How can I stop my 4-year-old throwing tantrums in shops?

If we don't buy her toys or sweets, she often runs out of the shop with them

Question: My daughter who is four years old gets very excited in shops (especially sweet and toy shops). She looks at a toy and if she does not get it, she gets very upset. Sometimes she will run out of the shop with the toy or sweets. This is very embarrassing for me.

Answer: At four years of age it is hard to go into a shop and not get the sweets that are attractively presented in front of you. Shops are set up to advertise attractive toys and sweets to children, often at their eye level so young children are of course tempted. Also, if when out shopping young children sometimes get a sweet and sometimes don't (depending on what the parent decides), then this can be confusing and lead to tantrums in the shop as the child tries to manage their disappointment or fights for what they want.

Your daughter is taking this behaviour a step further by running out of the shop!

There are simple things that can help.


Prepare your daughter before a shop visit

Anticipate that sweet shop visits might be difficult for her, so take time to prepare her for what is happening. For example, if you are not buying sweets involve her in the positive things you are doing instead  ”we are going into the shop to buy bread and bananas – will you help Mum”.  If you are happy to buy sweets make these dependent on her behaving well – “if you behave and hold mum’s hand when we shop, you can pick a small treat to have at home”. If you are going into a toy shop and do not want to buy anything, prepare her for this – “we are going into the toy shop to have a look. We can have a quick play and then put the toys back until we visit again – won’t that be fun!”

Anticipate a tantrum

Make a plan for what you will do if she throws a tantrum or tries to run off. Anticipate the worst that could happen and think through how you will respond step by step. For example, if she grabs a toy and tries to run out, calmly go after her, and put the toy back – “lets put the toy back now and go home”. Be understanding of her emotions as you gently follow through on the rule and remember to  be calm, gentle and persistent. As it is a public situation, usually it is best to go outside (and take away the unhelpful attention of the audience) and to resolve things there.