Imagine you are with extended family, out to a special dinner. Or there is a group play date at the park with lots of parents around. There’s a birthday party where tons of family and friends gather. Either way, you’re in a very public place and your child has decided to have a meltdown – in a big way. Hitting, screaming, throwing things, it isn’t pretty.

A public tantrum is one of the most embarrassing events for parents. What can be annoying and irritating at home is gut-wrenching and horrifying in public. As parents, we start to feel instantly judged by others.

No one else’s children are behaving this way. Everyone is waiting for me to do something here. I look like I am not in control of my own child.

It is this pressure, this embarrassment, this shame that makes it very difficult to parent well in these moments.

Our brains are screaming: This is unacceptable. I must punish this child. This child must learn a lesson.

It is in these public moments that you can only do two things:

1. Get out of the public eye.

With the situation going from bad to worse, the only thing you can do is get out of dodge. If you can go home, go home. If you must stay in the vicinity, then go to the car. If you don’t have a car, go for a walk. Just get out! As soon as you leave, your temperature will start to go down and you are less likely to have your own tantrum. When the eyes are off of you and the child, you can start to breathe, calm yourself, and start to be a positive presence for the child.

2. No punishments, lectures, threats, and as little physical contact as possible

Your child’s brain has short-circuited. When they are in a full-blown tantrum, language is not getting through to them. No lessons will be learned, nothing will be reversed, and the best you can do is to wait the tantrum out. As well as the child not being able to listen and receive, you are not usually in a loving and calm place to speak or act. When you feel publically humiliated, you are more likely to lash out, feeling shame and hurt. Sometimes as parents, we simply need to wait.

Parents often ask me whether they should stay near the child or go into another room. Some children need for the parent to just sit on the sidewalk and wait. Some children want the parent to hold them and hug them. If walking away from a child sends them further into the tantrum, then stay close. If you feel like staying close is making it worse, give them space. You know your child best, so do what is best for them and for you. And as always, if simply being near them makes you feel angrier and possibly violent, then find a safe way to get away from your child.

When this public tantrum has passed (and you have sufficiently cooled down), you can look back at the incident more objectively. Was your child getting sick? Were they hungry? Was it naptime? Were they bored? When you are out again, how can you change the course? Or was it simply a young child being…a young child? Children throw tantrums. Whatever you decide, let the moment be where it now is: the past.