We've all seen it. A child is in the grocery store, crying about a piece of candy, or other treat that they want and are not allowed to have. Perhaps you gave the mom a sympathetic look. Perhaps you wondered why Mom wasn't doing anything about their annoying kid. If that annoying kid happens to be yours, you probably felt that flush of embarrassment and frustration that accompanies every public tantrum.
In this fun story below, a man notices a mom handle her fussy daughter with such grace, he is compelled to follow them.
A man observed a woman in the grocery store with a three-year-old girl in her cart. As they passed the cookie section, the little girl asked for cookies and when her mother told her "no," the little girl immediately began to whine and fuss. The mother said quietly, "Now Monica, we just have half of the aisles left to go through- don't be upset. It won't be long now."
Soon, they came to the candy aisle and the girl began to shout for candy. When told she couldn't have any, she began to cry. The mother said, "There, there, Monica. Don't cry. Only two more aisles to go and we'll be checking out."
When they got to the checkout stand, the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum and burst into a terrible tantrum upon discovering there'd be no gum purchased. The mother said serenely, "Monica, we'll be through this checkout stand in 5 minutes. Then you can go home and have a nice nap."
The man followed them out to the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. "I couldn't help noticing how patient you were with little Monica," he began.
The mother replied, "I"m Monica. My little girl's name is Tammy."
Anyone who has had children knows that tantrums are just a part of toddler growing pains. They are developing complex emotions but don't yet have the words to express them. Moreover, they are becoming aware of themselves as individuals and are struggling to exercise that individualism by attempting to control various aspects of their lives. This manifests in tantrums over... just about anything. Unfortunately, knowing the psychological and developmental reasons behind the epic meltdown your toddler is having in the middle of a store does nothing to help you deal with it.
Different parenting philosophies may suggest different tactics, but there is universal agreement that the best thing a parent can do is to remain calm. I loved this story because Monica's words sound so familiar to my own internal monologue when my darling daughter is being less than darling. (I've also been known to pop a piece of chocolate if I can get away with it.)
Once you have managed to stay calm in the face of a screaming child, there are many ways to deal with the public tantrum itself.
1. Prevention. Children have a much harder time regulating their emotions if they are tired or hungry. If at all possible, schedule errands around naps. Consistent bedtimes can also help prevent chronic fatigue, which sometimes manifests as hyperactivity. Always carry a healthy snack that you can offer your child, especially if you know you will be out for more than a few hours. In some cases, a child may have a food allergy that causes irritability. If you suspect this is the case, consult your pediatrician.
2. Preparation. Most children do better if they know what to expect. Rather than gathering up your toddler and hoping everything will go smoothly, try explaining what is going to happen and what you expect from her. Let her know that you are going to the store, but that you will not be purchasing toys. Repeat the expectations for her behavior on the way to the store as well. If possible, give her an age appropriate job to do. For example, she can put produce into bags as you select them, or cross items off a shopping list. Having a task will keep her busy while also conveying confidence in her abilities.
3. Resolve. Whether you decide to ignore the tantrum or address it, it's important to remain consistent. If you give in to the tears, your child will believe that crying can sometimes be an effective (and appropriate) means to get what they want. If you plan to buy her a special treat that day, let her know in advance.
In dealing with the tantrum itself, you may find that a technique that worked with one child may not work with another. Although we cannot offer you a magic bullet, here are a few techniques we have come across: ignore the tantrum, time-out (even in a public space), time-in (parent and child take a break together), and zero-tolerance (drop whatever you are doing and leave).
What are some techniques that have worked for you? Have you seen a parent respond particularly well (or poorly) to a screaming child? Let us know in our comments.