttons, the temper tantrum will be over with very quickly. This does not mean ignoring it! It just means dealing with it in the most effective way possible. When a tantrum starts, don't try to stop it. Just make sure the child engaged in it is safe and let him or her work through it. Sometimes it is best to sit with them and make sure they do not bang their head. Be sure to get the child out of the way of traffic, set the child on the floor or ground, and let him or her have at it. After the tantrum is over hold your child for a few minutes.
Once the child has calmed down, it's time to look at the consequence for the "temper tantrum" game. Unless this is the first time, you should already have some pre-determined consequences. (Remember Rule #1: Mom has fun - make sure to pick consequences that work for you!)
One of the most effective consequences for public misbehavior is to give up the activity immediately and go home. Remember, no one ever said being a parent was convenient! Your job is to ruthlessly watch for games and enforce consequences. Holding young children completely accountable for inappropriate behavior is the most effective strategy in the long run. It will save you hours and days, and maybe even months and years. It will be worth it when you see your little ones grow into respectful adolescents and adults with happy attitudes and productive habits.
Solutions for the Grocery Store
Grocery store temper tantrums are easy to eliminate with some advance planning. In addition to reviewing the ground rules and the consequences for temper tantrums and other misbehavior, decide with your child ahead of time what he or she can and can't buy at the store. At the store, continually acknowledge the behavior you want by praising it: "Johnny, you just walked by all that candy and didn't ask for one piece. I really like going to the store with you when you can enjoy helping me shop." Kids are very smart and are generally willing to learn whatever we are willing to teach them.