You need to go to the supermarket. It’s a scary thought because you are going to have to take your Little Darling with you. As lovely and gorgeous as they usually are, when you go to the supermarket they turn into a Gremlin. It’s that moment when you pass the sweetie/toy/magazine aisle that Little Darling picks out something they want and demands that they have it. You turn to Little Darling and say; ‘Not today sweetheart, come on, let’s go and see if we can find something nice for dinner.’ (Great distraction technique by the way, give yourself a pat on the back for that one.)
Then everything goes into slow motion. Little Darling, who has taken it upon themselves to hold on for dear life to that treat, is going red in the face and then does the foot stamp combined with the stiffening body action. Yes, you know that movement.
‘I WANT THE SWEETIES’. They yell at the top of their lungs.
For s split second, you contemplate just letting them have it. After all, it’s only 60p and most of it has deteriorated due to the full force of being held tightly by Little Darling. And you know what? You just don’t have time for this shit! You just want to get back to the safety of your four walls. But hold on … You’ve already said no and It’s all about consistency isn’t it? You think to yourself, if I give in now then I am setting a precedent as to how to handle future choice-making of my child. You have made your decision, you think ‘I am going to stand by my guns with this because, dammit, I’m parent!’
You recall as much parenting advice you can.
‘LD, I need you to put the sweeties back now, please,’ you say in your best firm but fair voice.
There’s a pause as LD processes this but then decides they are going to get this sweetie if it’s the last thing they do! LD starts to howl their best ‘I’m-so-neglected-nobody-loves-me-I’m-the-most-deprived-child-in-the-whole-world’ cry and that’s when an elderly lady pipes up as she walks past; ‘Oh dear, somebody’s tired’.
Ugh here comes the judgment.
You try to grab the culprit that started the whole thing (the sweet not the child!) but you know it’s a losing battle.
OK think what the next parenting strategy is:
“LD, I am going to count to five then I want you to give me the sweetie or else you are …”
Quick think of a sanction
“… not going to Lucie’s party”. Oops too big, but hey, you’ve got to stick by it.
LD is screaming that they hate you.
LD gives out the biggest, loudest “NOOOOOOOO!’
Oh God, you’ve just realised that counting to five is actually taking a year and to your horror LD has now dropped to the ground crying hysterically.
Now there are people stopping to look making sure you are not ripping your child apart because quite frankly that’s what it sounds like!
Not only is LD still kicking and screaming bloody murder, but people are rolling their eyes, staring and tutting at you. You feel small and helpless, sweaty and defeated. You feel like everyone is judging you and are about to haul you off to ‘Worst-Parent-Ever-Jail’!
I’m going to stop with that scenario right there because I am breaking out in a nervous sweat!
When I think about the humiliation that is ‘public tantrums’ I, as a parent, used to feel wholly responsible. I felt that it was my fault that my child was acting like that and I should be able to handle her. On reflection, and many years down the line, as well as many observations of this exact scenario, I realise that we should be taking a ‘whole-village’ approach to managing tantrums in public. As a parent the most humiliating thing I experienced was the response from the people around me. That is where the humiliation comes from. Think about it. Do we feel embarrassed or humiliated when our children tantrum at home? No. Because there is no one casting judgment. No witnesses if you like!
In my mind, when it comes to tantrums, the whole village is involved. What do I mean by that? OK well there are three parties involved; the child, the parent(s) and the onlookers. Let’s look at the child first:
Why do children tantrum in the first place?
Children will tantrum simply because they do not know how to deal with and articulate their emotions. Their brains just aren’t as developed as an adult’s. Since they can’t articulate their emotions it may be easy to think that a tantruming child is ‘naughty’ and ‘defiant’. From the child’s point of view, they are feeling frustrated because they feel they aren’t being heard. Tantrums usually occur during the ages of one and three. As the child gets older parents are encouraging independence from their child and rightly so. But with this independence comes a balancing act as parents will often ‘move the goal-post’ of expectations depending on the situation. Parents might say to their children; ‘You need to learn how to dress yourself’ but pick out clothes for them to wear, removing the choice-making from the child. They may also be saying; ‘You need to tidy your room’ but not give ample support and expect the child to know where everything goes. Plus, the child does not always view tidying up as important. What the parent thinks of as important just isn’t a priority to the child so, therefore, it is a wise idea for the parent to communicate why something needs to be done to create understanding within the child. In the case of tidying up, parents can convey to their child that it is important because we can find things easier, we don’t trip and hurt ourselves, we don’t step on our things and break them plus it’s nice to live in a tidy house or whatever the reasons are.
There are a lot of confusing emotions flying around your child’s brain during this time. And the worst part is, they don’t know how to express how they feel yet. When they were a baby they learned that crying gets a response so, of course, they are going to resort back to crying because that is what they know. Now here they are in the supermarket, a place they probably don’t want to be in really because it’s boring. It should come as no surprise that they are going to test those boundaries! Plus, they have their mind set on getting something and it is a huge deal. We, as parents, may not think it’s important but they are focused on it and, by George, it’s blooming important to them! Just think of the things that are important to you that others may see as trivial. How does that feel to you?
For me, one of those things are my nails. I spend time making sure my nails always look nice. I work with a lot of families and how I present myself is important. Imagine if I turned up at your house and my hands were dirty and gross. I’m about to work with your children and here I am with dirty hands and broken nails. What would you think? You may view this as someone who doesn’t care much about hygiene! So anyway, making sure my nails look nice is important to me. I invest time and money making sure my talons are in tip-top shape. So if I should break a nail and I react to it, imagine how I feel when someone trivialises it by saying in a sarcastic voice “Oh no! It’s the end of the world, you broke a nail!” That statement has completely trivialised something that is important to me. That person has made me feel that my decisions are insignificant and unimportant. But they are important to me and that’s the point. The child sees the sweetie as something incredibly important to them and when they’ve been told they can’t have it of course that child is going to react. Now at this point I am not saying you should give in to your child and just let them have it, I’m just trying to explain what is going on in the mind of the child. Having empathy and coming from a place of understanding will help you to nurture your child’s emotional intelligence (help them to manage their feelings and stop those tantrums).
The Grown-Ups (parents)
Ok, we understand our children a little better now. Let me give you some pointers as to help you through this. Let’s be honest here, the only thing that will stop tantrums from occurring is maturity. When your child learns how to deal with their emotions, that is when tantrums will decrease. However, we are going by giving them a head start. The more consistent we are with supporting the child the quicker they will conform.
1. Talk about your expectations with your child before you go to the supermarket. You may allow your child to choose one sweetie for after dinner so let them know. If you don’t allow sweets then let them know that they are going to pick out something for after dinner such as a yoghurt or a banana (give them two choices and no more. Too many choices can cause confusion).
2. Tell them that they are going to help you find things in the supermarket like they are on a treasure hunt! Give them an item that they have to help you find. This is a great distraction technique.
3. It they’re small enough, put them in the trolley seat area. They have less control over what they see and grab then!
4. If they are walking, they can help push the trolley too.
5. Keep talking! Talk especially about what the two of you are going to do when you get home. What games are you going to play or what movie are you going to watch? This will help take the focus off what is happening right now in the supermarket.
6. When you get out of the supermarket praise your child for all their lovely choices they made in the supermarket. Use an example: “You did so well today. You made such a good choice today by helping me with the shopping. I really liked that you found the potatoes so quickly”.
7. To use a ‘prevention-better-than-cure’ type technique, think about the time of day you go to the supermarket. You may not want to go to the supermarket when it’s close to your child’s nap time. They are going to start getting grumpy when you need them to be as compliant as possible.
Let’s now look at what should you do if all this fails and your child has a full-blown tantrum in the cereal aisle:
1. Firstly, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Know you are not alone.
2. Make sure your child is safe where they have decided to throw themselves! Let them get on with it. If you react they will react back. Just make sure they are not going to hurt themselves or anyone else.
3. Get down to their level (sit/squat) and keep a neutral face (so no emotions even though you may be swearing on the inside!)
4. Let them scream. There is no point trying to scream over them to be heard, they won’t hear you. Period. Ignore the people around you. They have all been through it before, don’t let them fool you!
5. Your child will realise that you are waiting to speak to them. You may have to say; “I will speak to you when you have calmed down.” Say this in a quiet voice. They will want to try and hear you. After all they’re trying to get you to say ‘yes’ to the item they want! When they have quietened down, tell them in a very calm and quiet voice that you can see that they were feeling really angry and you are so proud of them for managing to calm down.
6. Remember it’s all about giving them choices. Make it clear to them that if they make good choices, good things will happen. Keep your language positive. I know this is hard in these circumstances, but it will come naturally with practise. In the same quiet voice give them instructions. After each instruction praise them:
Start by saying ‘LD (obviously you’ll use your child’s name here!) you are going to make some good choices now, are you ready?’
‘Please stand up now….. oh well done, you did such good listening.’
‘Please hold my hand we are going to carry on shopping … oh what great listening you are doing, well done.
‘Please give me the sweetie now ….. Wow you made such a great choice, well done’.
Be consistent and persistent. Keep repeating yourself in a quiet voice until they follow your instructions.
7. If at any point the tantrum starts again then you need to stop and repeat until LD has quietened down. They will. It may just take time. However, if after 20 minutes LD has not cooperated it’s time to abandon the trolley. Calmly pick up LD and carry them out. When they have calmed down you will need to explain why that happened:
“You chose to carry on crying and make bad choices, so I had to take you out of the shop.”
This is, of course, your last resort. If you’ve had to do this then please don’t feel bad. You have set the foundation for future desired behaviour. In other words, although your child may not be mature enough to manage their emotions in this situation, you have set boundaries which they will respond to later on. Remember practice makes perfect and should the situation rise again, be consistent and persistent and you will find that you will get the desired outcome.
Phew! You did it! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Bless them. They mean no harm. Really! When you are the parent dealing with a tantruming child in public, these onlookers just make it all feel worse. I truly believe that nine times out of ten people are just curious to see what all the noise is about and no one is actually judging. However, I do feel that the role of the ‘Onlooker’ needs to be addressed. I mentioned it slightly earlier but now I want to elaborate. These onlookers. The outsiders. The 'Holier-than-thou-my-child-never-acted-like-that-in-public' people. BOLLOCKS! Yes they have. Anyone who tells you that their child never had a tantrum in public is full-on lying to you. Just like your friend on Facebook who keeps posting pictures of her ‘hot-dog’ legs on a beach in the Caribbean when actually she’s in her son’s sandpit at her house in Bognor (no offense, Bognor, love you.) Every single person who has had children has gone through this at some point.
The role of the onlooker is an important one. From now on, if you, as an onlooker, sees a parent dealing with a very public tantrum here’s what I want you to do. Empathise. Be a raiser. Be an up lifter. Show your support and unification to this amazing Mum/Dad who is doing an amazing job. Little Darling knows that Mum or Dad don’t really want to deal with the screaming, so they are going to give in at any minute. But Mum and Dad are doing a great job setting those boundaries so their child will know how to behave appropriately in public.
Listen: Parenting is fucking hard! There I said it. (I don’t mind a bit of swearing as long as it’s not in front of the children!) It’s the hardest job on the planet. At times we feel like we are alone because asking for help seems like we are failing (it’s not by the way). We want to live in this fantasy world where things are perfect. Well I am here to lift the veil. It ain’t true! Nobody has the perfect family or perfect life. So instead of judging each other, let’s celebrate each other. We have all been in that supermarket where we want to dive into the frozen food section because our child is acting like a demon. We have also seen tantrums happen in front of us. So instead of eye-rolling, or judging, or tutting (I had one woman once tell me that I should learn to control my child – I mean how is that helpful?!) we should be supporting and empowering parents. Tell that Mum or Dad that they are doing well and stay strong (only if you think it’s appropriate I hasten to add – some people just need quiet reassurance!). Tell them; “You’ve got this!” Tell them that tantrums don’t go on forever and they need to carry on with exactly what they’re doing because what they’re doing is right. Send out those positive vibes that you are on that parent’s side.
When you see a child have a tantrum in the shops remember that the parent is doing the best that they can. Parents, just like their children, are learning too. Remember that the best way to help is to show support and most importantly, kindness and empathy. Give space where needed and reassurance if required.
Finally, to all the parents who are debating whether they should go to the supermarket or not because they don’t want to deal with the inevitable – do it! You have every right to go and know that your village is supporting you.