I used to watch parents of 'Big-Mart floor-thrashing' toddler tantrums and wonder why the parent couldn't get their act together. "Leave or make it stop," I thought; in my "I'll be such a better parent when I get the chance" fantasy scenario. The me I have become after 7 years of parenting now cringes at the overwhelming misunderstanding that causes and perpetuates such public outbursts.
Some may think toddlers enjoy causing their parents to break a sweat in restaurants and big box stores; or that the parents aren't adequately disciplining their children. In my experience, however, there are two child-driven underlying causes, none of which include a child's intention for sabotage or public humiliation, or the lack of sufficiently stern discipline...
1. A break in Routine can cause toddler fatigue or hunger. Many outings spill over into nap times, which render toddlers low on tolerance and self-control. Similarly, hunger crashes can have the same effect. I always try to keep snacks and water on-hand while we're out. I'm a simple girl, who hates sippy valves --that are hard to clean and always get lost. So, I usually opt for low tech re-usable juice boxes...filled with water (I like rubbermaid litterless Juice Boxes --I slide the straws right onto the dishwasher divider-rods to wash them).
Engaging Banter . Make periodic eye contact, talk about what you see; speculate; Draw attention to things...the content and focus of conversation doesn't matter. What matters is that the child feels 'with' you and part of the process.
If, after the above, a child still escalates and loses control:
Be willing to Leave Unfinished (or have the iron stomach to see it through);
As a parent or adult with a child-in-tow, you run the risk of, much like forecasting the weather, being unable to anticipate if said child(ren) will comply with your goals, however mundane or extravagant!
There is A Tipping Point from which there is no coming back from with words, threats, or snacks. So save the threats. No matter what you say, they will rarely have the desired effect (and discipline warnings should never be bluffs). Past this point, the child is drunk on a flood of emotion, irrational and incapable of re-setting their behavior in the moment. They won't have the strength to 'pull themselves together' no matter what you threaten.
The Only Recourse at this point is:
TIME to Calm Down
and if possible...
Re-Focus: through A Change of Activity
I have had to walk out of stores, with a flailing child over my shoulder, while passing the cart of un-purchased goods to the cashier, with nothing more than a flushed face and a "sorry"... These days I play it by ear, cut my losses when need be, and weigh the worth of what I am determined to do, against my nerve for the public spectacle.
Anticipate the Unexpected,
and in all things Deploy First:
Attention to the physiological needs
of food and sleep!