Public Tantrums: How to Leave the Store Successfully

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Public Tantrums: Leaving the Store Successfully  

It can happen instantly and without warning.

One minute you’re shopping at your neighborhood grocery store with your child toddling along next to you; the next minute he or she is kicking, screaming, and refusing to leave.  Maybe he or she wants a toy, or candy from the checkout line.  Maybe it’s just the desire to remain in the store a little longer. Whatever the reason, you now have an unhappy child and a tantrum on your hands.  So what’s your next move?  Your reaction or lack thereof could determine if you leave the store with a calm child or an aching head.  Below are some tips that can help you get out of the store successfully.

Be Prepared

One thing I have found effective in preventing tantrums at the store is if the child already has a toy or something to entertain them while you shop.  Success will depend on the child’s age, of course, but if he or she has something to focus on, the chances of them becoming attracted to something on the shelves decreases.  Child are little people and just like adults strategically place for marketing attracts their attention just as it does the rest of us.  Also, be honest with your child before you going to the store.  If you have no plans of purchasing toys, candy, etc let the child know before leaving home; and remind them before going into the store.  If you have decided to purchase something for your child pick it out first.  It may be more effective to explain to the child before leaving home that he or she will get a treat.  Tell them how many items they will receive and stick to that.  Tell them, “This is what you’re getting.” that way the child’s expectations are set, and you don’t have to fight with them over what you don’t want to purchase or don’t think they need.

Be Calm and Speak their Language

So your plan did not work.  You left the toy at home and did not plan to buy a treat.  Now, your child is in full tantrum mode.  To calm your child began to speak in a calm low tone.  This may result in the child mirroring your tone. Once you get the child calm enough, try to understand what is causing the anger.  Is it because they want a toy? Or do they just want to stay in the store?  Again, depending on the child he or she may eventually quiet their yelling and start to mimic your behavior.  Then you can start to implement some techniques to end the tantrum and leave the store successfully.  Remember, never blow off a tantrum.  There is always a reason for the behavior which lends itself as a teachable moment.

Be Direct  

If your stance is not to purchase anything because you don’t want to teach your child to expect something every time he or she goes into the store, then take the time to redirect their behavior.  This is important because you want to foster social appropriateness from an early age.  Small children, especially child younger than age 5, are often encouraged when being thought of as “big boys” and “big girls.”  Use this to remind them that big boys and big girls don’t yell in the store.  You want to teach them that yelling isn’t nice or appropriate.  In the event you have more the one stop to make, you may want to tell the child, “We have to leave this store because we have another stop,” or “We have to get home so I can make you dinner.”  Wherever your reason for leaving the store, letting them know the plan can be helpful for several reasons.  1. properly leaving the store properly, 2. teaching socially appropriate behavior, and 3. not having the expectation to receive something every time they go to the store

Be Firm

A tantrum is often times a power struggle. So you never want to give in or appear defeated. The lesson for the child should never be if he or she fights hard enough, or stomp and kick they’ll get what they want.  The tantrum is about who is going to win, and if you give in you teach your child to throw tantrums with purpose.  That’s definitely not the lesson you want to teach.

Be Supportive and Reinforce Positive Behavior

Sometimes I use the reward system when shopping with my child.  I would keep a little treat in my purse, and if my child does not ask for anything and acts appropriately in the store, I encourage verbally.  I say thing like “You did really well,” or “you behaved so well in the store.”  Kids love treats and the love praise.  The thing that seem small can go a very long way with children; and candy doesn’t have to be a treat because the last thing you want is a hyper child in the car on the way home! It can be fruit snacks, apple sauce, or goldfish.  These are things I’ve traveled with. While the child is calm and enjoying his or her snack, talk about how proud you are of their behavior.  Tell them what you like about their behavior and compare to the behavior that’s undesirable.   An example of this could be I really like the way you left the store quietly and helping mommy or daddy with the bags.  We always want to act like a big boy or girl because big boys and girls do not cry when it’s time to leave the store.

Remember, you are the parent and your child behaves the way you teach him or her to behave.  You know your child’s personality and how he or she responds to you.  Use your child level of communication and understanding to help foster the desired behavior.


Dr. Tracey Marshall, LPC, NCC, is a Child and Adolescent Licensed Professional Counselor. She specializes in behavior modification, counseling, and supervision to children and adolescents experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties as young as 3 years old. To discuss your child’s specific behaviors or parenting tips call Precise CNS at 601-420-5810.






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