Ah, public meltdowns. Sure, they’re inevitable (there’s a lot going on in those tiny brains!), but that doesn’t mean we can’t equip ourselves with the right tools to deal with them in the moment. After all, kids aren’t losing their minds to make your life difficult, they’re doing it because it’s the only way they know how to express themselves. It’s up to us parents and caregivers to help them develop coping mechanisms that will allow them to self-regulate in the future.

In a recent TikTok, Dr. Chelsey Hauge-Zavaleta, co-founder of Positive Parenthood, breaks down four responses that can help diffuse a public meltdown without threats, bribes, or completely shutting a child down—and each one is catered to a different type of kid.


Replying to @Sonder

♬ original sound – Dr. Chelsey Hauge-Zavaleta

Hauge-Zavaleta prefaces the four responses with a disclaimer: If your child starts saying things like “I don’t want to be here.” “I am so bored.” “I want to go home!” you need to take them to the edge of whatever public place you’re in to separate them from all the excitement and other people. Your child will be able to hear you, and you’ll have created a better opportunity to get through to them. “The edge of the grocery store, the edge of the park, somewhere private,” she says.

Then she wants you to say and do one of these four things, based on the kind of child you have:

1. If you have a kid who gets “hangry” often.

If you’ve got a kiddo who plays hard and, like clockwork, starts to lose it if they haven’t had a snack by a certain point, this is what Hauge-Zavaleta recommends: “Sit down and silently start peeling an orange or a banana, any food you have on hand. Don’t use words on this kid. Do not ask if they want the food. Just hand them the peeled orange or whatever food you’ve got, and model good breathing.”

2. If your kid struggles with sensory overload.

Public spaces are filled with noise, lights, smells—the works. According to Hauge-Zavaleta, the first thing you need to do for a kid struggling with overload is to make the environment easier to manage: give them a pair of headphones, turn off the lights, etc. Then she says to use a soft, melodic voice to speak with your child and remind yourself they aren’t behaving this way to stress you out. The environment is just too much.

Related: This One-Word Switch Prevents Kid Meltdowns When Leaving Somewhere Fun

3. If your kid is all about “fairness.”

To some kids, it’s the world against them, and nothing is “fair.” If this is your kiddo, Hauge-Zavaleta recommends using three “yes” statements to validate your child’s feelings without catering to their requests. For example, “You really didn’t want to come here today.” “This sucks, and you are counting the minutes till we get home.” “You hate it here and can’t believe mama brought you.”

Hauge-Zavaleta explains, “This is not to fix the problem. This is just to get your child back into a state of regulation. If you get their perspective wrong, you’re absolutely going to know and then you need to try again. You cannot force these kinds of children to have a delightful time just because you’re having a delightful time, and you need to recognize that it’s okay to be unhappy about whatever family event you’re at.”

She reminds us that parents should use a soft, positive voice, and try to understand that their child’s perspective on the event or situation will be different than their own.

4. If your kid loves a routine and has a hard time with change.

So you’ve got a Type-A child who thrives in knowing what comes next. That’s great for many reasons, but in big public settings, this type of child can be thrown way off if things change without warning or too much is happening. Here’s what Hauge-Zavaleta recommends: Don’t label their feelings. Don’t tell them they’re just being shy or they need to learn how to go with the flow. Simply ask questions and be curious about your kids’ state of mind so they can tell you how they’re feeling, not the other way around.

If they’re using loud language, do not respond to it. Instead, use a soft and whispering voice to help them move on to the next step. She says visuals can be useful as well. Draw a picture of what is happening first, and then what is happening next.

These responses are effective if you’ve done the legwork before even leaving the house. As Hauge-Zavaleta explains, “It’s about realizing what kind of support your child needs at the moment. It’s also about changing your mindset from ‘they’re throwing a meltdown because they don’t want to be here’ to ‘they’re throwing a meltdown, and I’m the one who can help them get out of it.’”

Related: 5 Easy Sensory Activities That Help Prevent Meltdowns & Tantrums

Do these responses mean your child gets their way and you leave the event or gathering? Not at all. As parents, we can have boundaries, but we also need to answer our kids’ call for help when they’re melting down in public—and catering our response to their needs makes the process a whole lot easier.

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