How to avoid toddler tantrums at the shops

Mother and daughter choosing bread in supermarketToddlers, or Unstable Tantrum Bombs, are hard to predict sometimes. Every now and then I make it to the shops and back with my six and three-year-old with my dignity, eardrums and the sense that I’m nailing this whole parenting thing reasonably well intact, writes Melinda Uys, of The United States of Mama.

And then there are the trips where I feel like the Department of Child Services will probably be waiting at the car, ready to relieve me of my children because surely I must be torturing those kids in some deserted aisle of Big W (and sometimes I’m almost disappointed there isn’t someone at the car, just to take them for a few minutes while I sit in my soundproof car and have my own screaming fit).

Thankfully their tantrums are becoming fewer, not through any magical wand of mine, but because they’re just getting older. I have, however, learnt something in the art of minimising tantrum time.

Learning loud

Children aren’t adults – they’re still learning that throwing a snot-flying-legs-and-arms-flailing tantrum in the middle of a shopping centre isn’t really a great look and that, actually, it’s frowned upon by the greater part of society. It is truly difficult for them to understand that a $90 toy isn’t what you came to the grocery store for. So it’s worthwhile remembering this first and foremost: tantrums are toddlers learning loudly. Be patient with them, they’re only little (even though they can emit the noise of fighter jet and be just as scary).


This is pretty self-explanatory and really applies to all facets of your toddlers’ life – they’re much more reasonable if they are not tired. Toddlers can even be happy if they’re not tired. Shocking isn’t it? Therefore it stands to reason that you should really only venture to the shops when your child is fresh and at their happiest (which is why I NEVER leave the house after 11am). This doesn’t always fit in with an adult timetable, but try where you can. On the other hand, if your toddler will still sleep in a pram, having them nap while you do what you need to do is a wonderful thing. It’s hard to tantrum when you’re asleep.


I’m horrible when I’m hungry. So are my kids and any other child I’ve come across who has been hungry. You have two options here: feed your children before you go to the shops so you at least knock that factor out. The second option is to wait until you are at the shops, pop as many kids as you can fit into a trolley or pram and give them something which takes a long time to eat like sultanas, popcorn or a carrot. This is, personally, my favourite tactic since it abates their hunger, keeps them occupied and therefore quiet and less prone to a screaming fit.

Screen time

I’m not a huge fan of plopping my kids in front of a screen every time I’d like to not be embarrassed in public, so believe it or not, I seldom do this. There are times, however, when my toddler is tired and I can’t do anything about being in a crowded place full of wonderful looking things a toddler might want and will probably throw a tantrum about. In these cases, it’s worth seeing how far you get before waving a screen in front of their face, or you can just hand your phone to them as you enter the shopping centre depending on where you are on your Toddler Tolerance levels that day. This comes with a price: getting your phone back off your toddler so you can answer a phone call will probably induce a tantrum. It’s the gauntlet you run.

Threats and bribery

The thing about threats and bribery is that you must follow through with whatever wild threat or bribe you’ve come up with. Threats don’t always work with my kids because examples such as “you won’t be watching any TV ever again” only really punishes me. But if you can come up with a threat you will absolutely, definitely go through with then go with it. For example “you won’t be able to watch any TV until tomorrow.” Just remember, you HAVE to follow through or it will not work next time. The positive reinforcement (bribery) of “you’ll get a treat if you behave” also doesn’t always work with my kids because they expect the treat and then will have a meltdown if they don’t get the treat because they’re behaviour wasn’t up to scratch. Make the treat small (for example a squeezy yoghurt is a treat in our house) and don’t give it to them until the trip is over and they’ve behaved well.

Online shopping

When you just can’t face the trolley trip anymore, most of us have access to online shopping. Pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine once the kids have gone to sleep and have a much more serene, and dare I say, pleasurable shopping experience!

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