How to Stop Temper Tantrums Before They Start

Stopping Temper Tantrums Before they Start
Bet you think this post is going to be about discipline techniques when toddlers throw temper tantrums, right? Well, you’re wrong. But before I explain, let me tell you a story.

Recently my family visited an aquarium.  The teens, hubby, in-laws and I all walked around looking at the various creatures.

DSCN4878At one exhibit, Rebecca, my 16-year-old, stopped to admire the boxfish. Standing beside her was a little 4-year-old boy we didn’t know. She started talking to him: “Do you see that funny looking fish right there? It’s called a boxfish. Can you guess why?”

“Cause it looks like a box!” he said. “That’s right!” said Becca. “But there are some fish hiding in the sand at the bottom. Can you find them?”

This conversation went on for a few minutes as the other mother and I watched. Becca would point things out, and ask him to find things, and he would jump up and down whenever he found something hiding, or noticed something new. And as I listened, it occurred to me that she reminded me of someone.

She reminded me of me.

Because every time we went anywhere when they were babies and toddlers, Keith and I kept up a running commentary of everything, just like she did, constantly asking questions to the children and interacting with them.

As Rebecca was doing this, several other 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds were in the background, throwing temper tantrums. The parents were trying to get them to be quiet, to discipline them, threatening them “time outs” and “We’re going to leave right now!”

But as Rebecca and I headed off, she said to me, “those parents weren’t actually showing the kids anything.” They were walking through this aquarium, talking to each other and their adult companions, and expecting the kids to behave without interacting with them at all. Then they were upset when their toddlers would throw tantrums.

Children tend to throw temper tantrums in public for two reasons: they are deliberately disobedient, or they are bored out of their minds.

I personally don’t think disciplining for being bored is appropriate, but often we confuse the two, because they look similar. The kids whine. They won’t sit still. They might start a temper tantrum. But it’s really our fault, not theirs. We’ve asked something of them that they are too young to give.

Have you ever sat in a doctor’s office, when across from you is a mother with a toddler, and the child is swinging his legs. The mom is ignoring him, but every now and then she hisses, “Johnny, sit still.” He becomes dejected, and increasingly starts wiggling, because he’s bored. Why didn’t she just bring a book to read him?

I’ve written a bunch about disciplining kids, and being consistent, and following through on this blog, and yet with all that, I have to admit that I rarely actually had to discipline the girls for what they did in public. Their worst infractions were fighting with each other. They were rarely bad or caused a scene, and I think it’s because they simply were never bored.

Let me illustrate this with one of most people’s least favourite activities: grocery shopping. We never had much of a problem shopping together, because I had strategies (I was also only juggling two children, not four or five as some of you are, admittedly!). Here’s what we did:

1. Grocery Shopping with Babies

Talked constantly. “Mommy’s buying broccoli. See the broccoli? Yummy!” The whole time through the store I was talking to them and making eye contact. I’d get strange looks from other shoppers, but I didn’t care.

Stopping Temper Tantrums Before they Start--example given is keeping kids entertained while grocery shopping. Great read!

2. Grocery Shopping with Older Babies, Toddlers

The first thing we did was buy 2 bananas or 2 of those dried fruit snacks. I’d pay at the express line, and then they had something to eat while we shopped (you couldn’t bring food from home; they wouldn’t believe you didn’t just take it off of the shelf).

Then we’d play the colour game. Let’s see how many things we buy that are yellow! What’s yellow? Butter’s yellow! Lemons are yellow! The wrapping on the spaghetti is yellow!

3. Grocery Shopping with Pre-schoolers; Kindergarteners

We graduated to letters. How many things can we buy that begin with the letter “B”? Bread! Butter! Broccoli! They’d scan the shelves for things that started with the B sound, even if we weren’t buying it. If I picked up popcorn kernels, I’d say, “does this begin with B?” And then they’d debate and try to figure it out, because P and B are awfully close.

And then all the way home, they’d scan signs for the letter B.

The next time we’d move on to D, or P, or M.

4. Grocery Shopping with Elementary School Aged Kids

Stopping Temper Tantrums Before they Start--example given is keeping kids entertained while grocery shopping. Great read!

How much do you think this is going to cost? We’d round everything to the nearest dollar and they’d try to keep a running tally, and we’d see how right we were. As they got older, we tried rounding it to 50 cents. And we always had to guess on the things we paid for by weight!

And I’d start sending them for some things themselves (but always together). I’d say, “can you two go get the milk?”, or “can you two go get the chocolate chips?”

5. Grocery Shopping with Teens

Even today (my children are teens) we still do a grocery game. Today it’s more like: who can guess closest to the total cost? And the winner gets to choose what we have for dinner, or what game we play on family night. You can even let older children be responsible for the coupons–or give them a cut of the savings to motivate them to find more coupons. So, for instance, if they manage to find coupons that save you $25, you could give them 20% of that, or $5.

The vast majority of the time that I see small children screaming in the grocery cart, with full-blown temper tantrums threatening, I think they are simply bored. The mom has not spent any time talking to them except to issue orders. “Sit still!” “No, we can’t get that!” “Get your hands back in the cart!”. She’s exhausted. They’re frustrated. And everybody HATES grocery shopping.

Children are naturally curious. Their job, as a child, is to learn about the world and how it works. That’s what they start doing from the moment they are born. Our job is to help them. And yet sometimes I don’t think we parents give room for our children’s natural curiosity. If you can channel it into something healthy, then they’re far less likely to start screaming in Wal-Mart.

My girls and I watch episodes of Nanny 911 and Supernanny on Youtube, and one of the things that we’ve noticed is that so many of the dysfunctional parents on these shows don’t actually TALK to their children. They may carry their children around all day, but they don’t say anything to them. And if their kids start whining or talking, the first response is to stick some food in their mouths, or try to deflect them with a snack.

Talking to your children makes such a difference. I kept a running commentary up with my kids from the time they came out of the womb. I talked with them nonstop. I explained the world to them. I pointed things out to them when we were outside, so they would learn about the world. And the neat thing is that the more you interact with them and talk to them and spend time with them (even if it’s just while you’re on errands), then the more they give you free time at home. They’ll play quietly without you for at least a few minutes at a time because they know Mommy loves them. They’ve already been talking to Mommy for hours.

I do believe in consistent and firm discipline, but I think if we started off, when the children are small, talking to them and really interacting with them, discipline would be much easier. And a toddler throwing a temper tantrum would be a far more rare occurrence.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn in all this; I think the reason that Rebecca knew to talk to that little boy was because I talked to her, and the reason I talked to her was because my mother did the same to me. It was natural, so I have no reason to take pride in it, as if it was something brilliant I discovered. It’s just what I naturally did.

But I know that doesn’t come naturally for everyone, because not all of us were raised that way. Nevertheless, you can learn it. And if you learn how to do it, then think of how your children will raise their children! You’re setting a whole new pattern.

I have more I want to say on this subject in an upcoming post on raising great kids, but I think I’ll leave it there for today and ask for your comments. Do you find it hard to talk to your kids? Or have you noticed the same phenomenon I have? Let me know!

Thanks so much for dropping by! If you enjoyed this post, will you please pin it or share it using the buttons below? Thanks so much!

31 Days to Great SexThis post contains affiliate links.

Sheila is the author of seven books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum. Mostly she’s known for writing about marriage and sex, though, and if you’re looking for a way to reconnect with your hubby, you’ll love 31 Days to Great Sex! She’s also written The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex, full of inspiration and encouragement to make your marriage the best it can be–because the best gift you can give your kids is to love their dad!


  1. >You are so bang on with this post, and I am with you on discipline too.
    You can tell the difference between willful disobedience and bored wiggling.
    We also did participation grocery shopping, and I had five on the go. The big girls actually went into other aisles to buy things and had to comparison shop eventually. The little ones could reach into bottom shelves for Mama or choose cereal.
    I never had issues in public, and they were given a lot of positive feedback as a result. Perfect strangers came to me and complimented me on my well behaved brood. I immediately passed that on to the children, saying how much everyone appreciated their good behaviour and nice manners. It wasn't me, it was them!

  2. >I take my 3 children grocery shopping every week (ages 4,3,1). I do talk to them (or play silly games with the baby) while grocery shopping. I don't give them something to eat while we're there. (They do get a cookie if they are well behaved.) The fun part of it is that my 4 yr old loves to help me pick out the fruit and veggies, learn the names of them and even requests that we buy some of the interesting looking ones. The tiring part of it is that eventually I get tired of talking before they do!
    My kids (strangely) like to go dr.'s offices or such where there is waiting because they know they will have our attention (after required forms are filled out). I just plan on that, rather than thinking it is time for me to read magazines or have "me" time.

  3. >Really enjoyed this one. :)

    I talk to my little one while we're shopping, but I can rarely get her to sit still in a waiting room. There is almost always something else there vying for her attention. I find myself struggling to find ways to keep her distracted for more than a minute at a time and at least somewhat still in her seat!

  4. Stephanie's Mommy Brain says:

    >You are right on with this!! And I AM shopping with 4 kids (ages 2, 4, 6, 7). I keep up a running commentary with them. Asking if they know where the bananas are or playing I Spy or counting the apples as we place them in the bag. I can definitely be better about this and will be using some of your ideas in the future.

    We also do the same thing at the zoo or a museum. Tuesday we spent 3 hours at the Boston Museum of Science and never once did my children cry or complain about being bored and act up. They were tired and cranky at the end but even then they didn't want to leave. I know it's because my husband interacted with them the whole time and explained stuff to them and let them try the hands on activities.

    Thanks for writing a great article with lots of practical tips!!!

  5. >You know, as I read your comments, I'm taken back about 10-12 years in time to when my kids were that age, and one thing I remember is that I think we did most of our "fun" time outside the house. We'd go shopping, or go to the library, or to a museum, or somewhere, and we'd talk non-stop. They even liked going to doctor's offices, too, just like yours, "Anonymous", because I'd bring a stack of books and they knew it was reading time.

    But it did mean that I had downtime at home, so it was awfully nice!

    I found in waiting rooms, the key was just to have something for them to do, like colouring books or books to read, and then they'd sit still. But I also didn't demand that they "sit still", as long as they weren't running all over the room and bothering others. If they were bouncing on the floor, or crawling between my legs, that was fine.

  6. The Happy Domestic says:

    >Oh man. You just gave me a total Aha! moment… and not in a good way. Today (and at least once a week lately, it seems), I was having temper meltdowns of my own at my kids because – as I perceived it – they were being completely disobedient at every turn. Reality check: they are 2 and 3 years old. They WERE bored out of their minds, because I was NOT in the mood to play with / read to / interact with them today. And consequently, they got into everything, made messes, tried to help in the most unhelpful ways (think a gallon of dishwater on the floor), whined and fought constantly… generally drove me nuts.

    Now that you rearranged my perspective, I am thinking that I need to be more purposeful to recharge myself at least once a week. When I feel like I'm trapped in perpetual preschool I get tired of relating on a child level and then I do essentially start to ignore them. Then they become holy terrors, and I want to get away even more. What I need to do is make more down-time for me and more interactive activities with my kids to keep us all functioning at our best!

  7. Xenopuslady says:

    >I think that, in general, you are spot on. My oldest son always loved the grocery store and other outings because he knew he had my attention and I always fed them healthy snacks. With my younger one, who spent his first several years extraordinarily colicky and very sick, this was more difficult. Especially during the transition when we had to spend twice as long at the grocery store because we were learning all new foods to compensate for his food allergies. I had a limited amount of time before he was simply done and started screaming. But, you know, older women would come over, rub my shoulder, and say, "It's okay, we've all been there." Part of it, for him, was simply sitting in the cart while his older brother walked beside me. So we learned "red light, green light" and practiced walking in the grocery store or Target at 8am when nobody else was there. The trick is that if they don't obey red light immediately, they get one warning and then they're put back in the cart or stroller for a 2 minute time-out until you try again.

    These days, they seem to pester eachother and fight whenever we go shopping even though they're perfect at zoos/museums/doctor's offices. I think I'll try the money game with the older one and simple reading with the younger one.

    Oh, and if you find yourself routinely at a doctor's office for 2-3 hours several times a week with young children in tow (as I did with a newborn and 3-year old when my younger one was so sick), I'd invest in an iPod touch or hand-down an old iPhone and load them up with Bugs Bunny, WordWorld, SuperWhy, et al. You can only spend so much time reading to them at that age or playing planes or bouncy ball before they're done. But they can't watch much TV at home if it's going to help them sit still at those uber long appointments.

  8. Llama Momma says:

    >You're spot on, Sheila! I just want to add a couple things to your list…sleep and food!

    It's basic, I know. But young children (or any of us!) cannot behave well without proper sleep and nutrition. I'm baffled by moms running errands at naptime or lunchtime…OF COURSE Johnny is whining. He's tired and hungry!

    But, on top of these basics, the interaction is so important. I have a friend in the neighborhood who's young child is in daycare, and she picked him and brought him straight to my house because she needed to drop something off. She was trying to tell me something, and he kept interrupting and acting out. She was frustrated, but I said, (gently) "Go. Call me after he goes to bed. Your son just needs to be with you. He's not being naughty — he needs your attention. Give it to him."

    Children need so much of our attention. But with it, they thrive. They become young people like your daughter, who is able to pass it on. What a great story, and a great moment for you as a mom!! :-)

  9. Herding Grasshoppers says:


    How wonderful that your daughter(s) have picked up on that – and how lovely that she interacted with the little boy so kindly 😀

    You're absolutely right about the kids being bored. They want their parents to be WITH them, not just NEAR them. But – like Happy Domestic mentioned – we can get weary of it. And kids do need to learn (especially at home) to amuse themselves independently.

    I remember the exhaustion of three boys five and under… but the funny thing is, if I would pull myself together and really engage with them, it would sort of "fill their tank" for awhile, and I would get a bit of down-time.

    I think having a daily routine will go a long way to heading off tantrums as well. I'm a firm believer in afternoon naps (or quiet time, for older little ones). Trying to grocery shop when little bodies need rest is a recipe for disaster. I knew to plan my errands for the morning when we were all fresh. Much more pleasant for everyone 😀


  10. >I would agree that lack of attention may be one reason children have temper tantrums. But there are other reasons…maybe the child is hungry or tired. And sometimes they happen anyway, despite the best intentions of the parent.

    I actually enjoy grocery shopping, even with two kids at the bag-your-own-groceries store. But I always have and I joke with my husband I need to take the kids along b/c otherwise I would be talking to myself!!

    Nurse Bee

  11. >The only time I recall decidedly *not* enjoying my kids' company on errands was the first time I took the whole crew out after having our fourth child… I was sleep-deprived, the baby was under a week old, and the others were 2,5 & 6 and had recently been shopping a lot more with dad (and his more relaxed style)…Little wonder *I* didn't have a tantrum…LOL…I came home after cutting the experience short and decided *that* wasn't going to happen again for a while.

    I did have one very successful trick I can pass on, though… When the kids were too big/to many for the buggy, and had to walk alongside, I would give them each a quarter to hold in one hand, and the other hand needed to be on the buggy. If the child's buggy-hand let go of the buggy without permission, the quarter had to be surrendered. However, if the hand stayed put, the quarter could be used to select a candy from one of the machines in the store after checkout. They stayed close, no racing up & down aisles, and no pestering for treats at checkout!

  12. Mrs Random says:

    >Thank you!

    I needed this reminder. I did much better at interacting with my kids during grocery store trips when they were younger. But now that they are older, I've been too focused on just getting in, checking off the list, and getting out as soon as possible.

    My seven year old now has his own calculator. I think I'll let him bring it along so he can keep a running total of our cart purchases as we shop.

  13. Anonymous says:

    >You're spot on…

    I care for our delightful 3 yo granddaughter about four days a week. She makes interesting observations, and I love to talk to her. She started coming to our house as an almost-silent 2 yo, and it's been such fun to see her language unfold.

    All the talk, talk, talk has paid off richly – at 3-1/2, she has great emotional understanding and is learning the vocabulary of disappointed, frustrated, etc. She never has tantrums with us.

    The interesting thing is that her mother complains that she is a "pill" and there are big dramatic scenes where little one is crying and screaming, and mom is screaming back. Never happens at our house. I observe that mom will often say NO in an arbitrary way to reasonable requests, not let her do things (dress, help in kitchen, etc.) – generally, mom provokes the trouble.

    And – no surprise – mom herself is not social and barely converses when around other people. And when things don't go her way, she has a very low boiling point.

    Keep talking, moms. Take the time to listen to the little ones who take longer to process their thoughts and form their words. You'll be surprised at what comes out of their mouths!

  14. This is so spot on!! My son is almost 20 months and loves interacting in the store. I noticed the no -tantrums the days he ” helped” put groceries on the checkout belt. I’d hand him an item and he would hold it and say thank you and give it back so I could put it on the belt. Or giving him the items off the shelf to put in the buggy with him. Well, the items he won’t try to eat right then and there! I think lots of parents forget how much their kids need their attention and what it was like to be a kid!
    When I was 6-7 I would wake up when my dad was getting ready for work (5am) set up Yahtzee in the kitchen and practically corner him to play a round with me! He had to work many hours due to medical bills but always had daughter dates for my sister and I. If you don’t give your kids the attention they really need growing up, they’ll get it elsewhere one day!!

  15. This is great! I like to point things out to my kids wherever we are- in the car, buildings, or on a hike. This teaches them to be observant and learners. I have four children (6 and under) that I take grocery shopping now and *almost* never have had to deal with a tantrum at the store. There are a few tips that make it easier for me besides the great ones you mentioned!

    1. Make sure no one is tired. I go right after breakfast. I have noticed this is the best time of day for my family.
    2. Make sure no one is hungry. Baby is fed and changed before we go. Bring snacks if it will be a long day.
    3. NEVER buy anything for them in the checkout line.
    4. Run over some simple rules for grocery store behavior right before you go in. We have three- Stay by Mom, don’t ask for anything, and no fighting.
    I also let my children help put things in the cart,give tips on picking the best fruits/veggies, and try to keep my trip as short as possible. Hope that helps someone…they were tips I got from other moms or learned the hard way. 😛

  16. I’ve noticed the same thing! I’ll talk to my 1 year old while he’s playing around the house and he’ll answer me in gibberish. I notice as soon as I’d get short tempered with him he didn’t want to leave my side! Now I am trying to teach my husband this. I think he’s finally catching on! I also got comments from friends who say their surprised @ how my 1 year old listens so well to me.

  17. Our boys never had tantrums. I guess I was doing this all along and never noticed. Whether in restaurants or grocery stores we always had people commenting on how well behave they were. It made them proud of themselves.
    One of our favorite things to do, and we would do this to pass time in an office or if they were not feeling well and couldn’t sleep, is to create our “mouse stories”.
    We would start out with a statement like “there was a mouse walking down the street”.”What was his name”? and our kids were come up with a name for this mouse. Next another statement and a question. Maybe something like “It was pouring rain out, what was the mouse wearing”?
    This would entertain them for a very long time, they used their imaginations and they learned to tell stories. This helped them in their teen years when trying to scam mom and dad but hey don’t forget….we learned how to recognize a Mouse Story years before.
    Lori E recently posted…PLEASE VOTE FOR MY GUYMy Profile

  18. This is an urgent message for we parents…thanks for sharing.

  19. No wonder my kids rarely had temper tantrums in public. I didn’t know it, but I was heading them off with conversation and attention! People probably thought I was crazy chatting to my babies when they were clearly not old enough to understand a word. And now at 18 and 15, they still need us to be interested and share the things that interest us. Relationship building!

  20. Well written and such sensible wisdom to pass on to others. One thing I have noticed is when children are overstimulated or tired, their tolerance for anything in the adult world will be greatly diminished. Its not worth over stretching them to fit in with your adult schedule. Be flexible! change your plans! Put chores off and put kids first xx Would love these wise suggestions of yours to be included in ante- natal classes!

  21. Teacher Polly says:

    Thank you so much for how well you worded the issue. My class full of toddlers can be a trial some days, but more often proves an exhausting joy; The difference is ussually found in my energy level or the children’s health.

    My mother once walked up to a screaming toddler and his mother and ended his tantrum by just holding his hand and talking about the bookshelf in front of the two. The mother had been ignoring the child so long as he was “good”.

  22. so very true in most ways….but yet unrealistic. phones ring, moms have friends to visit and walks do include people other then just u and your kids. husbands and grandparents.etc…luncheons with old friends…etc… its not all about the kids. they need to learn to share your attention and deal with boredom. everyday is all about learning and fun distractions….they need to learn to be behave without being distracted and entertained at all times…..i do tho agree tantrums are created from boredom and they are attention seeking…. bang on…as said before…. its just to find a happy medium…to teach them patience along with not ignoring their needs of attention and excitement of learning and interaction……its ALWAYS about balance…when and when not to’s…..each child had different needs and interests…and many just wanna go go go….distraction is short lived…and grocery shopping requires time and patience…etc.etc….always thinking ahead to how will this go…what should i bring…will we have time…am i too cranky today for this….etc….love the post tho…sure gets ya thinking….always room for improvement in the parenting field. love the tips :)

  23. Thank you for the reminder. I had forgotten to focus on this recently, and my 2 year old has been less than charming more and more. Although mostly at home – makes sense because with an acquaintance living with us for three weeks and a six week old I’m constantly trying to get things done whenever I have a spare minute.

  24. Sheila, you speak pure wisdom! I too engaged my kids on outings of any kind, and we all enjoyed ourselves, stress free! Our main survival method is to fellowship. (Communicate) It’s a sad how many new parents have no clue what to do with these little people. Babies and young children may not be able to respond verbally, but they do know most of what we say to them. This is how they learn: by listening to our words, our tone, our expressions, etc. Their brains are like little sponges. They take everything in and everything is a new experience. Their curiosity continually drives them to learn. It’s a big world out there. But sadly, some people think kids should be able to behave, think, and live like adults. Please understand people, they Can’t! If we want to bring children into the world, we better be prepared to raise them in a healthy, happy, safe and learning environment, or we shouldn’t be even thinking about having them. It’s a responsibility! Love, Patience, and Listening are the keys to parenting. Get to know your kids. Enjoy them. The more time you spend with them, the better adults they will be when they grow up.

  25. Hi Sheila,
    I think we are much alike – I talked to my kids all the time and I took all three of them shopping with me. As they got older they made the list. Sometimes I would send them off on a hunt to find something. We used coupons and that’s a great idea of having them help with them (don’t remember being that smart). But I never remember having them whining or crying – they knew we needed food and this was how we did it. They also knew it cost money – something kids don’t see now – plastic has taken over and it looks like magic.
    Thanks for a great post.
    Janis Cox recently posted…Have You Hugged a Chicken Today?My Profile

  26. I think that while there are some very valid points being made about the importance of interacting with our children, the assumption that simple interaction (or lack thereof) or a disobedient heart on the part of the child are the roots of most meltdowns is just not true. I strongly believe and have experienced other factors that can have a HUGE impact on whether a child has a tantrum:

    1. Insufficient sleep. Children’s bedtimes are being pushed back much later than they should be for a variety of reasons. Babies and toddlers should generally be in bed by 7 p.m. (and sometimes even earlier!) to allow them to get the 11-12 hours of sleep that are required for growth and development. Naptimes are being compromised when parents try to take their babies/toddlers out to run errands and expect them to get the necessary sleep while riding in strollers or shopping carts. Check out Dr. Marc Weisbluth’s book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child for in-depth analysis and explanations about the chemical imbalances that result from lack of sleep and lead to children being mistakenly labeled as hyperactive or ADD or ADHD.

    2. Additives in our foods (such as dyes, etc.) have been shown to have behavioral affects. We pump our children full of fruit snacks, juice, and soda and then wonder why they have trouble with self-control?

    3. We discovered that my son had issues with low blood sugar that would result in a very quick downward spiral and loss of control on his part which would inevitably become a tantrum of gigantic proportions! And he would refuse to eat or drink anything which was the only way to help elevate his blood sugar.

    I agree completely that parents need to be actively engaged with their children to encourage communication and to teach them about our world, however I worry that the assumption that this interaction is the magic bullet to prevent tantrums from happening is a disservice because there are many other factors that can result in those dreaded meltdowns!

    • I’m so glad to see this comment. Whenever I see articles like this I start to wonder what we are doing wrong. Our toddler basically just wants to play outside all day and she does not sit still, at home, at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, or anywhere. Most of the time it doesn’t matter what we say or do to keep her distracted. We have done all the things mentioned in the article but she would only be interested for maybe 30 seconds. She was fine when she was a baby, but now she is restless and hyperactive all the time. Whenever my husband and I go grocery shopping with her, one person has to distract her while the other one shops but even then, it’s a challenge. As soon as the shopping cart stops moving, she will want to get out and run around. She is not bored because of the lack of interaction with us. She just wants to run around.

  27. Ah, nice to know I wasn’t alone. Over the years, I’ve had so many funny looks from people while I was explaining things to a baby or toddler. Okay, so I even talked to my dog when we were out for a walk.

    My kids were never rarely because I always had things along for them to read or do. Hey, I get bored easily myself!

  28. I wholeheartedly agree with your post!
    When my son was small enough to still ride in the cart, we were checking out, and my son asked if he could have a quarter. (This is 25 years ago!) I looked at my change purse, and said, “No”. He said, “OK”.
    The cashier looked at him, then me, like we had suddenly grown 2 heads. “OK? That’s it? No whining, screaming, jumping up & down, demanding a quarter? How did you do that?”
    My son looked at her (like SHE was off her rocker). I smiled and said, ” Because he knows sometimes I say yes.”
    We had a great discussion on the way home.
    Cyn Rogalski recently posted…Feeling Like I’m Visiting An Old FriendMy Profile

  29. Jule Dragstrem says:

    Can you give any clues for a mom of a special needs child? My son is 9 years old, but can act like a 3 year old. Love the article!

    • I don’t really know, Jule, because I guess it depends on the child. I’ve always found the main thing is to keep the interaction going, and to find out what the child enjoys and what stimulates him, and then bring some of those things with you.

      It must be so difficult, though. May God grant you an ever greater portion of patience and wisdom!

  30. Hi Sheila, I have a question. My girl is 4 this year and I find that she has a short attention span and gets distracted very easily. For example, she’ll take 30mins to complete a page of a letters from her workbook. How do I get her to sit still and complete a task?

    • David, 4 years old is still really young. It’s hard for many kids to sit still and complete a task. Sometimes what works better is sitting beside her and doing something with her. So you do some work, and she does some work, and you say, “when we’re both finished, we get X”–some sort of treat that you’d both like. It doesn’t have to be food–it could be going for a walk, or jumping in the backyard, or something.

      I’d also break it down into smaller tasks. If it’s a whole worksheet, with let’s say 4 rows of 3 exercises each, tell her do one row, and then get up and do 10 jumping jacks, and then do the next row.

      That way you’re being more active and it’s more fun.

      The main thing is to engage WITH her, not tell her to do something. And I still think 4 is really young…. :)

  31. That is really GREAT! advice! I am going to apply this and since our 5 year old is totally fidgety and can’t sit still, not that I really expect him to, but so he doesn’t get bored and get into things he shouldn’t at places like the doctors office, I am going to get a ziplock bag and put some of his cars in it so he has something to play with. Thank you so much for the advice!

  32. In all things, we have to strike a balance. Western child rearing places a strong emphasis on the parent becoming the child’s entertainment director. Constant interactivity to engage the child can and does lead to attention dependency (needy) in single child scenarios. Some studies show children with accelerated learning have been allowed to achieve a level of independent creativity, e.g. entertaining self. Of course, personality types have a lot to do with how interactivity is approached and there is no perfect method overall. CNS (Childhood Narcissism Scale) researchers have measured that childhood narcissism has become more prevalent if not epidemic in Western society; any type of activities that focus on overly praising the individual or excessively giving attention can raise unhealthy (self-centered) narcissistic levels. Studies showed that some overly attended children are in need of constant admiration and attention, with verbal assurance that they are uniquely special.

  33. I think you have a lot of great ideas in your blog, however, I also believe that it is important to teach kids that they don’t have to be constantly entertained. I can’t help but reflect back on my childhood when I used to play outdoors from sun up to sun down. We made our own fun and had a blast. Times were different then. We didn’t have the safety concerns that we have today. My point is, if you teach your kids that they have to have constant entertainment, how can you expect them to behave in places where it is extremely important to be quiet and well mannered. For example church, a visitation, etc. As kids, we used to ride in the car with no videos or gaming devices. We behaved. I’m not saying we were perfect, but we just didn’t need the constant entertainment/interaction. We used our own imaginations and creativity for entertainment. I do not like where our society is headed.

  34. Cool

  35. carolyn yeo says:


  36. Great enjoyed reading it. Ive been talking with my children since they 2 years old daughter speaks more than i do :-)

  37. Spot on! I love your example of the grocery shopping and it works with 3, 4, 5 even 6! I have noticed that when I shop with my older kids or hubby the conversation tends to steer to the adult side and then I see little problems surface. Thanks for sharing~ Momma of 7

  38. My 26 year old daughter, who’s now a nanny, just posted your article on FB. My daughter who learned how to count going up and down the subway stairs when we lived in Paris. And practiced her letters and early reading on Metro posters. I remember a family bringing two young children to a Christian retreat (I think the dad was one of the ministers who was teaching). The entire weekend they were surrounded by adults – out to dinners etc. Knowing that they were going to be there, I had brought a bad of treats (coloring books etc.)…the mom had brought NOTHING!! It was a good time for a gentle lesson. When my daughter got married 2 years ago there were 8 (yes 8!) little kids in her wedding. Once they made it down the aisle, we had a pretty carpet on the floor and coloring books and crayons…and they all sat and colored during the ceremony. Anyhow – all this to say a hearty YES to what you’ve shared here. I love how you’ve articulated it, how practical it is…and I hope it’s a wake up call to those parents chatting with each other while their kids have to work out what to do with boredom!
    Adrienne recently posted…The Sound of MusicMy Profile

  39. I used to be so good about this when my currently-sixteen-month old was brand new. I have to remind myself so much now. Not sure what caused this.
    Christy recently posted…A Daze?My Profile

  40. I do agree that many of the tantrums that are blamed on children are the parents’ fault. The parents are bent on doing something, not thinking about whether it is appropriate for the child. I’ve seen people bring small children into the movie theater for a non-G rated movie. Or they have the child out late, and it’s obvious it’s after the child’s bedtime. Maybe getting a sitter or not making it a family outing would be a better idea.

  41. This is a very helpful article. however, in addition to everything you have outlined here, please keep these things in mind:

    1. You are going to need to be able to have a conversation with another adult at times when you are out of the house. Your child will need to know how to entertain himself/be still, until you are finished. This is a good thing to teach at a very young age.
    2.There will be times that you are in a hurry and you cannot entertain them in the store or elsewhere. Planing is good, but you simply cannot plan for every eventuality.
    3. You might not want to raise a child that needs to be entertained all of the time. Take cues from your child. Silence is not a bad thing if she is exploring with her eyes and ears….they can do this all by themselves.
    4. Be careful that in trying to side step a tantrum, you are not creating a child that believes the world revolves around them.
    ~Just a few thoughts from a mother of 6 grown children, including one set of twins.

  42. I appreciate this article, however what about those of us who juggle our jobs along with our children? My husband & I both work, alternating schedules because we can’t afford child care. Therefore we don’t have all day to plan our grocery schedules, appointments, & errands according to when I know my child will be in an accepting mood. I try to interact with my son as much as possible during errands but I do have limited time to get things done & spending the entire time entertaining him does not help speed this process along. On top of it, I’m currently 6 months pregnant & on a strict diet so this complicates our store trips as well. Much less going to the bank, pharmacy, etc if needed. Advice on this?

  43. I love your take in this! My first child is 5 mo and I sometimes struggle with what to talk to her about….I tend to be a quiet person by nature….but I think I will put more effort into conversation with my little gurl…or at least commentating. Of course along with enuf sleep and proper nutrition.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom!’

  44. It is not always appropriate to be non-stop talking. By nature I am not a talker, and neither are my two girls. I do not feel I
    have to ‘learn’ to talk. There is nothing wrong with silence, or just being happy in the presence of another(think ‘companionable’). There is something to be said for ‘learning’ to behave, to be quiet, to just be. My two girls sound
    much like yours(in temperment) and I didnt talk them to death about everything. They havent ever been grounded, never
    spoke a harsh word to me(yes , we’ve argued, but that is different) and are perfectly adjusted. If a child is having a temper tantrum there is probably a good reason and it isnt always because the grown up isnt talking his ear off. The article might have been more interesting if it were more about how your daughter would have calmed the two year olds having temper tantrums and not about the 4 year old who was alread calm. That being said, I havent ever spent my whole dinner glued to
    my cellphone or other device, which I’ve seen at restaraunts more times than I can count. If my child talks to me I answer her, unlike some parents I’ve seen who are so disengaged from their kids that the child can ask something of the parent a hundred times with no answer. I feel like saying, cant you HEAR her?! I feel it’s more about being tuned in, wanting to know your child(ren) and engaging with them.

  45. Hi. Great point of yours. Communication is always the key especially with your kids. Quick question: let’s say your at an amusement park then your 3 yea told niece starts to throw huge temper tantrums. What is the solution there? Awesome rides great food. Why wouldn’t she be happy and enjoy? She wasn’t being patience to wait in line for a ride. So I tried to explain to her how this whole getting on a ride work. Please help for next time Sunday funday:)

  46. Angela Ferrara says:

    My mother never did this for me, but I instinctively did it starting from in the womb. One of the few things I did right.

  47. As a deaf and hard of hearing teacher, this is thee most important thing to do with a deaf/hard of hearing child.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.


  1. […] for all the great feedback on my post on Saturday on how to stop temper tantrums before they start! I appreciate it. The point I made in that post was that quite often kids act up simply because […]

  2. […] and often we expect them to be able to behave better than perhaps we should. When my girls and I used to grocery shop when they were babies and toddlers, I would stick them into the grocery cart and then head immediately to the produce […]

  3. […] How to stop tantrums before they start or this article could be called Going Grocery Shopping with your Kids or Talking to your Kids.  It might be a bit longer than most blog posts but this is full of excellent advice drawing from personal experience.  If you take the time to read one of my recommendations this week – this is it! […]

  4. […] How to Stop Tantrums Before They Start. This ingenious post had nothing to do with discipline and everything to do with preventative measures. A girlfriend […]

  5. […] Find this to be of good reads for me in the future… Maybe u too! (How to stop temper tantrum)… […]

  6. […] been talking a bit about parenting toddlers on the blog lately, and in the meantime I’ve received some emails by women who are […]

  7. […] How to Stop Temper Tantrums Before They Start This one went totally viral on Pinterest recently. It really does sum up my parenting philosophy. […]

  8. […] though, if you don’t have a lot of boundaries when the kids are little? You give in to their temper tantrums. You don’t enforce bedtimes. You let them yell at you and disrespect you. You let them eat […]

  9. […] Here’s the truth: kids like to “check in” and know that they’re secure and safe. They know that when they have your undivided attention. If you can give your child some undivided attention throughout the day, even if it’s just in short spurts, they’re far more likely to let you have some of your own alone time later, as I wrote in this post on how to prevent temper tantrums. […]

  10. […] with your children well, and talk with them throughout the day, you’ll find less need for discipline. For instance, I didn’t discipline my daughters if they were simply whiny and bored. That was […]

  11. […] I’m a big believer that the most effective discipline is to stop the bad behaviour before it has the chance to start–simply by engaging […]

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge