Visit Citebite Deep link provided by Citebite
Close this shade

29 Dec 2005 08:22 PM

When Your Child Throws a Tantrum in Public: 4 Steps to Regain Control

by Kristyn Crow | More from this Blogger


"Please...make it stop!"

With most of life's problems, we can't just ignore them and hope they'll go away. However, tantrums can be an exception. With the right technique, you can ignore your child's tantrums and eliminate them--hopefully forever. But it takes guts and determination.

Sponsors (article continues below)

My Tantrum Hell

When my son Kyle was five, his autism made language difficult. Rather than express his frustration in words, he screamed. He would lay on the floor, screeching, sometimes hitting himself and kicking his feet. This made traveling to public places a challenge. At the grocery store, Kyle would spot a toy or book and grab it. If I removed it from his grasp (even to buy it) it would trigger a tantrum so severe I often had to leave the store, embarrassed, abandoning my half-full grocery cart. Worse were the disgusted stares of onlookers, who, not realizing Kyle was autistic, seemed to say, "Lady, get control of your bratty kid."

The Technique

At the U.C. San Diego Autism Laboratory, I learned a technique which cured Kyle of his tantrums. Certainly there is no 100% fool-proof solution for every tantrum-throwing child, but I found this method to be tremendously effective.

Imagine you're at the mall, and your child begins to throw a fit. Try the following steps:

1. Firmly hold his hand. This is to ensure he doesn't run away, hurt himself, or hurt other people.

2. Say, "When you stop screaming, I will speak to you." Don't say anything else.

3. While he tantrums, turn your head completely away from him and do not allow him to see your face. Pretend not to hear him. Don't worry about what other people think. Continue to walk toward your destination. If he plays "dead weight" or flails, keep holding his hand, standing with your head turned, as long as it takes. (This is easier said than done, but you can do it.) If you absolutely must carry him, do so robotically, without emotion. Put him down as soon as you possibly can.

4. Immediately make eye contact and speak to him when he is calm. If your child stops screaming and speaks (without yelling), turn quickly and look at him. "Oh, did you say something?" Give him your undivided attention as long as he is behaving rationally. Make eye contact and talk in a friendly tone. You are now doing the opposite of what you were before. Kneel down and get on his level. Show interest in what he has to say. Remain firm in your position, but calmly explain. "I'm sorry we couldn't get that toy you wanted. It's just too expensive."

Repeat the above steps as often as necessary. You may even need to switch back and forth into ignoring/non-ignoring modes several times, using his behavior as the "trigger." If he begins to scream or wail again, take his hand, stand up, and turn your face away from him. Do not say a word. You want him to feel invisible when he is having a tantrum.

Remember, you are teaching him self-control, so hang on to yours. Your child craves your attention. If he only has your focus when he is calm and rational, he will eventually choose to behave that way.

When I used this method with Kyle, he was only minimally verbal. He could utter some phrases, but certainly not carry on a meaningful conversation. I was doubtful that these steps would work on a child who couldn't be reasoned with. I thought that Kyle's tantrums were due solely to his autism, and that they couldn't be helped. I was wrong. I had underestimated Kyle's ability to manipulate me. Often times we do this with special needs children--we let them get away with inappropriate behaviors because we assume they "can't help it."

WARNING: Ignoring outbursts will first cause them to become worse. Your child will think, "Hmmm, screaming and kicking always worked before. Maybe I need to be louder." When this happens, don't assume that your efforts aren't working. It may take time before he "gets" it.

Sponsors (article continues below)

I used this ignoring technique with Kyle on four separate occasions, gritting my teeth as I endured his hysteria. It wasn't easy. Each episode seemed to be worse than the last. I felt like giving up. Then, suddenly, as if by magic, the tantrums ceased. Today Kyle is thirteen. He still struggles with the symptoms of Autistic Disorder, but is very well-behaved.

Learn more about Kristyn Crow

KristynCrow`s avatar

Kristyn Crow is the mother of seven children, and the author of three children's books. Visit her website at

View Full Profile | More from this Blogger

Send this to a friend

3 comments so far

Bonnie Sayers (1299) 31 May 2006 04:07 PM

Hi Kristyn ~

I am receiving parent training in behavior and going to print this out to share with her this afternoon - she is due in 45 minutes.

I wrote an article on my site a few months ago called - Dealing with a screaming child while in a store. I am going to find that and add this link to it as a resource.


Marie_UT (5) 28 Feb 2008 09:21 PM

HI, I need some advice. I have a son that will be three years old and he throws these trantrum everyday, all day. I don't know what to do at this point. His temper tantrums are out of control and I have been to doctors in Utah to have him checked for ADHD or ODD and they just tell me that he's to young. He's hyper all day long and i even took sweets away from him when I thought that was causing it.

He will throw his head down and start kicking, throwing objects at people and hit. I spanked his bottom, I have tried to put him in time out and that didn't work. If I spank his bottom; he would litterally laugh at you. My mom is his baby sitter and she like me..we both are ready to go to a nut house because hes driving us crazy with his temper tantrums. He keeps me up til 2am and I have to get up for work in the morning and its rough..I can't even potty train him when he's like this.

I am trying to ignore my son when throwing his tantrums and tonight it actually worked. I just need some advice, I am not getting anywhere with doctors out here in Utah.


Christina from UTAH

Kristyn Crow (2496) 28 Feb 2008 10:09 PM

Hi Christina--this is a tough, frustrating, tiring, overwhelming thing to go through. I feel your pain. I remember when my son had tantrums that made me feel imprisoned in my home. I hated taking him anywhere in public. I tell ya though, the ignoring technique above worked, and this was for a child who had limited speech and cognitive delays. So I think it could work for any child. I would try it, especially if you've had a little success already. However, you've got to be ABSOLUTELY CONSISTENT. If your child screams, you do NOT respond or make eye contact. Period. No matter how frustrated you are, you do not speak to him while he screams or cries. Then, the minute he speaks calmly you instantly respond with intense focus, interest, and reward him with whatever he wants (within reason). If he starts to scream again, go back into ignoring mode. Use his behavior as the switch to turn your ignoring mode off and on. Remember it will get worse before it gets better, and you'll think it's not working. He'll test the parameteres. Stick to it like a machine. Stick to it. I never thought it could work for my son in a million years, but it did.

I'd also have your son evaluated. Start with your pediatrician and if he or she dismisses your concerns, get a new one. Tell the doctor you are think the tantrums seem extreme and that you're worried something else is going on. My son was diagnosed with autism at age two. So there are experts out there who can evaluate children and give you their insight about what might be going on. There are so many possibilities. It could be ADHD, autism, or he could have a sleep disorder that makes him so exhausted he feels cross and angry all day long. Is he able to communicate with words? How is he verbally? If his language is right on par with other three-year-olds, I'd look more closely at ADHD, sleep disorders, food allergies, etc. If his language is delayed, that's a sign that there may be something cognitive going on, like autism, or maybe a speech impairment. Children who can't articulate their needs get frustrated and scream. You've got to know what's going on in order to help your son. If there's an underlying problem, you can treat it once you know what it is. It's also possible he's just a master manipulator, and the tantrums have been getting him something he wants.

In the mean time, get some ear plugs. Ignore the screaming, as long as he's not hurting himself or anyone else. If he is, take him to safety without making eye contact or speaking to him. He can never be rewarded with candy, hugs, or attention for that kind of behavior. Make sure other adults in his life--like grandparents or aunts/uncles are aware of the technique. He must become invisible when he's having a tantrum.

Please check back and let me know how you're doing.

Discuss this article

You must be logged in to tag, rate, or comment on this item.

Not registered? Register now, it's free and only takes a minute.

Add a Comment

Trackback URL for this entry: