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The first public tantrum

April 23, 2012

A well behaved Lily at Sculptures by the Sea in Cottesloe Beach

Somewhere between first steps, molars, and the words “me me ME….no no NO” being repeated all day, my biggest fear became a reality when Lily performed her first meltdown.

They always start the same way. The disapproving frown and head shaking comes first. Then comes the frustrated whining. And then my sweet little girl transforms into a little terror – she is on the floor on her back, legs up and kicking violently. Her little red face scrunches up and all you hear is a supersonic high piercing wail.

As mentioned previously, Lily chose Louis Vuitton to do her first public tantrum – which probably made the whole situation appear worse than it actually really was. I thought I had at least a few more months to tackle the ‘terrible twos’ but it looks like we are in real toddler territory already.

I’ve read that toddlers have tantrums as the ‘reasoning’ part of their brains are still pretty much under-developed. So there isn’t going to be quick fix for this phase.

So what techniques have worked for you? I’m far from being an expert at how to control or prevent a toddler tantrum but here are some strategies that I’m working on:

Teaching Good Behaviour

  • In Koh Samui, I felt I was constantly telling Lily off for bad behaviour and was overlooking the good (the pressure of being in public 24/7!). So I’m acknowledging  her (smiles, clapping hands etc) when I see that she is behaving well. She clearly understands because she repeats the good behaviour when she sees that I’m happy. I hope she will learn that good behaviour will get rewarded – rather than relying on misbehaving just to get my attention.
  • Ahead of time, I’ve started talking to Lily about where we are going and how I expect her to behave. I felt a bit silly doing this at first but I’ve noticed she isn’t throwing food on the floor anymore based on this technique so hopefully in time this will help with tantrums too.


  • The better Lily can communicate, the better she will be at showing she is angry or upset without going into a full-blown tantrum. I’m trying to get her to point if she can’t say the word. And even if I hear her babbling, I always talk back to her to encourage her to communicate vocally and to show her respect by listening to what she has to say.


  • It isn’t always possible, but I try to go out only when Lily has had her nap, been well fed and had plenty of time running around. I find that she gets frustrated being in the pram and not being able to move around.
  • If I start seeing signs of a tantrum, I start distracting her either by bringing out the toys/snacks or I’ll show her something else and make a story about it (singing is too embarrassing in public). Anything to distract her so she will focus on something else and forget why she was upset.

And if the tantrum still comes my way, I take Lily away from the scene as soon as possible  (I’m dreading the day this happens in a queue or even worse on a plane!) and I hold her down and wait for it to pass – I find when it happens I can’t really reason with her anyway. I try to explain to her afterwards that she shouldn’t behave like that so she knows that I disapprove with her behaviour.

This is certainly a challenging phase but it’s all about learning how to control your emotions and communicate properly …and for Lily too 😉

What are your tips for preventing or dealing with tantrums?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2012 3:32 pm

    My son is now 16 months old and is starting to chuck tantrums too! This advice is very helpful, especially about praising the good behaviour. He loves when you clap and cheer after he has done something good and tends to repeat the good deed so I will have to remember to keep it up!

    • April 23, 2012 8:53 pm

      I think it makes a difference when they know that we are happy when they do something good and we lavish them with attention because of it. I don’t want Lily to get into the habit of throwing tantrums just to get my attention…

  2. April 23, 2012 7:58 pm

    Great post! I think you are very brave to take Lily to as many different places as you do. It will pay off in the long run!

    To be completely truthful, I’m glad my toddler is not the only one. I had been relatively lucky with C that all tantrums were at home. Then one very busy day at the beach in March, C was not happy that Daddy left her with me to get coffees (because I’m definitely not the favourite parent at the moment – I even get called Dada). The crying went on for the whole 15 minutes D was gone. The body language was typical of any tantrum; arching her spine and throwing her head back, kicking her legs, theatrical crying face-down on the ground and pushing me away. In the end, all I could do was let her cry until Daddy came back.

    What you say about communication is key. If C feels involved or included in things she is happy. Now, when Daddy leaves to go out even for a minute, we have to make a big show of “Say tata to Daddy. He is off to the bins and will be back shortly. Let’s do this instead.” And this leads on to your excellent point about prevention. I often resort to singing, blowing raspberries or playing peek-a-boo in public – it’s less embarrassing than a screaming toddler.

    • April 23, 2012 9:05 pm

      Lily gets emotional when Daddy gets coffee too! Luckily it hasn’t blown out into a tantrum yet but I’ll try your technique next time. Poor Baby C having separation anxiety from Daddy. I was Daddy’s little girl too apparently but Lily seems to be really attached to me at the moment – but I’m sure that will change!

  3. April 27, 2012 2:44 am

    You pretty much described everything I would do when my toddler throws tantrums. If he’s going crazy, I don’t talk to him at all, and instead either sit a few feet away or soothe his back if he lets me, or just look at him with an understanding gaze. When they’re going ballistic, they have no logic whatsoever so it’s pointless to even talk at this point. If he’s going *really* crazy to the point where he’s hurting himself or wanting to break things then I contain him in a hold.

    I think prevention is key, and removing them from the environment is important too once they’re going through a tantrum.

    Man, tantrums suck. My kiddo is on and off these days, and even though I know all of these things in my head, sometimes it takes all of me to keep from resorting to my *own* tantrum lol.

  4. April 27, 2012 8:15 am

    I love this post! Tantrums are so horrible, especially in public.

    I go with a ‘prevent, chat, distract’ approach.

    I TRY to prevent them (by explaining where we are going, what we are doing, make sure outings aren’t at naptime etc), if a tantrum is brewing I chat about what we can do later (eg, “if we are good and finish up at the supermarket quickly, then we will go to the park”) and if that doesn’t work, I distract with a book or by singing a song (even in public!).

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