3 Proven Steps to Stop a Temper Tantrum Before It Starts

The grocery store and a temper tantrum are like best friends for moms with young kids—at least most moms. But, I’m pretty excited to say that I rarely get to experience my son throwing a temper tantrum.

Can it be true? Absolutely.

It does happen occasionally, but if he does throw a fit, it’s usually because he’s tired or hungry.

Do I still get the questions?

Yes, in fact, here is a picture I snapped of him the other day when we were in store. He’s asking me for the $5 movie Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

(Sidenote: This picture is so telling of my son and what drives the asking. He’s never seen this movie. I think it’s funny because my snapshot even caught a little bit how he’s trying to convince me to get it because it’s only $5 and he wants it. LOL!!)

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The best part about our grocery store trip is that I never actually say the word no to my son.

Let me share a quick story about what I mean.

“Mom, can I have this?”

Like every family, we go to the grocery store—and every time I hear, “Mom can I have this? Can I get this?” And this one day was no different.

I had made it almost all the way through our grocery trip with only a couple of “Mom can I?” questions when my son asked if he could have a sucker. We were checking out and I was getting ready to pay. I looked at him and simply said, “Sebastian, it’s not on our list.”

He looked at me, took the sucker he had in his hand and put it back. No temper tantrum and no tears.

Both the cashier, and bagger, looked at me with jaws dropped to the floor. The cashier said, “I’ve never seen that happen before! Usually it’s a meltdown.”

Likewise the bagger replied, “I’m gonna use that one. It’s not on the list. I’ve never heard anyone say that before—and that response—it’s priceless.”

It’s not easy to tell your kids no—especially when you’re asked for something over and over again. But, there’s three simple proven steps that you can take to stop those temper tantrums before they start.

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1. Have a plan before a temper tantrum.

Before shopping and before the questions start, you should have a plan for how you will respond.

Most moms exercise the one thing they know and that is to just say no.

The problem with just saying no, is that your kids will continue to ask. Before long you’ll get tired of saying no and they will throw a temper tantrum and inevitably you’ll give in.

After just one time of this happening, your kids will do it over and over again. They quickly learn by how you’ve responded in the past. If you’ve given in once, they know that if they ask and ask and ask—you’ll give in again.

A mom with a plan is the best gift you can give your kids.

2. Have a phrase that you use over and over and over.

Just like your kids ask and ask and ask, two can play that game you know.

My mentor mom taught me to have a phrase to use over and over again in response to my son asking. The phrase has two purposes—to wear your kids out—and to teach your kids about something rather than just saying no.

This “braindead phrase” as she often calls it, gives me a proven method to stop the temper tantrum. But it also gives my son a choice. With each choice he’s learning something and developing responsibility.

One phrase she suggests is, “What did I say?” I use this phrase a lot too, but my favorite thing to say when we go shopping is, “It’s not on our list.”

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Before we even get into the store, I have a plan and he knows what it is ahead of time. I make a list and I tell him exactly what is on it. He knows that the things on that list are the only things we are buying.

From time to time I will make exceptions to the list. Like if I find that something is on sale, that I didn’t know was on sale. But I also use that as a moment to teach him as well—about shopping wisely.

This plan helps me to stick to a meal plan as well as a budget. I don’t go into a store and come out with a bunch of things that I don’t need or can’t afford.

3. Stick to your plan.

One of the easiest things we do as moms—especially when we’re tired or overwhelmed—is that we don’t follow through with the plan. We tend to give in because it’s easier at the moment.

Like when you cave in at the checkout to your son’s begging. You to let him have one of those KinderJoy chocolate eggs.

I get it. It’s been “one of those” trips. You’re tired and you’ve been fighting your son all through the grocery store and now your daughter is starting to fuss because she’s ready to eat.

It’s so hard to stick to the plan. Deep down all you want is to just get it all over with and to get your son quiet.

This is one of those moments girl where self talk is so important—what you say to yourself matters. For me, I’ve been really intentional to be in control of my mind and thoughts with healthy self talk.

Ever catch yourself saying—I can’t or I’m not? What you say to yourself matters—the right words become the dash that moves you from surviving—> to thriving.

A Healthy Foundation for Parenting

Those things I’ve told myself over and over again—healthy or not healthy—is what I remember. In this situation, because I’ve intentionally developed healthy positive self talk, there’s a phrase that pops into my mind. “Do you want to deal with this now, or do you want to deal with it later—when it is harder?”

There is a greater loss you will experience, by not dealing with things when they happen. You settle for temporary comfort. If you cave now, you’re telling yourself (self talk) that you’re not strong enough. Likewise, you’re telling your son he can get away with behaving badly and still get what he wants.

I can tell you that when you gather enough strength to follow through with your plan and say again to your son, “It’s not on our list.” then you will feel really empowered as a mom.

When you hold your boundaries and stick to your plan, it sets a precedence for you and for your son. If you can do it this time, you can do it again.

This is a beginning of a healthy foundation for parenting that is loving and helps to teach your kids in the process. In addition to feeling empowered, your son now knows that you mean business.

Does it really stop a temper tantrum?

After reading through these proven steps, you might be thinking, “Yeah, well, it worked for you, how do I know if it will work for me?”

If you’re looking for a quick fix, this isn’t it. These steps don’t work the first time. But, after two to three times they do work and it gets easier.

Just like the first time your daughter rolled over. It wasn’t perfect, but as she does it more and more, she gets more familiar with how it feels. The more she rolls over, the more confident she feels. She now knows how to do it and what happens when she does it.

The same is true with these steps.

After using these steps just a few times, the temper tantrums will go away.

You know what you’re going to do—and your son will know what is going to happen. Next time you go to the store your son will know what you’re going to say and do—and whether or not he can get you to do otherwise.

Sure, my son would test me, but I would hold my ground. Then he knew that he wasn’t going to get me to do what he wanted—because it wasn’t on our list. If I can do it, I know you can do it too.

Now, these steps are just one way to survive a temper tantrum. If you’d like some more ideas, you can read the Parents.com post 8 Temper Tantrum Survival Strategies.

Let’s wrap things up with more proof that these steps do work.

A Temper Tantrum or Proud Mom?

There are many stories that I can share, but this one is one of my favorites because it makes me most proud of my son.

It was 1:45 in the afternoon. I had been running around all morning to different stores looking for supplies to create a DIY Succulent Planter.

My son was still taking naps and it was getting close to his nap time. We hadn’t eaten much for lunch so it was pretty iffy for me to even risk going to another store. But, I had to get the supplies because I needed them for the next day. I had no other options.

We walked into our local Dollar Tree and headed over to the $1 mug section. I found what I needed and the manager helped me load a case of mugs into a cart.

The questions started, “Mom…can I…mom…what about this?”

The Exception and the Test

I did say yes to him getting a bottle of Lipton’s Strawberry Lemonade. He had behaved so well all morning and we rarely find this drink anywhere—so I made an exception.

Satisfied that I said yes, we headed to the checkout. Yep, the checkout—the place where everything gets put to the test. He looked at me again and said, “Mom, can I get a balloon?”

There was a nice display of helium filled balloons in the front of the store. At this point, again I could have easily said yes—I mean the balloons were only a dollar. But, I stuck to the plan—“Sorry buddy, that’s not on our list. And you have a balloon at home.”

Now the balloon at home wasn’t helium so I expected a little questioning back from him. Instead, he turned to me and said, “Okay, mommy.”

“I can’t believe it!”

You would have thought that the world stood still at that point, because everybody stopped doing what they were doing. The two cashiers, a manager, the woman in front of me, the two women behind me—everybody stopped and stared at my son.

Immediately the manager said to me, “That never happens. We see meltdowns all the time, but we never see a kid respond like that—that is incredible.”

I smiled and said thank you.

The woman in front of me just kept saying, “I can’t believe it!” She turned to my son, bent down and said, “Little buddy you were so good for your mommy. Here, let me get you a balloon. I mean…is that okay, mom?”

He proudly looked back at me for my approval, then with my nod he pointed to a balloon that said, “You are special”.

I don’t know who’s smile was bigger—his, mine, or all the people who saw what happened. My son had a choice—instead of throwing a temper tantrum, he followed the plan. And get this—girl, he was tired and hungry!

Every time I share that story I smile because I’m so proud of my son.

Grocery Shopping With Confidence

What if you could go to the grocery store with confidence—and without the possibility of a temper tantrum happening?

How about using these 3 steps for your next trip?

  1. Have a plan ahead of time.
  2. Pick your phrase to use, like, “It’s not on our list.”
  3. Stick to your plan.

Even when you’re tired, by practicing these three steps it will help you to do what you know is best. You’ll remember, if you did it once you can do it again. Think about it this way. If my son (who was tired and hungry) can make the best choice—you can do it too!

Let me know how it goes!

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