Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Rules For Going Out With My Children or How I Try Really Hard to Avoid Temper Tantrums in Public (Mine & the Kids)

Whew! Long title, I know. And, just so you know, I broke my own rules today. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Way back when I mentioned this topic in a list of topics that I thought I'd write about. I went back and forth in whether or not I'd actually write this one.

Because, I am not an expert. I don't always succeed in my attempts. As a matter of fact, I often fail miserably. And, I don't want to sound like a 'know it all'.

But, as I kept going back and forth in my mind I pretty much ended up writing this post in my mind anyway. And, when I've got something basically written in my head, I have to get it out or it will drive me wacky.

So, here's what I'm gonna do. I will share with you some things that have worked for me over the years. Every family, every child, every situation is different. But, here are some general rules I try to follow to try to avoid public temper tantrums with my children. (And, as I mentioned, I broke my own rules today...but more on that at the end.)

1. We usually only go out in the morning. There have been exceptions to this rule, but as a general rule of thumb, any errands I have to run, any appointments I need to make for myself or the children I try to schedule between the hours of 9-12. That puts us back at the house in time for lunch and naps. As the boys are getting older, there's been more flexibility in this. But, when they are small, this is has been key.

2. I keep my time out to a minimum. Generally speaking, the kids are good for an hour or maybe two. Depending on the length of my errands that might equal 2-3 errands max. If I try to fit too many more in then me and the kids are both weary of the in and out of the van dance (having multiple children in car seats is exhausting).

3. I watch my kids for signals that they are about to top out. There have been times we haven't made it to that last errand I had planned because I can tell my children have already reached their limit. Rather than push it, we go home. I have also been out with them on playdates and have suddenly played Cinderella and (seemingly) rushed off. It's because I can sense the drama that's about to ensue unless I get them home. I try to avoid reaching the melt-down stage.

4. I try to give my children an idea of what they can expect that day. When I worked in child care there was one mom in particular who was in my office if there was any kind of change looming in the day care's calendar (class parties, new teachers, etc.). She wanted to know the details so she could prepare her child. We certainly shared these details with the parents through newsletters and the like, but she was always there to follow up and to make sure she was giving her child the right information.

At the time I thought this was a bit excessive. But, now, I kinda get it. If I can tell my children basically what it is that we are going to do that day, they might still whine and complain. But, as long as I stick with that basic agenda they like to know what's going on. (On that note - be careful about changing or adding to the agenda. Not that our children should rule over the day's events, but even as adults we don't always like to be hit up with surprises when we have ourselves set up for things to go one way and they go a different way.)

5. We don't go out every day. This relates back to fact that I am a homebody. I'd often rather be at home than out 'running around' anyway. And, my children are an awful lot like me. Many times they'd just rather stay home. As a matter of fact, yesterday Charlie asked me where we were going when he saw me put on my coat to check the mail. When I told him we were staying home that day he had a look of relief and said, 'Oh good!'

Again, everyone is different. Some people, and some children thrive on being out and about. And, they would be miserable if they stayed home the majority of the time. So, for them, this rule might not be realistic.

6. When the meltdown does happen (because sometimes it will), stay as calm as you can and get home as quickly as you can. My one son went through a phase where he completely freaked out anytime we went to the doctor or the dentist. It was an anxiety issue for him, but it didn't make it any less embarrassing for me. He would refuse to get on the scales, or sit on the exam table. He'd try to run away. He'd scream. He'd cry. He'd thrash about.

In that particular situation there was very little I could do. It's not like I could just leave. He HAD to have doctor visits. Fortunately my doctor and dentist were always very understanding. Often times they'd just have to take him from me and send me to another room. But, in this particular instance I just had to wait out the phase he went through. (I also started having my husband take him to a couple appointments, because he wouldnt' do the same thing when daddy was around.)

But, if it IS somewhere you can leave, then it's probably easier than trying to deal with the meltdown in public.

7. Try not to let disapproving looks get to you. My one friend and I lament that it seems people would much rather glare at a mom struggling with a misbehaving child than do something to assist let her in front of them in line, or offer to help carry her bags to the car. I think often people don't know what to do or if they SHOULD offer to help, so they stare.

In the same way, Ineed try to remember to have that same grace when I see a mom in the same situation.


So, I mentioned that I broke my own rules today. I realized I needed another ingredient for the Chicken Tortilla Soup I'm making tonight. Plus we were out of milk. So, I decided we'd make a quick run to the store right up the road. (Broke rule #4 - this was not part of our day's original agenda).

When we got to the store an announcement came over the intercom that there was a large number of clearance items in a particular area of the store. And, we were right beside that area! I decided just to 'quickly' check and see what they had. (Broke Rule #4 and Rule #2).

As we were looking around at the clearance items I ran into another mom from church so we started chatting a bit. Then, when I did return to looking at the merchandise, Charlie was beginning to whine & become antsy, but I kept 'quickly' looking. (Broke Rule #3).

By the time I actually finished getting the few items we actually came for and went to the checkout the lines were completely clogged and we had to wait a really long time to check out. I talked them through it but we were dangerously close to Rule #6.

So there you have it - what works for me (and sometimes doesn't work for me). None of us are perfect. Our kids aren't perfect. And I DO believe children have to learn how to behave out in public, so we can't keep them completely shut away.

What has worked for you to avoid public temper tantrums? And, what works for you if that temper tantrum happens anyway?


  1. hi Karen - I love this list!! All of these strategies worked really well when my kids were little too - they did great (and still do better now) when they knew what the plan was each day ... routines are key for us! Another thing that we still do to this day (they're 9 and 12 now) is that we make every effort to never ever overschedule ourselves - downtime STILL means everything to them - without it, they'd be fried! Great post!!

  2. Oh I sooo agree with Sloan! Down time is key. Sometimes more for the mommies right??:)
    Have a happy day

  3. I had to laugh at #4...I do the opposite! I give my son as little information as possible...b/c if I told him we were going to Walmart, the bank AND the post office...he wouldn't get in the van! :) He likes being home the I have always tried to do some errands without him. I agree...downtime is the key.
    I found a blog today that I thought you might enjoy. She is a homeschooling mom to FOUR boys!

  4. Those rules sound very familiar. We try to do a similar routine. Although sometimes you DO just have to go out and get that one thing (or two) and be ready and hope for the best!

  5. Great advice... just wanted to stop by and throw you some blog love


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