Fuss Management: Planning Ahead to Prevent Tantrums

There’s no sure cure for young children’s public temper tantrums. But some simple steps can reduce the chances that your toddler or preschooler will “pitch a fit” when you run errands together.

Go on “practice” outings and errands with your child.

  • Have pretend outings at home to help your child know what you expect of her. Play “riding the bus,” “getting groceries,” “having a check-up.”
  • Go on short, simple outings as practice for longer trips. Introduce basic ideas: “Look, don’t touch.” “Stay next to me.” “Notice what’s around us.” Such practice trips can be especially helpful to very active or impulsive children.
  • Remind your child, “I’m helping you learn how to run errands.”

Plan errands and other outings with your child’s needs in mind.

  • Sometimes a child should not go with you. Let him stay with a trusted caregiver, if you can, when he is ill, his meals or naps will be disrupted, or he is likely to feel overwhelmed at the place you are going to.
  • Pack wisely. You may need:
    • healthy snacks and drinks
    • comfort items-a blanket, books, or small toys (avoid items that easily get away, such as balls)
    • a list of songs your child enjoys
    • learning activity kits (see the Tip Sheets in the “Things to Do While You’re Waiting” series for ideas)
    • a change of clothes in case of spills or accidents
  • Tell your child what to expect. Be brief but clear: “We have two things to do-get groceries and mail the bills. We’ll be home for lunch.” “After your eye exam, I’ll take you to child care.”
  • Let your child make choices: “Will you ride in the cart, or walk by me?” “Do you want to sing a song or hear the radio?” “What do you want to see first-seals or elephants?”

Prepare yourself.

  • Be ready to divide your time between “taking care of business” and interacting with your children. A few minutes of positive attention can go a long way.
  • Some experts suggest that parents not reward children for good behavior on outings because they believe that having a pleasant time is its own reward and that rewards can lead to frustration. Decide your “reward policy” and be ready to stick to it!
  • Ask the pediatrician about motion sickness if your child often complains of stomach upset, headache, or unusual tiredness when traveling.