Yesterday my 16 month old son had a melt down in Trader Joe’s. This is not new. There’s just something about a grocery store that triggers his vocal cords and unbending will.
In my imagination the employees cringe when they see me and my wailing boy when we walk into our local TJ’s. This particular tantrum was thrown in front of the sample stand where a huddle of people were gathered for free goodies. Meatballs on a stick were the sample du jour. Everything was fine and dandy until I took away his messy uneaten meatball. He was about to poke his eye out with the toothpick. I knew he wasn’t going to finish it and that it was just a matter of time before he wiped the remains of his pulverized meatball on some innocent fellow shopper. So with the safety of everyone in mind and wanting to protect my son’s beautiful eyes, I thew it away and ensured myself a major tantrum.
I tried to stay calm as I gently let him down on the ground so he could arch his back and flop like a fish. I remembered reading somewhere that I should ignore these tantrums and not give him what he wants or else I would be reinforcing that flopping like a fish and screaming like Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) equals getting your way.
That’s when I heard it. A mom with her two teenage daughters looked at me and my situation and then said to her daughters, “You two did that once, that’s all it took!” Now I don’t know if she was judging my parenting or just saying what worked for her but it didn’t help me. I shudder to think of what that mom did to make her children never tantrum in a store again.
Her careless comment confirmed my fear that I really don’t know what I’m doing. I scooped my boy up like a sack of potatoes, shuffled through the least crowed cashier line and out the door.
It took a few minutes to calm him down but the fresh air and new environment seemed to reset him and me as well.
Looking back on this event I can now see that even though I felt incompetent I was not. I’m a first time mom and learning what works for my child. However that’s not going to stop me from being more prepared for our next shopping trip. I have come up with a list of what I think will help me and any parent of a toddler throwing a tantrum.
- Keep a calm face (children are like bees they can smell your fear)
- Take a deep breath through you nose and out through your mouth. This brings oxygen to your muscles and makes you less tense.
- Remind yourself that most people understand what you’re going through.
- Remind yourself you know your child best.
- Realize your child is not trying to torture or embarrass you. They’re lacking in the emotion regulations department and are trying to express their feelings when they can’t find the words or don’t have them yet.
- Get down on their level and look into their eyes and validate your child by saying something like “I can see you are very upset right now.”
- If your child is old enough to understand choices then give him or her a choice. For example, “You can act like a big girl and stay in the store or we can leave.”
- Do not give your child the object they want, this just reinforces that throwing a tantrum works.
- If the tantrum continues then ditch your cart, grab your bag and leave. . . with your child of course.
- Lastly hug your child after the tantrum, tell him or her you love them, and remember this phase won’t last forever.
I’m going to try my best next time to “remain calm and carry on”. But most of all I’m going to stop judging myself in these parenting situations and learn from each experience.