Top 10 Battles: Tantrums at the Store

Top 10 Battles: Tantrums at the Store


Yikes! You are in the checkout line and your toddler is screaming as if you are trying to kill him. Everyone is looking at you. You could have sworn you saw someone shake their head in utter reproach. To make matters worse, you picked the slowest line!

Tantrums are a very normal part of growing up. In fact, you should be alarmed if your child has never had a tantrum! However there are techniques you can use to reduce your child’s tantrums, eventually teaching your little prince or princess how to cope when they do not get their way.


Keep your child busy by bringing a small toy or stuffed animal from home. Older children can help you look for items in the store. Also, it’s not a good idea to shop right before naptime or when your child is hungry. And before you go into the store, explain the ground rules: “Today we are not getting any toys.” Or, “If you are a good boy in the store you can have a cookie when we are done!”


Even when you set your child up for success, tantrums can still occur. The way you intervene depends on why your child is engaging in a tantrum. Tantrums occur when the child cannot express himself, when he is hungry, tired, or just bored. However, most of the time, tantrums occur because your child wants something. This is the type of tantrum we will focus on in this article.

First of all, have some confidence! Act like you know what you are doing. Body language says a lot to your child (and those onlookers). Lift that chin up and pull those shoulders back. Speak to your child calmly and lovingly. Also, repeat what your child wants so he knows you understand him. For example, if he wants some plastic toy (that you know he will forget about as soon as he gets home) say, “I know, you want a toy! But sorry, no toy today.” You can even remind him that he has toys at home. The key phrase is, “Sorry, not today.” Repeat it one more time if you need to, and then proceed to ignore the whining. Don’t worry about the onlookers. Your child is your concern not theirs. But if your child gets really loud, take him to a more private place such as the bathroom until he calms down. You might even need to pick him up and take him outside, or go home. Trust me, the inconvenience of leaving is worth it because you are teaching your child a valuable lesson. If you are consistent, the meltdowns will diminish considerably.

Most kids only need to be told no followed by mom or dad actually following through a few times before they get the idea that no means no. Once your child truly believes that you will stick to your guns, she will stop wasting her precious energy trying to change your mind!

I believe it’s best to completely ignore the tantrum and engage with your child after he or she calms down, but it’s OK to comfort your child during the tantrum if you really feel the need to.  Just don’t give too much attention or tantrums can become a weapon your child uses when he wants attention.

What not to do: Don’t shout or get angry. Losing control teaches your child that it is OK to lose control.

Don’t negotiate. Remember, a tantrum should not result in anything good for your child. Some children perceive negotiation as you giving in, and this can reinforce your child’s behavior.    

Don’t give in. Obviously, if you give in to your child when he has a tantrum, you are teaching him that if he tantrums he will get what he wants.

One of the main tenets of ABA is that a person will not continue engaging in a behavior that does not serve a purpose for them.

Therefore, if your child tantrums and you give in, then tantrums “work” for your child. As long as tantrums work, your child will use them to get what they want.

If your child has a meltdown but you do not give in, then your child will realize that having a meltdown does not result in mommy or daddy giving them what they want. And eventually, they will stop.

Realize that you are not being mean when you say no, or set rules. On the contrary you are teaching your child that you are consistent and responsible. And your child will learn that you can be trusted.

Also, make sure you are having fun with your child throughout the day and you won’t feel like a meanie when you have to say “no.” And don’t say “no” to everything, that way when you do, your child will know you mean business.