General Question

xioioix's avatar

How do you deal with a childs meltdown?

Asked by xioioix (92points) October 5th, 2008

I am a first time father and I have a really well behaved 2 year old boy. He has recently started doing the meltdown thing in stores.

Example: In the grocery store he wants to walk without holding my hand. Of course at home in the yard that is fine but, in the grocery store that is not fine. This is followed by crying and sometimes even a little angry “no!”

Sometimes good planning is enough to avoid it.
Sometimes I can talk him down.
Sometimes I can’t.

What I guess I am asking is not how to avoid the meltdown (although that would be great) but, How do you deal with the meltdown once it arrives?

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44 Answers

vote's avatar

One thing that could help to avoid it, is try thinking about any hero, or actor, or personage, which your boy likes a lot. And always, when he is talking about it, or you both look a film/read a book about it, mention to your son: “And X isn’t doing like you do in the store”, or similarly. The trick is, that children like to follow their role model, and if he knows, that the hero he likes does not behave like this, he may stop. Or it would be easier to stop him once the meltdown arrives.
Also, another trick may help, if your beloved one tries to be “the big boy” a lot. Now same like in the first trick, show the examples of big boys, who do not behave like he.
Hope this may help! Good luck.

krose1223's avatar

I read this really interesting article in a parenting magazine once about how to handle meltdowns. I probably won’t be able to explain it as well, but here’s my shot at it. If they are just past the point of reasoning it says to stoop to their level. For example, if your child is throwing a fit because he can’t have a cookie, and I mean a big fit, you mimic him. Ball up your fists get angry and yell with him. Once you start doing this he will snap out of it and that is the time when you can reason with him. “I understand you want the cookie right now, but we have not had dinner yet. You can have the cookie as soon as you eat your dinner.” It says to do this because toddlers are just like adults, we use one side of the brain (I want to say its the right, but I could be wrong.) most of the time, but then as soon as we get too upset it switches to the otherside. At that point all reasoning is thrown out the window. This is why when you get really really angry sometimes, you can’t remember exactly what happened as soon as you come down from it. So when you get down with your child it gets their brain thinking with the orginal side again, and reasoning is again possible.

I haven’t tried this one out yet, and I don’t know if it would be one I want to try out in the grocery store. haha. At home when he has silly little tantrums I just tell him to go in the other room, or I’ll walk away. He knows by now I’ll go love on him as soon as he stops crying. At the store I will just put him in the basket if he decides to be a brat, and the same thing applies. He knows at home I ignore his crying, so he usually doesn’t even bother and gets back on his good behavior. Just like anything else in parenting though, this isn’t 100% fool proof. Sometimes I am trying to get him to quit screaming in the store while everybody stares. I think there are just some tantrums that are unavoildable and uncurable.

Snoopy's avatar

If you are going into a situation and you know what the triggers are, I would talk about it before it might happen….

e.g. If you know your kid tends to act out in public….the next time you go to the store, before you get there talk about how you will be holding his hand, no yelling etc, he won’t get to come next time….make it a privilege to go w/ you.
If this doesn’t happen you absolutely need to be prepared to leave the store w/out finishing your shopping.

It drives me crazy when I see parents walking through a store w/ a screaming kid. Don’t torture everyone else.

If you are fortunate to have a spouse w/ you, just have one of you go to the car w/ the misbehaving kid for the duration of the shopping trip.

We have done this and it has worked wonders. Make no mistake, however, the first time or two you will have to leave the store and/or go to the car while your spouse finishes shopping. It will suck… Noone likes to sit in a car w/ a screming kid.

Good luck

autumn43's avatar

I guess I don’t really have the answer on how to deal with the meltdown so much as how to avoid it…because once it starts, you are bound to feel embarassed, upset and frantic – and want the floor to open up and swallow you. And don’t worry – this too shall pass! and then they become teens!

I would always put my little ones in the grocery cart – even if I was just getting a few things (and no standing in the back – very dangerous!) That way, we could be face to face and talk about things and I would have them hold “special” items if they started to get antsy. Also, it kept them from getting in people’s way, me losing them, or them getting smacked in the head by other people’s carriages. It was not a choice – they were put in the carriage – and eventually came to just realize that was the way. Do you have a grocery store that has those car carts? (obnoxious – but as a parent, I understand the need!)

I always had a list and often times would ask them to hold the list and as they got a little older (3 to 4) I would ask them to find the letters on the list for the items I was looking for.

A two year old feels they are the center of the universe (and they kind of are!) but it’s also important for them to start learning the rules. Maybe a box of raisins to occupy while you shop, or a baggie of goldfish would keep him busy. And he can be told that he needs to behave and will get a sticker (make a chart for such things) if he can make it through the store. Again, two year olds can listen and start to understand, but it’s hard being a little kid! So they get off track sometimes…

I would also make sure that you don’t take your son shopping when he is already cranky, or at a time when he would be napping.

Ignoring the behavior a lot of times will help it stop. I realize you can’t do that in a store very easily, but once children realize they aren’t getting your attention, they might try something else, or at least calm down.

shilolo's avatar

My solution is different. My wife and I read in several books to simply ignore the meltdown. Don’t acknowledge the attention seeking, at all. Don’t even look at him, or try to “calm him down”. Once he learns that he won’t be getting his way, or even getting any attention from you, he will stop. It might be painful to do the first couple of times (it is easier to do at home than in public), but we’ve found that this works.

deaddolly's avatar

Leaving the store immediately and not taking him along next time will help.
He needs to learn that actions have consequences. It’ll be a pain for you; but consistentcy is the key. If you waiver even once it won’t work.

I’ve also seen parents walk away and ignore their child. Course everyone else in the store has to suffer.

Yes, as stated above; this too, shall pass. Wait till school age and he gets more ideas from school friends. And I won’t even mention high school!
With boys especially, it good to get them used to talking about their feelings. IE I know you felt really mad back there, I get mad sometimes too, but we can’t always do the things we want.

My daughter used to cringe when I broke into my rendition of the Stones’
‘you can’t always get want you want’.

Hang in there!

Snoopy's avatar

@Shilolo & Autumn While I respect your choices, I must say I adamantly disagree w/ torturing the rest of us w/ a child screaming who may be in your care.

I am truly not trying to start a battle…this just happens to be one of my personal pet peeves :(

googlybear's avatar

@Snoopy: Having had to ignore my daughter’s meltdowns in public several times, I know that no one likes being tortuted by a child screaming. Remember, though, that the parent(s) is/are also listening to the screaming and that even though they are not reacting, it hurts at least 2X as much as it does to you.

There have been more than a few times where I’ve had to do this because I was alone during the day and needed to get food on the table or needed something else integral for the household…If I truly don’t need things, I would swiftly take them out of the store…

hearkat's avatar

I have left a full cart of groceries and started walking my son towards the exit. When he realized I was serious, he calmed down and we went back and finished shopping.

You must remain calm and in control. You must follow through with your threats and promises. Actions must have predefined consequences, and good behavior must be acknowledged.

I recommend 1–2-3 Magic… I didn’t find out about it until my son was a bit older, so I had to undo some bad habits he and I had developed. My previous paragraph summarizes it in a nutshell. When the misbehavior starts, you tell the child that the behavior is unacceptable and why (if an explanation is needed) and what the consequence will be (if not already established); then if the behavior continues, you calmly say, “That’s 1”, then 2 and 3 if he continues. If you get to 3, you calmly follow through with the consequence. For my son, time-out was for 1 minute per year of age and I’d set the egg timer. If he acted out during time-out, the timer got reset.

By remaining calm and addressing the behavior rather than the child, you remain in control and the authority figure and the problem isn’t personalized.

And I agree with others that with each phase they outgrow, a new one begins!! It’s best to establish your authority now and to maintain consistency from this young age. Good luck to you!

cookieman's avatar

I try not to over complicate this when it comes to my daughter.

Meltdown at home: Gets a time out until she calms down.

Meltdown in public: At the first sign of it, she is instantly removed from the store and brought to the car for a timeout until she calms down.

There is discussion and apologies after she calms down.

But EVERYTHING STOPS until she returns to her usual self. However long that takes.

galileogirl's avatar

The stop now approach worked beautifully with my daughter. There were only 3 times in her life where my daughter went into tantrum mode and just turning on a dime and asserting parental authority really did work.

When she was about 3 we were in the grocery store. We had developed a little routine for shopping where we discussed what we would buy and she would choose something to put in the cart. (not just anything in the store but something from the produce aisle or a kind of soup or cereal, etc) On this particular day she must have been tired because when I asked her to make her choice she went from NO to going kicking and screaming on the floor in an instant. I picked her up by one arm and holding her at arm’s length left the cart behind and waked right out of the store. I got some horrified looks as I carried my little dervish across the parking lot and deposited her in the car. She was quiet by the time we got home but she still spent a time out in her room. That particular behavior never happened again.

autumn43's avatar

@Snoopy – I can’t even think of any meltdowns my kids had when they were little (they are 16 and 18 now and my mind is a little off). I used the tactics I described above. Even I wouldn’t want to subject people to that – so I did something to avoid it – and it worked! Now for teenagers – that is a whole other story… :0)

@hearkat – so right – a child has to know someone is in control. That is why keeping things even keeled and always having a routine helps them. And the 1, 2, 3 Magic does work for when things are heading for a crash!

cookieman's avatar

@galileogirl: You bring up a good point I forgot to mention. The EVERYTHING STOPS tactic only has to be employed a couple of times until they get the message ( at least in my experience).

And there’s the added bonus of not annoying those around you, as Snoopy points out.

Also, my wife does “1, 2, 3, Magic” with my daughter and it works for her.

Which is also a good point: What works for my wife with my daughter doesn’t necessarily work for me.

galileogirl's avatar

Ah teenagers! When my daughter was 12 she gave me the adolescent version-just once. My best friend and I were having a mother/daughter afternoon at the mall. Shopping, a movie and an early dinner at the food court. Of course we were going to different theaters at the multiplex but for some still unknown reason my daughter decided that I needed to stand in line for her ticket. She proceeded to whine and argue and refused to take the money. So I turned to my friend and said sorry but we were going to have to leave (I had driven us all). Without another word we went to the car, drove to my house, dropped my daughter off and then went on to another theater and a restaurant meal. That was the last time my daughter pulled anything in public and my friend said her daughter was suitably impressed too.

maybe_KB's avatar

*Take toys (1–2 favorites)
*Make him laugh in the store
*Do fun stuff like speed up the basket (break the attention on the tantrum)
*snacks (If full he’s prob getting tired…leave room for a snack to enjoy & focus on)

Good parenting to you my friend!
2 yr old behavior varies
It’s gonna happen

*Teach him to start counting and reciting his ABC’s.
Before you know it (seriously) he’ll try and impress you through out the day. He will be counting EVERYTHING!

(RE: The ABC’s you’re definitely gonna hear your fair share…But hey, It’s a great substitute…Right?)

xioioix's avatar

Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your feedback.

cookieman's avatar

Good luck fellow Fluther father.

Darwin's avatar

EVERYTHING STOPS is the method that has worked with the greatest success. My daughter only needed it twice, both grocery store related and both during her two-year-old “No” period. Once when she was having a tantrum I picked her up and simply left the store with her, leaving the basket behind (I did tell one of the stock people where it was so they could get things put away).

The second time she was a bit older, almost three, and instead of having a tantrum she kept kicking my stomach as I pushed the cart. That time I asked her to stop, I told her to stop reminding her that it was the second time, and then I told her if she didn’t stop I would leave without her. When she persisted after the third warning, I walked around the corner into the next aisle leaving her securely buckled into the cart, staying where I could hear her. In a few minutes she said “Mommy, I’m sorry!” so I went back, discussed with her why kicking stomachs is unacceptable and we finished shopping.

She, however, is a relatively normal child (now a teenager who gets a little grumpy and is often forgetful but pretty nice overall).

My son, on the other hand, was a very different kettle of fish. He has been diagnosed with multiple psychological problems that resulted from brain damage at or before birth. When he was little, your child’s age up to about age 5 or so, the best thing to calm him down was to sit down in an isolated place, put him on my lap, and wrap my arms around him, holding him securely until he calmed down. Even at the age of 14 he still has tantrums but they are not as frequent as they used to be. He is physically too big for us to hold him so we still use the EVERYTHING STOPS method or variations thereof.

I have been known to pull the car over for as long as 45 minutes if he wouldn’t fasten his seatbelt even if it meant we would be late to see the latest superhero movie. We have left stores without what we went to buy, including things I was to buy for him. We have gotten as far as the parking lot of a restaurant and turned back to go home if he raises a stink about the choice of cusine (his most recent attempt was (edited for bad language) “I….don’t know why we are going to a…. Italian restaurant. We aren’t even…..Italian! And if….[Daddy] says he used to… there he’s…..lying!”) So we went home and I made spaghetti for dinner.

I have even made him get out of the truck and walk home when his anger was distracting me as the driver so our safety was an issue (usually only about 1/2 mile from the house). I explained it to him briefly at the time, and then we discussed it later after he was calm.

He has been hospitalized and there he has had to have been restrained a few times. Otherwise, putting him in a featureless room (the old “padded cell”) and locking him in works. A home variation of this for a two-year-old is the time out in a boring corner for 1 minute per year of age.

With the typical kid I agree with what others have said:

Do not shop during nap time.

Do not shop when he is hungry.

Do not shop if he is particularly out of sorts that day.

Get him to “help” you (should we buy this cereal or this cereal? Can you pick out two lemons for me? Please hold my shopping list. What color are those apples? and so on.)

Let him bring a special toy he only gets to have during shopping and then only if he is behaving.

Pretend the cart is a race car or a fire engine or whatever his interest is and make the full sound effects (yes, folks will think you are crazy but he will love it).

Tell him before you go in simple words what his reward will be for behaving and make sure he knows that a tantrum means he won’t get it.

Good luck! Enjoy him while he is small – it goes by very quickly.

xioioix's avatar

@Darwin ”(yes, folks will think you are crazy but he will love it)” – He will love it? hell, I love it,at least now I have a reason : )

@EVERYONE that has promoted the “everything stops” method. THANK YOU, I have been doing this and was basically starting to wonder if this was really a long-term discipline strategy or just a short term fix. Your comments have eased my mind : )

Darwin's avatar

@xioioix – Trust me, everything stops works wonders on the typical kid. I just have to hint about it when my daughter is starting to do a teenage version of flying off the handle and bam! she’s back to normal.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Mine are 22 and 19, and we used “everything stops” when they were little. We’ve also left relatives homes and gone home during meltdowns. When they get a little bit older, I found that setting expectations beforehand helped, and I would give them tasks, or we would play I Spy in the grocery.

“In this family…” is also a good technique to instruct kids. “Members of the Prufrock family do not chew with their mouth open.” “Prufocks always share cookies with their friends.” You get the idea. It sets a code of expected family behavior.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I will say that in general kids act up when they’re tired, hungry, confined, or in situations that are not kid friendly. It’s often easier on everyone to just fold up and go home. Try again some other time. We’ve left Christmas dinner at relatives without kids because it was just going to fall apart. (The people who were there talked about what good parents we are, and how great our kids are for years.)

Starting at about age 3–4, I kept a small bag in the car filled with crayons, paper, small games, cards, pocket sized toys, etc. that we called “the waiting bag.” When it looked like we would have to wait somewhere, we took the bag in with us.

Darwin's avatar

The “waiting bag” is a good idea. We had bags like that that I used for long plane and car trips. I would make up a new one for each child before each trip and then reveal it once everyone was buckled up and ready to go. It made them look forward to those terrible hours stuck in an airplane or a car.

jvgr's avatar

You say that handholding in the grocery store is a must do.

What is your concern such that handholding is the way to alleviate the concern?
Is it the only way to alleviate your concern?
Is there, perhaps, an alternative that might provide his feeling a bit more independence without comprising your concern for his safety?

We all seek to be independent.
Children more than adults, because its one way they can evaulate their achievements

I wouldn’t at all compare this situation with an occasion when a child has a meltdown because you won’t buy them something.

I’d start to look for solutions that meet both of your needs.
This will also help you as he gets older and your physical control virtually disappears
I know the easiest is the handhold, because you can do your shopping and keep your eyes on task knowing the hand contact gives you assurance about your child.

Having children is a time consuming task.

xioioix's avatar

@jvgr I think in your attempt to dig deeper into the question you have missed the point.

jvgr's avatar

@xioioix: You described in detail the grocery store situation. You said you can manage these meltdowns at home (w/o any description surrounding these home meltdowns), therefore your question is regarding meltdowns in public places. Since you didn’t elucidate any other public place examples, I can’t make any assumptions. My suggestion was to re-think what your objectives are (ie hand holding in the store) and perhaps find another way to satisfy your needs that gives your child a bit more freedom in the store

If you meant to say you can deal with the meltdowns at home, but in public he has meltdowns totally unrelated to anything you do, you could have said that. The example you gave suggested otherwise..

BTW don’t be surprised if, at one of these occasions, you find a stranger running toward you, kneeling down and asking your son “Do you know this man?”

hearkat's avatar

@jvgr: I understand your point to try to find was to prevent the meltdown in the first place. For example, as an alternative to hand-holding, my son (when he was about 4) was allowed to hold on to the grocery cart instead of my hand.

We can not control our children, and I decided early on that it would be better for me and him if that process occurred gradually and naturally as he developed more skills and demonstrated the ability to handle responsibility. Not only did he earn the right to make decisions that many of his friends were dictated what to do; but it also meant that he had the additional responsibilities of caring for himself and his own things, such as doing his own laundry since he was 10. At the time, he hated the “chore” aspect but liked his independence… now at 17, with friends whose mommies still clean up after them, he sees that it was ALL about him developing independence.

xioioix's avatar

jvgr wow….let me try this again. You previous answer was a great one, to a question I did not ask.

Now you response on the other hand is a angry, defensive and eventually highly offensive. It is a debate style entry that picks my question apart with therefore’s and id est’s.

I was under the impression that we are here to help each other as a community. Am I in the right place?

jvgr's avatar

xioioix: not angry, defensive. Your first response that I missed the point may be correct, but your description helped me get there.

heartkat also addressed your question from the same perspective as I did; independence. Kids can have meltdowns for all kinds of reasons. There is no one suggestion to fit all.

the BTW at the end is a serious FYI. I’ve been in a few situations when an unappeased daughter caught the attention of someone who believed I was abducting a child. Not at all suggesting you would do anything to cause this (as I didn’t). I don’t know, but I do suspect that male parents are more likely to find themselves in this situation.

Ryanmiller's avatar

I have twin boys and once one is not happy and throwing a fit the other one does too. I have absolutly not idea why they do but they do. So when they have their little fits and were not in a public place i just throw one right back. They eventually get tired of it and quite. If i am in a public place i just ignore it and stay calm. This lets them know that their fit isnt phasing you and makes you look like a good parent to those around you because you keep your cool. i hope that helps!

PSUMFT's avatar

I say choices are the best way to handle the meltdown and also to prevent it. you mentioned that he gets upset about holding your hand. You can ask him if he wants to hold your hand or be carried by you (or put in the cart if one is available). I wouldn’t give a 2 year old more than 2 choices though and make sure that you are prepared to follow through with whichever choice he picks – so be mindful of what you offer. I used to prepare a shopping list for my son when he was 2 and 3 by cutting out photos of certain grocery items and pasting them on a piece of paper and we made it like a treasure hunt in the store. He stayed busy and I got my shopping done. I agree that you should make sure your son knows that it is a privilege to go to the store with you. Ignoring the behavior works well, but if you are out in public, that is nearly impossible. I’ve ignored meltdowns in public before by simply giving a warning that the yelling, tantruming, etc. must stop by the count of 5 or the shopping trip is over. Then be prepared to pick him up and leave. Follow through is SO critical in parenting and I’ve seen so many parents give in because of embarrassment or because they can’t stand to see their kids experiencing any discomfort. Check out: for some great parenting tools. Good luck! You seem like a great daddy! Your son is lucky to have you.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

generally when my toddler has a meltdown whether it’s at home or outside, I put him against the wall or the staircase making sure he puts two hands in front of him so that he’s focused…he’s learned this means that nothing will happen until he stops crying and the sheer boredom of it tires him out quickly…once he’s out of ‘tantrum zone’, we talk and before i go to that store again, i remind him that he better not d what he did before or we wont go and i have to have him agree to not do it or he wont get something he wants later… he does forget this later when hewants the thing/activity but then we have second convo reminding why he didnt get it…he learns this way and doesnt repeat it

larsalan's avatar

Tell them to fetch a switch.

marcosthecuban's avatar

the good news is that there lots of good training materials out there; please don’t rely on fluther stranger’s random thots for something this important!

the parenting with love and logic materials are solid and have worked for me:

autumn43's avatar

These were not all random thoughts. Most of us gave advice from our experiences. And really, that is the best way to figure out what to do sometimes. Take some of this and some of that and make it work for you.

Parenting is a neverending learning experience. No book could possibly cover every experience/episode/situation. It has certainly helped me to hear how other parents have dealt with things. Especially now that my children are teenagers.

marcosthecuban's avatar

oops. i meant mine was a random thot.

meadowmuffinbluez's avatar

My daughter had a meltdown once when I took her shopping at Walmart because I wouldn’t let her have a toy she wanted. She went NUTS. I grabbed her, left my cart and drove her home. She was more upset that she couldn’t go shopping with me than the toy lust..

She did that a total of twice before she clued in that that nonsense doesn’t work with me. LOL

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

GA @Darwin

Everything stops is inconvienent to the parent but its the price you pay if you want to nip this significant problem in the bud.

It’s also a courtesy to the ears of those around you in public, something you’ll want your child to learn if you want him or her to become a member of polite society.

Val123's avatar

Ignoring is a very under rated and under utilized tool. For one, it’s hard to do, especially when they’re screaming bloody murder. Just try to go to your “happy place”! In public, I think people are embarrassed that their kids are acting like that, and feel they need to “do something,” and the attention, even if it’s negative, just makes it worse.
When my daughter was about two she had her first public temper tantrum. She threw herself on the floor and started wailing. Her dad and I glanced at each other, and without a word we both disappeared and peeked out at her from around a corner. After a moment she opened her eyes, looked around in surprise, shrugged her shoulders like, “Well, THAT was pointless. I don’t have an audience!” and got up…and I don’t remember her ever doing it again….

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. If it were my kid and I knew the chance of a melt down, blow up etc in the store was more than 5% I would tell my son “We are going to the store, now you have the choice, either I hold your hand, I don’t hold your hand and you ride in the shopping cart, or I don’t hold your hand and you wear a tether, or you will just have to stay at “blah blah’s” house” (someone I know he never has fun at and don’t care to go to) Let him make up the choice and tell him there is no changing his mind once we leave the driveway.

Nullo's avatar

My folks always stressed the importance of not caving.
Kids tend to make scenes. People know this, and if they’re at all human, they’ll be sympathetic.


My s/o and I do the traditional Asian method of handling melt-downs——first, you shower your child with lots of unconditional love, build a strong, two-way loving relationship with your child, then, when your child misbehaves, you show how much you are hurt and disappointed by his/her behavior, so that he/she feels ashamed and guilty of misbehaving. Another thing we do is to tell the misbehaving child that everyone is looking and making fun of him/her, and that he/she better stop or else the police/monster/wild animal/dangerous criminal is going to come and take you away from us. That always worked with my children. A lot of Japanese/Chinese parents use these two techniques to great effect, but you need to make the child feel really loved and bond with him/her well first, before applying the “separation anxiety” techniques. Lol.

Inspired_2write's avatar

I can only tell you that in my instance and observation was that most kids meltdown because they think that they are not heard etc
I made it a point to look directly (eye level) into there eyes when calmly talking with not at them.
Most times I found out that they had a different agenda or expectation of where or what they were going to do.
I made a point of not raising my normal voice but instead stayed level headed ( much like a Grandparent would in soothing a child..if you notice).
Become gentle in handling them and soft in your voice and they will tone down since they cannot hear what you are saying unless they too calm down.
Worked everytime!

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