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What to Do When Your Child Melts Down In Public Places?


We’ve all been there. We’re out having fun, everything is going just fine and then suddenly, out of nowhere, your child has a meltdown.

You’ve dealt with them before but your child having an emotional outburst in public is just ten times worse. You feel ashamed, embarrassed and judged by others for something you haven’t done.

Just take comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone and that meltdowns are completely normal and for young kids.


Why do kids have a meltdown?

If parents want to learn how to manage their children during a meltdown, they’ll have to understand what their child is experiencing and what’s driving their behaviour.

It’s useful to think of a meltdown as a reaction to a situation that a child cannot handle in a more mature, grown-up way.  They usually happen because a child feels fear, anger, frustration, sadness, a sensory overload or a mixture of all these things. It can be very difficult for a child to handle all the emotions at once.

Since young children have a limited vocabulary and are just beginning to learn how to control their emotions, they act out by crying, yelling, throwing things, kicking the floor, punching the wall, biting others or sometimes even hitting their parents.


How to handle a meltdown in public?

Just because meltdowns are natural doesn’t mean that they have to happen. Here are five sure-fire ways to prevent them from happening:

  1. Validate your child’s perspective or emotions.

You might not think getting a balloon or a lollipop is a good enough reason to kick and scream but it may seem like the right reaction to your child. Try to understand that little things to you may mean big things to them and that their emotions are coming from a source of distress.


  1. Know the triggers.

If your child starts acting out when they are hungry or sleepy, then those are your child’s triggers. Try to know what triggers your child so you can manage and plan accordingly before things turn into a full-blown meltdown.


  1. Try to stay cool.

This may be a hard one when you’re feeling awkward, embarrassed and uncomfortable with the way your child is behaving in public. However, it is of utmost importance to remain calm and collected when your child is going through an emotional outburst. This will help you learn how to regulate their own emotions when dealing with hard situations and will also help your child calm down.


  1. Try to distract them.

If you can sense that your child is about to have a meltdown, (most parents can) then think of ways to distract them from their mounting emotions. It could be by giving them a small job to do, making a joke or showing them something new. This will divert their attention and may prevent them from having a tantrum in public.


  1. Give your undivided attention before leaving the house.

Sometimes, a meltdown is simply a cry for attention that your child is craving from you. So try to build a connection with them and give them your total attention before you leave your home. Talk to them, listen to them, play with them and let them know that you value spending time with them. Once they feel that you’re connected, there’ll be less of a chance to seek that attention through a meltdown when you’re out in public.



What You Can Do Next

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About the Founder

Internationally Recognised Emotional Literacy & Mindfulness Expert Tenille Bentley is the founder of The Emotional Literacy and Mindfulness Academy and the author of the children’s emotional literacy books with Jazzy and Pinky and The Energy Ball. Giving children a wonderful introduction to understanding their emotions and what do with them.

Tenille has been featured on Channel 9 News and other major outlets. Her work has been recognised in the community by The Governor of Western Australia, The Prime Minister of Australia and Australian Financial Review.

As a child she experienced severe anxiety and emotional traumas as well as bullying which left her feeling isolated, and unable to understand why she was feeling the way she did. As an adult this impacted her ability to make healthy decisions because she didn’t have the tools to understand her emotions. 

Which is why she is passionate about equipping parents with the tools to support their children to make better decisions in life and healthy ones to help support and create a balanced home life.