I'm The Mom Who Put Her Kid In A Time Out In A Toy Store

Dealing with public tantrums are no fun for anyone, but sometimes they're necessary


Ah, the public tantrum. My favourite.

My daughter wasn’t a big public tantrumer (yes, I made up a word) but my son has laid down in parking lots, grocery stores, toy stores, bus stops, sidewalks…

At first, I cared. I’d be horrified and would try to drag him up and away from the passers-by. But he’d fight me and really, that was a scene in its own right. Thankfully I live in a town where the average age is 15. Seriously. There are so many parents and so many young kids in this town that, more often than not, the look I get while my kid flails on a street corner is a look of empathy, of understanding and of commiseration.

I’ll never forget the day I was in Mastermind and my son was given a time out for throwing a toy and refusing to pick it up. I knew I was making a scene in that store. But I also knew I had to pick up a gift for my niece and that my son had done something inappropriate. So there he sat, in the middle of a toy store, in time out. Screaming.

A woman walked by and looked at him and looked at me and I was ready for an eye roll or a harsh glance. Instead, she whispered, “Stay strong.” I wanted to hug her.

I know many people would have walked past my son shaking their head in disgust, quietly saying to themselves that I should learn to control my child in public. Meanwhile, that is exactly what I was trying to do.

Clint Edwards, contributor to the Washington Post, would have had my back too.

Edwards’s son sounds much like my own. “Like a car without a steering wheel,” he wrote in the Post.

He, like me, has had the impulse to immediately remove his child from a situation where he was misbehaving in public. But, like me, he came to realize that not only is it not always possible, but more importantly, it’s not necessarily the most effective way to teach a child how to behave in public.

“I realized... that it was going to take years to teach Tristan how to act appropriately in public, and the only way I was ever going to teach that was to take him out and show him what was right and wrong. By saying no a million times, letting him throw a fit, and telling him no again,” Edwards writes.

“Teaching children how to act in public is actually a million lessons on decency and respect that take place in a million different locations.”

I freely admit that tantruming children in public used to send shivers of annoyance down my spine. Tantruming child automatically meant parent not controlling said child in my eyes. But my eyes have since been opened.

If my child throws a toy in a toy store, my child will pick it up and put it back where he got it from. No matter how much he screams. No matter how many other people he annoys. He will learn that we respect property, no matter where we are.

It is one of the more annoying parts of being a parent. No one in public wants to hear a screaming child. That list includes the parents of said child.

“I’m sorry to those of you who get irritated by my children’s fits, but you are part of this practice,” Edwards said.

“Your parents did the same with you, and that’s how you now know how to recognize when a child does something irritating in a store. It’s how you learned to look at a situation and say, ‘That parent needs to control their kids.'’’

And maybe that’s why that wonderful lady in Mastermind told me to stay strong. Because she understood what I understood, which is that no matter where we are, no matter who is around, no matter how annoying it most certainly is for other people, the only way my child will learn how to behave in public, is by being in public and being guided through and disciplined for bad behaviour.

“Before you get angry and judgmental, realize that what you are witnessing is not bad parenting, but rather, parents working hard to fix the situation. You are looking at what it takes to turn a child into a person,” Edwards said.

And sometimes, it takes a bit more work, a bit more noise, than anyone would like.

My son doesn’t tantrum in stores anymore. At least, he hasn’t in a while. It could be age. It could be maturity. Or it could be that he realized that lying down and refusing to get up in No Frills that time didn’t get him the attention he wanted. So lately, he tries a different tactic to get the attention he wants.

He behaves a whole lot better.

That’s not to say he’s a perfect angel. He’s three and a half. But at least his knee jerk is no longer to throw himself down on the ground at first impulse.

We’re getting somewhere. 

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