It all started out groovy. My three-year-old asked to drive one of those carts that look like a car and I said, "Sure!" Then I realized that I had nowhere to put the two 18-month-olds I had with me. They had to go in the cart, and my daughter had to just toddler along behind. I tried consoling her with her own tot-sized cart she could push around, but no can do on that one. She wasn't buying it. As time progressed, she got more and more upset - and finally got so mad that she wrenched her little cart over on its side and ended up screeching bloody murder, kicking and scratching the crap out of me with any attempts to grab her.
This was completely uncharacteristic of my child, but I was no stranger to whining, crying kids. For sure, it was a ten on the scale of "help me," but I also knew that there was nothing to do except wait it out.
When you find yourself in a public place with a screaming, obstinate child, of course you want to die of shame, but you know what? Those cranky people with unforgiving stares haven't walked a mile in your shoes, so they can stuff it.
You're a great Mommy, so take a deep breath and try to center yourself. Those moments will happen, but they will also pass. The only thing you can do is remember to set up your day to ensure your child is fed, rested, and not over-stimulated before you head out. Have a very structured sleep schedule and don't skip naps or venture out when you know your child will be tired or hungry. That's a tantrum waiting to happen.
The other important thing to remember is not to set expectations. If I had a do-over, I would not have promised my child a ride in that car cart without thinking it through. Her expectation was set, and when I changed plans, it devastated her. Instead, when she asked, I should have just said, "Let me see first. I'm not sure."
Now, there's a difference in tantrums. There are three kinds: Need, Overload, and Demand. We've talked about Need and Overload above (need for sleep/rest, and avoiding overstimulating the child). When these happen, you simply have to get your child some food or rest, or get them in a calm, unstimulating environment, fast. Demand tantrums are a different animal. Those require that you don't reinforce undesirable behavior. Stop giving in to demands, otherwise you teach your child that it's okay to throw a fit to get what she wants. Not good! When your child tantrums over a demand, make sure that she doesn't get what she wants. Period. Even though it was MY fault that my child threw a fit in the grocery store, I still didn't give in to her demand. That would have reinforced the tantrum. I just had to recognize what I did wrong and vow to do better next time.
You are a terrific Mommy - big hugs to you. We are all in this together, so shake off the shame and guilt, and hold your head high. Tomorrow is another day. Make it a good one!