While an outburst or temper tantrum is normal for young children, here are tips to set expectations and ensure outings are enjoyable for the whole family -
Set age-appropriate expectations
Your toddler has a lot of energy and excitement, so asking her to be quiet for a long period of time isn't realistic. Breaking up errands with breaks and rewards can help your child behave well while you run to the grocery store, then to the bank and then to pick up the dry cleaning. Think about stopping at the park after the bank or introducing a new game or toy on the drive home.
For a young child who doesn't fully understand the concept of time, using small praises and rewards throughout the trip act as a good incentive to stay happy and avoid a tantrum. If you set the expectation that your little one has to wait too long for a reward, it could lead to an unsuccessful trip.
If your child is older, you can probably ask him to wait quietly and flip through a book. Trust your instincts. As a parent, you know what are reasonable expectations.
Clearly communicate expectations and plan for your outing
Before leaving, let your child know what's going to happen - "We're going to get a cart then go through my grocery list. After, we're going to pick up your brother from school, and then you can have a snack. We will not be buying snacks at the grocery store and we will not be stopping anywhere else."
It's important to communicate expectations as clearly as possible, making sure you're doing so in an age-appropriate way. Your preschooler may be able to repeat your expectations back to you, but your toddler likely will not be able to do so.
Incentivize on your own terms
It's OK to reward your child. Plan on verbal praises ("I am happy that you were so patient while we waited at the doctor's office!") or packing along a new book or activity as a way to both keep them busy during your next outing and to say "thanks" for good behavior.
It's important to avoid offering a reward if your child is in the middle of a tantrum. This may lead her to frequently have outbursts if it seems like this type of behavior gets rewarded. Instead, if you incentivize prior to a meltdown, you set the expectation that good behavior is required for a treat and will be provided if those expectations are met. It's OK to reward for good behavior!
A few other tips to help prevent outbursts in public
Along with setting expectations, there are a few other tips that can you have a pleasant (and outburst-free) time when you are out and about:
Plan around your child's schedule. If you can, reserve a trip to the grocery store as a post-nap activity when your child is likely to feel refreshed and in a better mood.
Let them be involved in the decisions, when appropriate. Taking a trip to the local library? Tell your child he can pick out three books to take home. If there's wiggle room in the vacation, give him two options for family activities to pick from.
Tell your child how happy and proud she made you. Thank your son for doing a good job. Positive reinforcement can go a long way.
Make it fun. Play games and keep children occupied by looking for familiar items depending on age (letters, numbers, colors). For example, play a game of "I Spy" and ask your child to identify something blue in the doctor's office.
Bring snacks - hunger can lead to grumpiness and meltdowns.
Redirect children when you sense a breakdown coming on . Have a bag of tricks on hand like coloring books, snacks and small toys. Sometimes, a small change can shift your child's focus and have a positive impact.
Finally, change your plans if needed. Some days will be better than others, and a reward, praise, or anything else you try may not work. Be prepared to go with another plan if needed. You can always try again tomorrow.