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6 Ways to Avoid a Public Meltdown

July 11, 2013 | by Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP

With a little forethought, lots of empathy and a good babysitter, they can be prevented.

There is nothing worse than having to deal with a child who meltdowns in a public place. It can bring even the most stalwart parent to their knees. All eyes seem to be on you and it is just so embarrassing.

Not to worry. Here are six ways to help you avoid a public meltdown.

1. Recognize lousy conditions

Kids are more likely to act out, misbehave and meltdown, when they are tired, hungry or feeling overwhelmed. Don't take your child on just one more errand at the end of a long day, or to the park before they have had their lunch. Many young children have a certain time of the day where they are more prone to misbehave, whine and tantrum. Being in tune with your child’s rhythm can go along way in preventing unwanted behavior.

It may also seem like a no-brainer to avoid taking your child to fancy restaurants, to your friend who has white carpet or your cousins wedding. However, many parents that I talk to have been pressured by well-meaning relatives to do just that. What to do? Be firm and kind, “I know it is important to have Mikey at the anniversary party, but I’m truly sorry it’s not going to work out.”

2. Isolate Triggers

Don’t just throw up your hands and label children who throw a tantrum as bratty; parents need to think about the possible causes and triggers. Many kids are more susceptible to meltdowns because they are sensitive to loud noises, crowds, extra bright lights, unfamiliar surroundings, changing activities to quickly, new foods, strange smells, sitting too long, moving too much, seams in their socks, tags in their clothing. Knowing what sets your child off can help you avoid it in the future. Having this knowledge can go a long way in preventing meltdowns in public and in private.

3. Be prepared and give them jobs

If you’re going to the doctor’s office or shoe store and you know you might have a long wait, make sure to bring along some small toys and games to help your kids manage the delay. Coloring books, crayons, and snacks can keep the meltdowns at bay.

You can even get your kids involved in the planning: “Sometimes there is a long line at the doctor’s office, what can we bring to help us keep busy as we wait?”

It is also good to give kids jobs to keep them busy. You can give your son a child-friendly camera and assign him as the family photographer when you go to the zoo. At the pizza store, let each child know what they will be responsible for, getting the drinks, ordering the pizza, giving out the napkins and the straws.

At the park, the child who has the hardest time leaving can be responsible for letting his siblings know that they will be going in 5 minutes.

4. State your expectations

Kids like to know what to expect and they might not know how to behave in any given place. They do not know that at a restaurant they’ll need to stay at the table for the duration of the meal or at a wedding they’ll need to sit still for pictures. Let your kids know the rules and limits.

“We need to leave the park at 3pm. I will let you know when we have 10 minutes left and then 5 minutes left. At 3pm everyone needs to be ready to go.” “You can each pick one snack when we are in the supermarket.” “We will spend 15 minutes in the museum store and you may have $5 to spend there.” “You’ll need to sit at the table for 5 minutes and then you can go play with your friends.”

5. Empathy

Talking to your kids with empathy can go a long way in preventing a meltdown. When your child says, "Why do we have to leave the park? I don't want to go!" We can deny their feelings and start a power struggle: “You always give me problems when it is time to leave. When I say it’s time to go, it is time to go.”

Or we can answer them in an empathetic manner and a firm reminder of our limit/rule: “Sounds like you're sad about leaving. You wish you could stay. It’s 3 o’clock and it is time for us to go home.”


When we use empathy before we state our rule, we are showing our kids that we understand how they feel. We are letting them know that sometimes rules are hard to follow but you have confidence in them that they can comply. This can go a long way in avoiding power struggles and ultimately that public meltdown.

6. Get a babysitter

Do you enjoy taking your kids to the supermarket? Most mothers don’t. So don’t take them. Hiring a babysitter for the hour or waiting for your spouse to get home so you can go yourself removes the possibility of a public meltdown. There are times that’s the best option to take.

Public meltdowns are hard to handle, but with a little forethought, lots of empathy and a good babysitter, they can be avoided.




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