Tantrum in restaurant

Question: I took my 4-year-old, and my 1-year-old to a birthday party at McDonald’s. As soon as they started the party my 4-year-old threw a huge tantrum! He didn’t want to do anything the other kid’s were doing and was screaming and crying for about 15 minutes. So I decided to leave and my 4-year-old threw himself on the ground while I was trying to get his jacket on. He was crying, screaming, kicking, and hitting me. He doesn’t normally act this way; he is usually extremely laid back. When I was fighting him to get his jacket on, everyone in the restaurant was staring at me in horror. I started to cry, I was so frustrated, and had no idea how to handle the situation. We just went home and I sent him to bed. The party was at 11:00 a.m. so he wasn’t tired. I don’t know what set him off. Please can I have some advice and what to do when this happens to me again. I don’t want to break down and cry in public again. Kimberly

Answer: All I can say is shame on the onlookers! Of course you were frustrated and embarrassed but any mother in that room could have been in your shoes. I plead with everyone who reads this column to remember to offer kind expressions and comforting words to parents of children having tantrums. That goes for birthday parties where we wish things could stay perfectly sweet, shopping malls during the holidays, or grocery store check-out lines when we’re all exhausted and want to get home.

Children have tantrums. It’s a fact of life. Children have tantrums because they do not have the emotional maturity to express everything they feel and the cognitive skills to find more appropriate solutions. Sometimes, they just lose it.

You handled the situation well. Since you cannot reason with a four year old and you did not want to ruin the party experience for others, you chose to leave. You gave your son plenty of time to regroup and he couldn’t. With all the heightened emotions, yours and his, sending him to a quiet room and a soft bed was a perfectly good option. You and he survived – Hooray!

How can you be prepared for the possibility of future tantrums?

  • Watch for all those “positive” stressors in the lives of young children (birthdays, holidays, any change in the normal routine).
  • Teach a vocabulary of emotions (allow children to express anger, confusion, frustration with appropriate words or body language).
  • Don’t try to stop the tantrum once it starts (you can’t and it will only add to your frustration).
  • Throw your child a “lifeline”, a way out of the tantrum (for example, “When you’re finished, we will ___________”).
    When it’s over, it’s over. Let it go.
  • Incorporate problem solving language in your son’s day. For example, “What else can you do when you’re upset?” or “Did you like the way that worked out?”

Public tantrums are the worst. It can be very lonely to feel all those eyes on you but please try to remember no one (NO ONE) has the right to judge you or your child for doing the best you can. Instead, you deserved a helping hand or a friendly voice saying they’d call you later to check on you. Remember, a four-year-old’s tantrum is no reflection of your ability as a mom.

P.S. You might want to check out the “Tantrums” segment on my Parenting Quick Tips CD.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.


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