My 4-year-old daughter, Emily, was at work with me one day, and I took her to the company cafeteria, which is packed with super-stylish fashion editors in stiletto heels," says Denise Kessler, 33, a magazine editor in New York City and mother of two from Katonah, NY. "Since there were no other seats, we had to sit at a big table right in the middle of the room. Emily was overtired, and she started shrieking. The women sitting next to me glared. Before I could whisk Emily out of there, she rocked back on her seat, and her chair -- and food -- clattered to the floor. All these women were scrambling to get their Gucci purses out of the way of her mess. Emily was fine. But I was pretty embarrassed."
The Public Tantrum. It can strike fear into the hearts of even the most together parents. And for good reason. "The biggest problem with temper tantrums is the threat of embarrassment," says Thomas Phelan, Ph.D., the Glen Ellyn, IL-based author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12. "You fear that you're going to look like a totally inept parent in front of everyone. And by the time kids are 13 months old, they sense that."
The issues that tantrums raise for parents of young children strike surprisingly deep. "They touch a parent's deepest insecurities: What kind of child did you produce? A kid's behavior reflects on his parents' self-esteem," says Stan J. Katz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills, CA. "The truth is, people do make judgments about how others parent. You can wear what you want in public, or say what you want, but when your child is acting up, people can be hypercritical without knowing the specifics of your situation."