Posts Tagged: Parenting

Toddler Tantrums in the Doctor’s Reception Area

I was recently asked about how to cope with a public tantrum. I think the description given below will ring true to many parents:

“Yesterday we went to the doctor’s office. My daughter had a bowl of goldfish crackers for a snack and she kept spilling them so I held the bowl for her and she went crazy, throwing herself down on the ground in the reception area. She would not stand on her feet and went completely limp. I took her outside to sit on the step and let her sit on the lower step under me and held her with my legs while she thrashed about. We did this for like 5 minutes while she cried and yelled and I talked calmly to her. After that I let her go and offered her three goldfish crackers and she wouldn’t eat them and threw them down and went crazy again so I held her in a leg lock until she calmed down. Then she sat beside me and I offered her a cookie instead and she was better. This whole process took about 25 minutes. I’m just wondering what you thought I should do? Give her nothing? Or spanked her? Or what? At home it would have been over instantly but in public it doesn’t work that way.”

Here are some ideas on how this might go better for you next time:

1) Why does she do this in public only?
You were astute to notice she doesn’t react the same way in public as she does in private. She has learned from past experience that you are more likely to cave in public and give way to her demands, or that she can seek a little revenge and make you feel small in public by embarrassing or upsetting you.

Rule of thumb – try to have the same responses for behaviour regardless of where you are. I know it takes a lot of confidence, but believe it or not, people really don’t really care as much about you and your parenting as you think. Honest.

2) Toddler Tantrums are usually a form of a power struggle.
A tantrum is a child’s attempt to win a power contest that is being held between the child and the parent. The issue is not the goldfish per se, but rather “who has power over whom?” I recommend parents don’t try to “win” power struggles, nor do I think they should cave and “lose” power struggles. Both winning and losing serve to model to the child that power struggles are a good way to get your way in relationships. We don’t want them learning that do we? Instead, we must work to END the power struggle, by coming to a truce so you can get on with what is required of the situation.

Usually, power struggles get started when a parent steps into the child’s roles and responsibilities. In this case: whose role and responsibilities were the snack? Who owned the problem? In trying to “help her” you accidentally usurped her power to manage herself, her situation and her choices. When she starts to tantrum you have to think back on what got her triggered. What just happened that she perceived you as being dominating or controlling (usurping her power)?

If she’d rather hold the goldfish and continue to drop them, do you really care? I wouldn’t let her eat them off the floor mind you. I might even say “I am worried that you’ll have none left to eat if they all keep spilling and you’ll be hungry.” But the snack is hers to manage, her mistakes to make and her disappointment to deal with.

3) Too Late – Tantrum is on.
Once a tantrum has started, stop talking. There is no value in discussion when the child is in this state. Remain calm yourself, because if the child successfully gets you upset, it serves as “payoff”. She will feel victorious in her tactics to dominate you (your mood) with her tantrum and thus will stick with this successful behaviour strategy.

4) Disengage – Tantrums require you as the audience.
Once a tantrum is on, stop engaging in any way. There are many ways we “engage” with children besides talking. These include looking at the child, holding / hugging / rocking / pinning down, talking to calm them, etc. All of these are interactions between two individuals and it keeps adding fuel to the fire. The parent must disengage. As Dr Rudolph Dreikurs used to say, “You must take your sail out of their wind”.

5) Doctor’s office example.
Once the toddler tantrum begins, try totally ignoring it. Let her fall to the floor screaming. Pick up a magazine and start reading it. Don’t look at her, don’t touch her. Get busy with something else. If she screams so loudly and for so long that it is a public nuisance to the doctor’s office, you can remove her from that environment to finish the tantrum somewhere where it won’t affect others.

You can ask her, “Can you calm yourself or do we need to go outside?” (Or to the car). If she continues, carry her outside, and let her finish her upset out there while you sit and read a magazine from the office. Don’t look, don’t talk, don’t touch until she has calmed herself. You can let her know that, “When you are calm, I’ll know you are ready to go back in.”

6) Success.
Tantrums can be measured in their frequency, duration and intensity. If you are working to eliminate tantrums, be sure to use these objective measures to keep you encouraged that you’re making progress.

7) Positive Power.
Children need power. We want them to find it on the positive side of life namely, in being competent and capable and in contributing their talents to the family. If you spend time training children to manage on their own, they will get a sense of empowerment. Help her progress along the continuum towards full self-competence.


About the Author:

Alyson Schafer

Alyson Schafer

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine.  Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t Misbehavin”.  She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at

Valentine’s Day Made Simple

Despite the fact that Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a contrived holiday, kids love it! And with six kids in elementary school, it’s generally a very busy holiday in my household. I try to remember that it’s only a Hallmark holiday – there’s no point in letting it cause stress. So, I have a few easy tips to keep Valentine’s Day in perspective:

1)            Keep it simple: What puts me over the edge is when the kids return home from school with gobs of Valentine’s Day stuff. Gone are the days of the simple card. My children now arrive home with bags of lollies, pencils, stickers and even gift bags! I continue to resist the urge to conform. And when I say “urge”, I use that term VERY loosely.

2)            Card delivery system: Having your kid address each Valentine’s Day card to a specific child turns the process into a delivery nightmare. Instead, simply have them sign his or her name, and then every card can go to any friend. And please, if you’re going to send in cards – for goodness sake, send one in for every kid. No one wants to be left out on a special day.

3)            Keep the romance out of it: There is nothing grosser than seeing romance attached to children. I even get twitchy when I hear parents talking about their five-year-old son’s “girlfriend”. Keep the focus on friendship, not romantic love. And when it comes to picking out cards, we go either gender neutral or I have my kiddos pick what they like based on their own interests, and that’s what everyone gets. Yes, that can mean girls get Valentine’s cards with trucks on them.

4)            Don’t forget the food allergy kids: I’m not sure how people get around the whole “don’t send food into school for other kids” thing on this day. It must drive allergy mamas crazy, unsure of what their kids might be ingesting. Even mamas who don’t want their kids overloaded on junk are guaranteed to have kids return home with sugar highs. My personal take – don’t send in food treats. It’s just not necessary.

5)            What should mama do for her kiddos? Again, I follow my standard rule of keeping it simple. I write a little love note and sneak it into their lunchboxes with a special treat. Because my kids don’t get adoring notes from me daily and aren’t bombarded with treats, this makes it special for them.

How big a deal is Valentine’s Day in your house? Do you go all out, or close your eyes hoping the day will pass without much notice?


About the Author:

Julie Cole Mabel's Labels

Julie Cole

Julie Cole is co-founder of Mabel’s Labels Inc., the leading provider of kids’ labels, and a proud mom of six. This Valentine’s Day, say “Be Mine” with a personal touch. Give a fun, cute gift of love with personalized heart Sticky Labels! And stay tuned for a special Valentine’s Day sale!

The single most important thing I hope my daughters learn from me.

Guest Post by Mabel’s Labels Copywriter, Heather Dixon

Isn’t it funny how the power and meaning of parenting just creeps up on you sometimes?

One minute you’re in the grocery store looking at a bag of milk and the next you’re sobbing over how incredible your child is because they know how to drink from a sippy cup all of the sudden. They’re just so amazing.

I learned all about this 4 years ago, when I had my first baby girl – and then again 2 years ago when I had my second. Once I had Anna & Lauren, I knew all about this true, incredible love parents just seem to develop immediately and the responsibility that comes along with it.

But my moment of clarity wasn’t in the grocery store. It happened when my Mom and I went to see the musical The Secret Garden while my daughters stayed home with their Dad.

Since it’s a children’s story, there were lots of Moms and Dads and their little kids with them in the theatre. At the end of the row we were sitting in were two little boys. Brothers. Maybe about 6-years old. They looked like they could be twins. One of the boys appeared to have a disability.

Having no personal experience with special needs, I wasn’t sure what his was. All I knew for sure was that he was in a wheelchair – and his parents were very attentive. They watched him closely as he took a sip of his drink. They helped him with his hearing aid when the music was a bit too loud for him.

At one point, near the end of the play, something sort of exciting happened on stage. And when everything went silent, an excited “Whoa!” came from beside us. Everyone nearby turned to see the little boy, no longer in his wheelchair but curled into his Mom’s lap, watching the play intently. It was a sweet moment.

When the play ended, I couldn’t help but want to look over at the little boy again. So I did. And I saw him smiling. Smiling so broadly. His whole body was kind of shaking with excitement.

He was just so… happy.

And I started crying and crying.

I was crying because his parents brought him there. He cuddled into their laps. They rubbed the back of his head with his fuzzy little-boy hair. And they made him incredibly, incredibly happy that day.

That little boy was so clearly and undeniably loved. And that’s what everyone wants, really. We all want to love and be loved.

Seeing that family made me think of my daughters. Sure, I think they’re so cute and funny and smart. I love them more than anything. But I realized in that moment that it’s so incredibly important that they know it.

I realized that I have a huge responsibility to make sure my daughters feels undeniably loved. Life is all about loving these little beings into becoming happy, confident children, filled with the self-esteem and tools they need to be happy and productive adults.

I hope that I’m successful. I hope they always feel adored and self-confident. I hope their lives are happy. Their childhood is happy. I hope they learn from their Dad and I what love is all about.

And more than anything, I hope that they will one day be lucky enough to feel like that little boy felt.

To see the world the way he saw it.



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