Shopping, toddlers and tantrums: A survival guide

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Anja van den Berg


As a parent, you learn by trial and error what works and what doesn’t work. Taking toddlers on an outing is a little like juggling with sticks of dynamite: You are never quite sure when you’ll leave the store unscathed and when it will all blow up in your face – sometimes with painful consequences.

“Tantrums send parents into shock as their little one explodes with great force and very little warning,” says Dr Christopher Green, author of the chart-topping book Toddler Taming.  “Once they have stumbled into this minefield, parents become frustrated and feel helpless at their inability to reason with the toddler and make him stop.”

“What’s worse is that tantrums often occur in public and embarrassed parents have to deal with not only their own reaction but also that of the avid audience. The threat of tantrums while out shopping is a particular torture as parents find themselves in an environment perfectly designed to bring out the worst in difficult or strong-minded toddlers,” Green continues.


Here is your survival guide to avoid and manage the dreaded toddler tantrum in public:

  • The most obvious solution to public tantrums is to plan ahead and avoid them in the first place! Ask grandma, a neighbour or a child-minder to babysit and allow you some tantrum-free shopping. “With some toddlers,” Green says, “the only way you are going to win is to not take them with you at all.”
  • If your toddler must come along, bring your partner as a minder, entertainer and an extra pair of hands.
  • Choose to shop during those times when your toddler is well-rested, healthy, fed and happy.
  • Opt to shop during less busy times of the day. Take a different approach to the weekly supermarket ordeal and turn shopping into a learning experience. “Talk to the toddler and involve him in basic purchasing decisions,” says Green. “Harness the twin powers of attention and entertainment.”
  • Each child has an individual time limit for shopping. Once it has expired, don’t stop to chat to friends or take hours to decide what to cook for dinner while standing in front of the meat cabinet. “When your child has reached her capacity, every effort must be made to finish your business and get out of there with all the speed of a military withdrawal,” Green says.
  • Set up a distraction before you get to that section of the supermarket where you know the main temptation lies. Bring a captivating book or toy along. Plan ahead and pack a tasty – and healthy – snack pack at home to offer when you’re about halfway through your shopping time.
  • Opt for ‘Smash and Grab’ shopping. “The Smash and Grab shopper knows exactly what she wants to buy before leaving home. She enters the supermarket with sparks flying from the trolley wheels,” Green advises. She’s steadfast and speedy, scooping products of the shelves with direction, determination and without a shred of hesitation. “She zips through the smallest checkout queue, pays and is out of the shop before you can say ‘overly inflated profit margins’”.


Establish rules that everyone is expected to follow when you are out in public together, says psychologist Nancy Buck. “Generally, all rules should include respecting self, respecting others and respecting property. Depending on your child’s age, you will explain and get more specific.” Be sure to build fun into the outing; something enjoyable for your child to do while you are busy. “Remember, children have a huge need for excitement and will figure out how to follow this urge in responsible and appropriate ways if you plan for it.”



Christopher Green, 2006, “New Toddler Taming: A parents’ guide to the first four years: The World’s Bestselling Parenting Guide”, Vermilion,

Nancy Buck, 2011, Get Your Children Under Control In Public, Psychology Today,


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