Temper Tantrums: How to Handle a Screaming Child

By Aprel Phelps-Downey ·

You’re eating dinner when it happens. A fork flies across the table. The culprit is your screaming child in the throes of a temper tantrum. You’re at a restaurant, and everyone is now staring at you. Panic sets in and you don’t know whether to run or hide under the table.

Sound familiar?

Temper tantrums are never fun. Your child is crying and you’re probably wondering if you’ll ever be able to go out in public again within the next ten years. That’s why it’s important to have a plan of action for future meltdowns. Consider these tips for a fighting chance at surviving your child’s next temper tantrum.

When Your Child is Screaming in the Aisle

Parents see a grocery store as a place to get food and other essentials. Our children, however, see it as a place of unending choices. Those products lining the store shelves—many are the things that their friends and classmates have at the lunch table every day. That makes those items the exact things our child thinks we need in our shopping cart—no question.

We try to block their attempt to place the items in our cart. They don’t understand nor do they want to hear our reasons why. The more we resist, the more they fight back. In a matter of seconds, a temper tantrum has occurred, and our screaming child is the focal point of the entire store … at least it feels that way to us.

Child Mind Institute counsels that our best response is to avoid trying to reason with our child. At the moment, our child is showing frustration at things not going according to plan. It’s a fight for independence. Now is not the time to talk through the situation or come to a reasonable agreement.

Staying calm is key to handling this situation. We need to take a step back for a moment and ask our child to go for a walk with us, which gives us an opportunity to settle down as well. When the moment passes, a hug is in order, without mentioning the previous meltdown. We then continue on with our shopping trip.

For our next grocery trip, we can make a plan that involves our child in the shopping process. Our child can create a personal shopping list of a few items that meet our approval. Upon arriving at the store, we can shop for those items, plus our own, together. Including our children in the shopping experience means they are less likely to have a temper tantrum in the store.

Temper Tantrum on the Menu

A hostess shows us to our table at a restaurant. Everyone sits down and begins looking over the menu. Then, our child requests something we know they will not eat. We hear a crayon hit the table.

A second, louder request comes in. We ignore it and pay attention to our server. Upon hearing us order a different item, our child erupts into screams. Now everyone is looking at our table. We give our server an apologetic look and try to stay calm.

The temper tantrum may be a reaction to making them leave the playground to come to dinner or just being picked up from school. They may be tired or just having a bad day and needs to get some rest. The National Sleep Foundation recommends following a consistent nighttime routine when possible. We’ve failed to do so, and now our child is overtired. An overtired child quickly turns into a screaming child.

We can’t interrupt dinner to take our child home.Kids Health recommends trying to make the best of the situation, starting with patiently listening to your child. We can also try understanding things from our child’s point of view.

Pausing for a moment and giving our child our full attention helps to handle the temper tantrum in progress. One idea is to ask our child to draw a picture of a favorite part of our bedtime routine. Maybe a game like tic-tac-toe on a piece of paper. Sharing our thoughts on the dinner process helped.

Restaurant dinners are difficult for our children because their voices get lost in the conversation at the table. Trying to talk over grownups is exhausting for an already overtired child. Prevent a temper tantrum by avoiding dinners out at the same time as a child’s bedtime routine.

These tips can help us decrease the impact of future temper tantrums. When one does happen, we need to remember to stay calm and avoid reasoning with our child. Sometimes it’s not about the temper tantrums or the screaming. It’s about our child wanting to feel included in our lives.


About the Author:

April Phelps Downey
Aprel Phelps Downey is a brand storyteller, author, and writer specializing in small-business marketing services. She holds a bachelor of science in marketing from the University of South Florida. She resides in Eastern Tennessee with her husband and daughter.