Knowing what to do when our children are upset is commonly one of the biggest parenting challenges. Tantrums can feel unrelenting and take all the energy out of us. When my three-year-old was having multiple tantrums every day, I desperately needed to better understand what was going on in the mind and heart of young children when upset envelopes them.

My search for understanding lead me to learn more about the brain and how people process intense emotions. I discovered that there are two basic areas of the brain in play during tantrum time. Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD (authors of The Whole-Brain Child) call those areas the “upstairs” and “downstairs” parts of the brain. I like to call them the “back” and “front” parts. I find my children understand this better when I point to that part where our skull and spine meet for the “back” part and my forehead for the “front.” Please note that this is an oversimplified explanation of the brain dynamics when we become upset.

When our children are experiencing big upset, their back-brains (the part where the fight-or-flight reaction is housed) has taken over them. Our big parenting task is to not get swept into our back-brains along with them. That area of our mind is where frustration, harshness, impatience, and cutting words can be triggered.

Shifting from the back-brain (which causes us to be irrational and freak out) to the front-brain (where rational thought, critical thinking, empathy, and thoughtfulness are housed) takes a series of actions to happen. These actions are intentional and take LOTS of practice.

Those actions are: 1. To be aware we have gone into back-brain mode, 2. To validate the feeling that has been triggered: what are we or our children feeling? Disrespected? Unheard? Rushed? Tired? 3. Engage a calm-down plan that reminds us to cool our jets and start thinking straight. I count backwards from 21 to -3 by twos and tighten and release my hands (make “star hands”). 4. Try to identify the unmet need that might be causing the upset. 5. Think about options to meeting that need. 6. Use clever language to encourage ourselves and our children to make the shift back into our front-brain (be calm). 7. Re-group and carry on.

I believe that an important goal of parenting is to stay in our front-brain as much as we can, know what makes us susceptible to slipping into the back part (exhaustion, frustration, not feeling valued or heard), and make the shift from the back to front parts when we get triggered. Doing this will teach our children how to do the same. Front-brain parenting is also commonly called “positive discipline,” which is a way of interacting with children that teaches problem solving, self-discipline, emotion-language, and self-regulation. It’s the difference between using tactics like shaming, humiliation, time-outs, hitting, harsh yelling (which activate everyone’s back-brain) and positive strategies like: hugs, clever language, empathy, routines, transition signals, filling the ALIVE tanks, and using firm, friendly boundaries.

In order to better support parents on how to interact with a child who is very upset, I have created a series of tools to better explain all the things I have mentioned above. These are “front-brain” concepts and strategies to improve the connection with and behaviour of our children.

A Smartphone App!

The “Taming Tantrums” app is available for iPhone and Android (click on the highlighted words from your phone to get direct links to the appropriate app store). You can have front-brain strategies right at your fingers tips, anywhere you are! I’m very excited that my app has reached #1 in the worldwide iTunes Education chart and has been hovering near there since.


A Video Series

Erica Ehm, president of the and former Much Music VJ, and I have teamed up to create a series of twenty-six videos called the, “A to Z of Taming Tantrums.” Each week, we will release a new letter of the alphabet, providing  you with positive parenting solutions. This link will take you to the video hub on the YMC website so you can see all the videos already published and the new ones as they are released, and this link will take you to the YouTube page where they are found. If you subscribe to the YMC page, you’ll have easy access to the new episodes. The hashtag we use to keep track of those videos is #TantrumsAtoZ.

C for Calm

An eBook

I have written a full-length book, and have made that available on my website. I believe that Taming Tantrums: A Connect Four Parenting Parenting Approach to Raising Cooperative Toddlers has everything you need to understand how to parent from your front brain/ positively–to be the parent you hope to be. I include sections on understanding core beliefs, emotion regulation, and strategies to increasing cooperation, among others.

A Handout

Here is a link to this handy fridge handout so you can remember the key points to taming tantrums.


Time With Me

If you would like to spend one-on-one time with me, either through personal consultations or small or large group presentations, I have a few options available to choose from. Your mommy-group, school parenting community, teachers, family doctors/ paediatricians, partner and you can either book me to interact with you via Skype or in person. Please click here to read more about personal consultations and here for public presentations.


You can also find me on my Facebook page. I invite you to join the positive parenting community there.