Toddler Tantrums In Public: What To Do

Ever mortified by toddler tantrums in public? As a mama who's been around the block a few times, here's how to end them for good.

Recently someone asked me what to do about toddler tantrums – specifically, toddler tantrums in public places. You know, like when your toddler throws a tantrum in a store.

Toddler tantrums in grocery stores are by far the worst, and can be SO embarrassing if you’re That Parent.

Want the secret formula to STOP toddler tantrums in public in their tracks? Read on!Click To Tweet

So what to do when your toddler throws a tantrum in a public place? I’ve got a quick and easy answer for you, as well as several larger strategies to help stop public toddler tantrums in their tracks for good.




The Complete Parent’s Guide to Ending Toddler Tantrums In Public

1) How To Stop Toddler Tantrums In Public

This is easier than you’d think:


That’s it. Leave the store. IMMEDIATELY.

Get back into your car (or start walking, if that’s how you got there) and GO HOME.

Do not pay for your purchases. Do not put them back. Just abandon your shopping cart, collect your child and your stuff, and walk out.

Yes, I know this is extremely inconvenient. Yes, I know this means you may not get the groceries you need to cook that night’s dinner. (Been there, done that.)

Why it works:

Toddlers like attention. Any attention (including negative) is better than no attention.

Add to this an outing that probably wasn’t your toddler’s idea in the first place, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for the perfect storm.

Creating a scene in a store is a great way to get a LOT of attention, fast. Taking the toddler away from the store removes that source of attention.

Or, on the off chance your toddler is tantruming because they want something (a new toy, candy from the checkout line, your phone to play with, etc.), the change of scenery will likewise eliminate the initial trigger behind the tantrum.

2) How To Avoid Toddler Tantrums At The Store Next Time

Once you’re away from the scene of the crime, you need to stop and figure out whether your toddler had a valid reason for throwing a fit in the middle of the store.

Wanting you to buy them some candy or a new toy is NOT a valid reason.

However, being hungry or tired or bored IS. So is being overheated, having a soiled diaper, etc.

Next time you go to the store, cover your bases more effectively in the first place:

  • Make sure your child has a full tummy; bring along portable snacks/drinks just in case.
  • Make sure your child has a clean diaper, if that’s what they’re wearing, or has just used the toilet. Bring along spares as needed, just in case.
  • Make sure your child has several things with them to amuse them. Books, small toys, a doll, whatever. (Things that are NOT your phone or other electronic devices, by the way. Just don’t go there. This is a bad habit to start early, and the earlier you start them on electronics, the harder it will be to teach them appropriate-use guidelines later on.)

Your child wants you to buy them some food? Nope, you just ate – oh, wait, you’re hungry again? Great; here’s a healthy snack!

Your child wants a new toy? Nope, you’ve got plenty right here.

3) How To Prevent Toddler Tantrums In Public For Good

Did you know there’s a way to all but guarantee your child NEVER throws a tantrum in a store or other public place?

This is a parenting secret I learned as a very small child from my own Mama.

It worked.

Her secret formula goes something like this:

BEFORE going to the store, spell out to your child(ren) what is about to happen, what behavior you expect, and the consequences either way. For example:

“We are going to the grocery store:

  • We are going there to buy the things on my grocery list.
  • We are NOT going to buy candy, treats, or anything else we don’t need.
  • If you beg me to buy those things, we will leave the store immediately and we won’t have what we need to cook dinner tonight.
  • If you are well-behaved in the store, I will play a game with you when we get home, after you help me put away the groceries.”

What happened after my mama gave us this speech when we were little?

It worked, almost every single time.

The few times one of us forgot these ground rules, she followed through on her word and we left the store immediately.

This last part is extremely important. Otherwise, your kids will learn not to take you seriously when you spell out the negative consequences for ANY undesirable behavior.

Final notes: What NOT to do when you child tantrums in public

Above all else, DON’T make a scene with your child. If they start to tantrum, bend over quietly and ask them quietly to stop, immediately.

Ask no more than once.

If they don’t stop immediately, then leave the store as described above.

And of course, if they have a valid reason for tantruming (hungry, soiled diaper, thirsty, etc.), solve the problem ASAP and plan accordingly the next time (see #2 above).

Veteran parents, do you have other stellar tips for preventing toddler tantrums in public that I haven’t mentioned? Do please share in the comments!

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20 thoughts on “Toddler Tantrums In Public: What To Do”

  1. I got lucky when mine was little she didn’t have a lot of tantrums in the store but when she did it was usually from being tired or hungry and my trips to the store weren’ t planned out.

  2. We all struggle one time or another with tantrums and toddlers and these are amazing tips. What I used with my younger one (he was the one with the strongest personality/character was to start walking and he would stop.

  3. This is just what I need. I almost broke down in tears today when he wouldn’t stop. I look forward to when he grows past this stage

  4. Just leaving has been my go-to. It’s so simple, but so effective. I’ve gotten to the point where I know when she’s just looking for attention or if I actually need to drive back home. Often times now, I can take my daughter back to the car for 10 – 15 minutes calm down and then we can go back to our shopping.

  5. It is important for the kids to understand ahead of time what is not going to happen. Like we are getting groceries, not a new toy.

  6. I often will tell my kids, “If you behave properly and we get out of here quickly, we will have time to do ________ after. If you don’t behave and help mom, we aren’t going to have time.” This seems to work a lot of the time with my kids. I also take a small notebook and let them write things on their “wish lists” if they want something, and they are always satisfied with doing this instead of buying what they want – no tantrums or whining. Thanks for the tip – I will try it next time things are really going awry, haha!

  7. Love this advice! It is so good to set your expectations too. I think too many times, parents bribe kids with the ipad, candy, they give in to begging, etc. It just creates more bad habits!

  8. Great tips. Toddlers do crave attention and love doing the worst things at the worst times. We haven’t really had any tantrums with our son until recently. He’s almost 4 and a lot of the tantrums are for attention and boundary pushing purposes. He’s really seeing what he can get away with. Last tantrum ended in a lot of tears and upset because he ended up getting lost in the store and that scared him. He said he won’t do it again but we’ll see about that.

  9. Great advice. I think preparing your kids, like you said, is key. We had a dedicated day for running errands and shopping. And, we tried to do lots of talking about the day beforehand and what we would do once we had completed our errands. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I always told my oldest that we weren’t buying anything for him like toys, candy, or etc. He only threw one fit the first time we went. I just looked at him and said no, proceeded to keep doing my shopping. I truly believe that it starts at home. I started early on telling him no and following through with that. He learned that when I say no it means no.

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