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12th Oct 2019

Dreading public tantrums? This Montessori-approved tactic might just help

Trine Jensen-Burke

Anyone who has ever been in posession of a toddler will no doubt know that there is nothing like that first public tantrum to make you wonder if you actually will ever be able to leave your house again.

No, really, trust me.

Having survived two children through their toddler years, let me tell you that when it comes to public tantrums, I have been there, done that – and carried a screaming child surfboard-style out of shops more times than I can recount.

Tantrums, I think, are just young children’s way of dealing with big emotions, and the less we let ourselves be scared of these outbursts and worried what other people will think, the more cool, calm and in control we will feel when they happen.

But it’s not easy, I know. Remaining zen when you find yourself in the middle of the M&S Food Hall on a Sunday afternoon, amid five million other shoppers, and you have to haul your screaming toddler out from under the dairy counter, well, that is a sanity test you thought you would never encounter.

However, tantrums are a pretty unavoidable part of parenting, but how you handle them can make a big difference. After that whole M&S Food Hall situation a couple of years back (yep, it happened) to a Montessori teacher-friend of mine, who is a mum-of-three herself, I feel like I have to share the tip she gave me, because it really has helped me so much since.

3-step method

The most important thing to do when your child is starting to throw a tantrum, my friend said, is communicate that you know they are angry/upset/tired/overwhelmed and that feelings are perfectly OK – in other words that it is safe to feel what they are feeling, and that you are there for them.

Learning how to deal with public tantrum is a learning curve, she told me, as it also means, to an extent, learning to become more tolerant yourself and less concerned about what others think.

As for dealing with the actual tantrum, here are my friend’s Montessori-approved 3-step tactic:

1. Assess the situation

Quickly scan your child and try to determine how severe the situation is – could you still diffuse the tantrum with a cuddle or possibly distract your child with a little game or a snack?

2. Find a safe space

If, however, the tantrum is escalating, and there is no stopping it, then your best bet is to try to find a place where you can be a little bit private, like a quiet corner of the shop. Remain calm – remember, a child in the middle of throwing a tantrum can not think clearly and calm down. Children’s brains are not developed like adults’ brains, they can’t regulate their emotions the same way we can. It is hard, but avoid anger, instead, explain that you will just go somewhere to be alone for a little bit.

3. Validate how they are feeling

Learning how to regulate emotions and how to communicate something is a learning process, and young children’s brains are not capable of this yet. So your best bet is to be the calm in their storm – and let them know it is perfectly OK to feel big feelings, and that you will always be there to help them through it. Use the aftermath of a tantrum to not only model kindness and undertanding, but also to talk about feelings and how we all have them, and how talking and using your words is a good thing.