click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

6 Ways to Avoid a Public Meltdown

6 Ways to Avoid a Public Meltdown

With a little forethought, lots of empathy and a good babysitter, they can be prevented.


There is nothing worse than having to deal with a child who meltdowns in a public place. It can bring even the most stalwart parent to their knees. All eyes seem to be on you and it is just so embarrassing.

Not to worry. Here are six ways to help you avoid a public meltdown.

1. Recognize lousy conditions

Kids are more likely to act out, misbehave and meltdown, when they are tired, hungry or feeling overwhelmed. Don't take your child on just one more errand at the end of a long day, or to the park before they have had their lunch. Many young children have a certain time of the day where they are more prone to misbehave, whine and tantrum. Being in tune with your child’s rhythm can go along way in preventing unwanted behavior.

It may also seem like a no-brainer to avoid taking your child to fancy restaurants, to your friend who has white carpet or your cousins wedding. However, many parents that I talk to have been pressured by well-meaning relatives to do just that. What to do? Be firm and kind, “I know it is important to have Mikey at the anniversary party, but I’m truly sorry it’s not going to work out.”

2. Isolate Triggers

Don’t just throw up your hands and label children who throw a tantrum as bratty; parents need to think about the possible causes and triggers. Many kids are more susceptible to meltdowns because they are sensitive to loud noises, crowds, extra bright lights, unfamiliar surroundings, changing activities to quickly, new foods, strange smells, sitting too long, moving too much, seams in their socks, tags in their clothing. Knowing what sets your child off can help you avoid it in the future. Having this knowledge can go a long way in preventing meltdowns in public and in private.

3. Be prepared and give them jobs

If you’re going to the doctor’s office or shoe store and you know you might have a long wait, make sure to bring along some small toys and games to help your kids manage the delay. Coloring books, crayons, and snacks can keep the meltdowns at bay.

You can even get your kids involved in the planning: “Sometimes there is a long line at the doctor’s office, what can we bring to help us keep busy as we wait?”

It is also good to give kids jobs to keep them busy. You can give your son a child-friendly camera and assign him as the family photographer when you go to the zoo. At the pizza store, let each child know what they will be responsible for, getting the drinks, ordering the pizza, giving out the napkins and the straws.

At the park, the child who has the hardest time leaving can be responsible for letting his siblings know that they will be going in 5 minutes.

4. State your expectations

Kids like to know what to expect and they might not know how to behave in any given place. They do not know that at a restaurant they’ll need to stay at the table for the duration of the meal or at a wedding they’ll need to sit still for pictures. Let your kids know the rules and limits.

“We need to leave the park at 3pm. I will let you know when we have 10 minutes left and then 5 minutes left. At 3pm everyone needs to be ready to go.” “You can each pick one snack when we are in the supermarket.” “We will spend 15 minutes in the museum store and you may have $5 to spend there.” “You’ll need to sit at the table for 5 minutes and then you can go play with your friends.”

5. Empathy

Talking to your kids with empathy can go a long way in preventing a meltdown. When your child says, "Why do we have to leave the park? I don't want to go!" We can deny their feelings and start a power struggle: “You always give me problems when it is time to leave. When I say it’s time to go, it is time to go.”

Or we can answer them in an empathetic manner and a firm reminder of our limit/rule: “Sounds like you're sad about leaving. You wish you could stay. It’s 3 o’clock and it is time for us to go home.”


When we use empathy before we state our rule, we are showing our kids that we understand how they feel. We are letting them know that sometimes rules are hard to follow but you have confidence in them that they can comply. This can go a long way in avoiding power struggles and ultimately that public meltdown.

6. Get a babysitter

Do you enjoy taking your kids to the supermarket? Most mothers don’t. So don’t take them. Hiring a babysitter for the hour or waiting for your spouse to get home so you can go yourself removes the possibility of a public meltdown. There are times that’s the best option to take.

Public meltdowns are hard to handle, but with a little forethought, lots of empathy and a good babysitter, they can be avoided.




July 13, 2013

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(6) Hinda K., July 19, 2013 1:56 AM

Well said

Excellent advice. I wish I would have attended your workshops when my children were small though bits of what you said can be applied to older children as well. After all, who doesn't appreciate empathy?

(5) Anonymous, July 18, 2013 11:39 PM

don't expect adult behavior or understnading...

I am always, even today as the bubbe of nine (so far) grandchildren, all normal, how many parents expect their small children to "understand" or to "just wait." The nature of children is that they cannot do those things. As a young mother, I always took snacks, drinks, small toys and books, extra clothing, and... a potty in the car. I actually kept an "errands tote bag" filled with such things, waiting by the door or in the car. Most important, I always went prepared to go home if somebody got too tired, too hungry, too cranky- without accomplishing my goals, if necessary. There is always tomorrow for groceries, new shoes, a birthday gift; but my children only had one of today! I also told them, in a non-angry tone, why we had to go home when someone couldn't follow the no-fussing rule. No shouting, no spanking, no anger- it really did not take all that long for them to stop the tantrums. At home, tantrums resulted in a trip to the bedroom no matter what I had been doing, and a reminder that I loved having them out in the kitchen, etc., with me...just as soon as they finished screaming or crying. Every parent has to find his/her own method, but one must be consistent and refrain from showing anger. Remember, children don't "melt down" deliberately. They do it because that is normal for children until they have been shown other ways to handle frustration, exhaustion or other less than pleasant feelings. We parents have to model the desired conduct to our children by, ourselves, showing patience with them and understanding of their needs.

(4) Sara, July 18, 2013 5:21 PM

When a child meltdown can have so many causes

I was a young mother with my first child, me and my husband was at wits end and could not figure out what was wrong with our daughter. She had meltdowns at home and seem like nothing we did could please her. It took several years (about the age of 10) we found out she had a health issue. We watched as she grew older how her belly was expanding and the doctors never picked up that issue. She had cystic overies and they were unable to save them. Her hormones were out of balance. Sometimes we have to get our kids to the doctor and make sure they are given good physicals and make sure that their irration is not just environmental.

(3) Lisa, July 17, 2013 11:15 AM

This advice is for all !!

I give my 15 year old a " heads up" when we have to leave.....a 10 minute notice...then 5.... In fact it's great advice for all ages....I don't want to be stuck in a Doctors waiting room for an hour with nothing to do!! And who wants to go on a long car ride without snacks!!
So this is great advice for all!
PS....I love that " meltdown" picture!!

(2) scott, July 16, 2013 7:21 AM

And you wonder why kids don't respect their parents....

We didn't do that stuff after about three years old. Ever.

My mother would look at us and ask if we wanted her to give us something to cry about. Worked every time. Because she didn't accept poor behavior. You see my mother believed that the world was not all about her and her children. She believed that our family didn't have the right to inflict loud rude temper tantrums on everyone else in the room. She believed-as I do-that I was not the center of the universe, life is at times not a big party and sometimes you just have to sit down, shut up and deal with it. The sooner you learn that the better.

Yes...the part about talking to the kids and establishing expectations for their behavior is valid. The part about making life as comfortable as possible-sure okay. The part about empathizing a bit is valid-that's just good practice with everyone in a stressful situation.

But you miss the part where you discipline your children. Children don't get to have meltdowns. Screaming and hollering in public is unacceptable. You don't spank?..Then you time out or take away or whatever you do to a small child to teach them that that behavior is unacceptable.

You want to know why classroom performance has declined over the last twenty years? ...Teachers spend most of their time negotiating acceptable behavior from their students than they do teaching. Parents don't parent and discipline-they accept and excuse and make sure everyone feels good about themselves. And they deliver self-centered, spoiled, ill behaved, undisciplined children to the schools that not only fail to learn much themselves, but take away the ability of others to get the most out of the their classroom time.

And then we dumb down the standardized tests so that everyone feels better about themselves.

You don't negotiate acceptable behavior from your kids. You set the standard and enforce the rules. It's called parenting.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment