Article Title
Dealing With Public Tantrums 
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Dealing with tantrums, particularly with a special needs child, is never an easy task for a parent, and can stretch your patience and parenting skills to the extreme. The best way to deal with a child tantrum is to prevent it from happening, so here are some tips and suggestions.

The three stages of the tantrum are:

  • Pre-tantrum build up (escalation)
  • Full blown Meltdown
  • Post-tantrum cool down

All kids go through each of these stages in different ways, but if you can re-direct, distract, or calm them down during the pre-tantrum escalation stage, you can avoid the tantrum and begin to teach your child other ways of expressing anger, frustration, or disappointment.

The old expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” fits this very nicely. Your goal, as a parent, is to teach your children how to handle emotions, frustrations, and disappointments is a positive and constructive way. The tantrum is a child’s natural expression of need or desire and started at a time when they were unable to communicate at all. Some kids with special needs are still at that stage, so learning effective ways to re-direct is very important.

Behavior Serves a Purpose
You need to remember that behavior serves a purpose. You child is throwing a tantrum for a reason, so if you can figure out what the child really needs or wants as a result, you will be able to figure out how to teach your child a better way of asking! If you give in, even occasionally, to your child’s tantrum you have just taught them it is an acceptable way of getting what they want. And children repeat successful behavior. You may keep the peace for the moment, but you aren’t doing your child or yourself any favors. And embarrassing as a public tantrum is, keep in mind that yours isn’t the only child in the whole wide world that does it, in fact, despite the looks you get from others, I would propose that it is rare indeed, the child who has never thrown a full-fledged tantrum out in public.

Public Tantrum Solution?
Well, yes, it can be embarrassing and even humiliating for you as the parent, but only if you CHOOSE it to be. Say what? Yes, you heard me, only if you choose to be embarrassed. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” - Eleanor Roosevelt. And likewise, no one can make you embarrassed or humiliated without your permission. So don’t let them. You decide that teaching your child socially acceptable behavior in a positive and supporting manner is MUCH more important than the stares of a people with nothing better to do. You do not have to explain yourself, nor are you required to explain or make excuses for your child. “She’s autistic,”or “He didn’t get his medication,”or “She has bipolar disorder” is not necessary, required, or even recommended. It is truly none of their business!

A Caveat
Now I must mention the caveat to the above paragraph. You must be using, teaching, and coaching your child using positive behavior techniques, and not the 1950’s Dr. Spock version of spare the rod and spoil the child. Using those types of approaches in public these days will get you sent to the slammer! There are plenty of people out there with NO lives of their own, so they feel they must involve themselves in yours. Well meaning? Usually. Productive? Not. Helpful? Rarely.

Intermittently Reinforced Behavior
The hardest behavior to correct is the one that has been rewarded, or allowed, on an inconsistent or intermittent basis. Think about it. The child threw a fit because they wanted a piece of candy in the store and to keep the peace you gave in. The next three or four times you did not give in to the child, but were probably forced to leave the store! So the 5th time you give in once more vowing never to do it again. However, you have reinforced that behavior more than once, so to the child, they figure all they have to do is keep it up and eventually you will cave in to what they want. And so they do. It will take you at least twice as long to break that one, than if you had just given all the time.

Give In?
So you should just give in all the time and keep the peace, right? NO. Absolutely not. You could solve a current situation with that approach, but you are not doing the child, yourself, or anyone around the child any favors. You are reinforcing bad behavior. You are telling your child it is OK to act this way to get what they want. So, you should be consistent, and firm to teach your child the way you want them to behave. Behavior serves a purpose, a function and is done for a reason. If you do not allow improper behavior to work (i.e. giving in) they will eventually (please note this word) stop and find another way to get what they want. If it worked, even once, they will use the hope and apply principle and keep trying it over and over again.

So to wrap up this section before we get into preventative tips we learned:

  • Your child (and you!) are more important than what others around you think
  • No one can make you feel ANYTHING without your permission, so don’t let them
  • Be Consistent (the number one tip for every parent!)
  • Reinforce the behavior you want the child to have - not the bad behavior. (Don’t give in even once!)

Next time, we will talk about some ideas, tips and suggestions for preventing a meltdown and redirecting your child away from the escalation stage to something else.

Judson Greenman, author, webmaster, advocate and father of four very special girls and started these websites as a way of sharing the things that he has learned, experienced and discovered about Raising Special Kids – one parent to another. To find out more, please visit and 
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