Tantrums are never fun, but they feel exponentially worse when you're out on vacation. "Aren't we supposed to be having fun?" you might ask when your little angel flings themselves away from you, red in the face from screaming.
Remember that tantrums are usually a child's way of saying, "I'm overwhelmed and cannot deal with my emotions right now!" Keeping those two factors in mind (overwhelming situations and acute emotions) can help you deal with tantrums, even in the most embarrassing or inconvenient places.
Here are three universal steps to dealing with a tantrum, no matter where you are.
Have reasonable expectations for your children, even on vacation. The Happiest Place on Earth is completely exhausting, and the most relaxing beaches can become boring. If possible, choose vacation destinations with age-appropriate activities for your children, and then prepare yourself for every possibility. Bring snacks, plan around naptime, and set clear expectations up front. If your daughter knows she needs to wait in line before getting to see her favorite princess, she's more likely to be in a reasonable mood upon reaching the front of the line. If she isn't prepared mentally for a wait, she's more likely to break down.
Remember the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" Another way to think of it is this: "A well-behaved child is a well-rested, well-fed, and well-prepared child."
Remove the child from the situation, in any way possible. If you're in a crowded theme park or attraction, even stepping into a less-crowded restaurant or restroom can reduce the amount of stress your little one is feeling. Vacation destinations are often chaotic, even for adults. Children get overwhelmed more easily than adults and just giving them a quiet moment to breathe and calm down can work wonders.
This step is often the most difficult (and embarrassing) particularly when you are on vacation. The rest of the family is having a good time, but your 4-year-old is throwing himself on the ground and thrashing about because you will not buy him a 15-dollar balloon. This is when you have to remove him from the situation, get him to a place where he can finish thrashing, calm down, and listen to reason. This often requires picking the child up, or at the very least physically guiding him to a new location. Carrying or guiding a child who is in the throes of a tantrum can feel a lot like wrestling an oversized octopus, and is definitely going to attract unwanted attention from nosy strangers. Hold your head high, take solace the fact that every child in the world has done this at least once, and move on.
Steps one and two will work much better if you know your child is not acting out in order to force your hand. The only way you can know this is if you do not give in to a tantrum. Your son screams about not getting his ice cream fast enough? Remove him from the situation, let him calm down, and then go back and wait - yes, wait AGAIN - for the ice cream.
A tantrum should never result in the child being rewarded. Once he or she calms down, your child can return to the activities and follow the same set of rules as everybody else.
Tantrums can become the bane of your vacation if you let them, but following these steps - no matter how tempting it is to give in - can diffuse a tantrum and help prevent future ones.