Temper Tantrums in the Grocery Store

Today’s guest post is from Kathy Collard Miller. Kathy is a popular women’s conference speaker and the author of 49 books including the parenting book, When Counting to Ten Isn’t Enough. Check out www.KathyCollardMiller.blogspot.com. Facebook: Kathy Collard Miller. Twitter: KathyCMiller

I stood horrified in the grocery store aisle. Two-year-old Darcy was screaming and flailing her arms as she sat on the floor. I tried to whisper but my voice rose. “Stop, Darcy! You’re not going to get cookies that way!”

Feeling my face flush, I tried to avert my eyes from the scowling woman who walked by. Why, oh why, does Darcy have so many temper tantrums in public? I whined in my head. I felt overwhelmed to cope with her disobedience.

That was over 35 years ago and now Darcy has her own little boy to respond to. Since then I learned some things that helped me deal with misbehavior in public places and Darcy became better behaved.

First of all, I learned not to take Darcy’s behavior personally. Although I was an imperfect mother, Darcy wasn’t misbehaving to send me the message I was a bad mom. Originally I thought she was. I felt like she was a direct representation of my mothering skills.

But the truth is, Darcy made her own choices. I didn’t control her. I could influence her through disciplining her effectively, but she was not a reflection of me; therefore, I didn’t need to become angry.

Even if you and I could become a perfect mother (and we can’t!), our child would still misbehave because she is human. Interestingly, Jesus who was like a “parent” to his disciples, never berated himself for their misbehavior. And God never blamed himself after Adam and Eve disobeyed.

Besides, I doubt that you whispered in your child’s ear, “Now would be a really good time to have a temper tantrum.” If you did, you would be responsible for your child’s behavior and she would be a reflection of your desires.

But I don’t think any of us are silly enough to do that! So when your child misbehaves in public, resist thinking it’s your fault.

Secondly, be consistent in your disciplining. Your child will never become perfect but your child will obey more because he knows you’re going to always give a consequence.

I think this is why children misbehave in public so often. They sense there’s a greater possibility that we won’t follow through. That’s why you must be willing to inconvenience yourself to be consistent.

If it takes walking out of the store to take him home (and leaving the groceries behind), we must see the value and know that it will pay dividends of future obedience.

Hebrews 12:11 assures us, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

To be able to be consistent, follow this third step: pre-plan your consequences and rewards. It’s much harder to be consistent when you don’t know your options. So before ever going out again, make a list of the things you could do.

For rewards, you could give an acceptable snack at the beginning of a grocery run and remind him how he’ll eat it at the end if he is good. (By the way, does your child know your definition of “good”?)

For a consequence, you can go home or not attend some desired activity (or no cartoons when returning home). The reward or consequence is dependent upon the age of your child and what is valued by him.

While you work on those three points, here’s two other quick options. First, look at him and say, “Just wait till I tell your mom about this.” At least he’ll stop crying enough to say, “But you are my mom.”

Secondly, tell the older woman who is scowling at you: “His umbilical cord was cut when he was born.” You’ve just communicated that he made the choice to have a temper tantrum and he’s not a reflection of you.

How about you?  How do you handle temper tantrums in the grocery store?

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6 Responses to Temper Tantrums in the Grocery Store

  1. Tina says:

    I’m still working on this! I admit to avoiding taking my children shopping with me, I usually try to go after work, before I pick them up from the child care center, but that’s not teaching them anything. And I also admit to being the mom who tells the kids “you can pick one little thing” just to pacify them so I can shop in peace, but those “little” things just open the door, are increasingly expensive, and only make them happy for about 1 minute after we leave the store.

    After Hearts-at-Home, I went to Marianne Miller’s website to learn more about her “raising kids in a culture of consumerism” because it goes along with this – tantrums over not getting “stuff” everytime we go anywhere. I read some of the chapters she posted from her book-in-progress and she has some great advice. I think what I am going to try is this…I’m looking for a couple of those tootsie roll canister banks and I will empty one of them into the other, so one is empty and we can decorate the empty one. I will keep them in the cup holders in the back seat and I am going to have a talk with my kids (to continue one we had last week after a shopping DISASTER) before we go shopping again to explain they will not be getting a treat or toy at the store anymore, instead, if we can get thru the store without any tantrums, when we get back into the car, each child will get a tootsie roll and a quarter to put in the other bank…that can be their spending money to split when we go on vacation next year. I know it’s still allowing them to buy something, but at least it’s teaching them to wait and save up, plus I figure a quarter is waaay cheaper than the little piece of candy or whatever they usually find at the store. This is probably going to be a long battle, but I’m going to try my best!

    • JillSavage says:

      Good insight, Tina! Where is Marianne posting her chapters from the book she’s writing?

    • Emily says:

      Tina,
      I think there is nothing wrong with leaving you children in childcare while you shop, if that is possible! I also did that with my first child, when I was still working, and found that when he was older and I had to take him shopping, it was much easier to reason with him and he was better behaved. I also used Marianne’s technique of ‘put it on your list’….that list was either Birthday, Christmas, Easter, whatever!

      And Marianne’s session was one of the best I’ve ever been too! I also went to her website to read the chapters on her upcoming book. Besides working on my ‘quiet’ voice, I’ve really been trying to incorporate her suggestions.

  2. Angie says:

    Something I did with my kids (especially when they were younger and all 3 still at home) was to go over the “rules” before we got out of the car. I’d say things like “No laying on the floor.” “No running” “Stay by Mommy” “We’re not buying any toys this trip” “No whining” etc. and then make them repeat the rules to me. We wouldn’t get out of the car until they had repeated all the rules. I found that the times I forgot to do that, the shopping trip was horrible.
    For us, the leaving the store without our groceries doesn’t work as we travel 40 miles one-way to get groceries 2x a month.
    We are also blessed to live near my in-laws, so my husband and I get to go grocery shopping alone quite a bit.

  3. Jill says:

    I have had this happen to me! My son was 2 1/2 and I had a newborn while shopping for much needed groceries. I don’t remember why my son was throwing such a fit but I do remember the actions of the people around us! As he is in the basket of the cart screaming I am trying to rush and grab the items I must have in a hurry. People all around were giving me those “Poor You” looks, I even had people say “It’s okay dear, we’ve been there.” I just wanted to disappear! As I was heading to the checkout my son jumped out of the basket and ran, screaming down the aisle. I was in disbelief. I looked behind me where he was running and I looked in front of me and saw the exit. The exit was beautiful. There wasn’t a screaming child at that exit and I started walking. I knew my son well enough that he didn’t go far out of my sight and figured he would catch up with me and he did. He threw himself down at my feet. I can assure you that this had NEVER happened to me before and I was beside myself. Honestly, I just wanted to cry with him! What was wrong with this child!? I grabbed the infant car seat, my purse and his little hand, left the cart of groceries and walked out of the store. I really was surprised nobody stopped me. The was he was screaming you’d had thought I was kidnapping him. Although, I am sure by then everyone in the store had heard his cries. By the time I got home my son was peacefully sleeping in the car and I gently carried him to bed.

    Thankfully, I have never had this happen to me again. But if it did I would immediately leave the store and deal with it. Four years have passed and it hasn’t happened since.

  4. Shelly Burke says:

    When my kids were about 2 and 4 years old we had a disastrous trip to the store as well. At that time we got our groceries on the way home from church (living 20+ miles from town we have to do several things every time we go to town!). Their behavior was such that in the middle of shopping, with a cart full of (non-perishable) groceries, I got them both out of the cart and without a word took them out of the store and put them in their car seats. I then verryyyy sllloowwwlly drove PAST McDonalds (where we usually stopped for a Happy Meal), again, without saying a word. They didn’t say a word either; the lesson was very clear.

    I was blessed to have a mother-in-law nearby, as well as several good babysitters, so I didn’t have to take them both shopping very often…but they never behaved badly to that extent, at least at the grocery store, again.

    Having been through those days (my kids are now 18 and 20 years old!) I try to sympathize with moms in the grocery store (or anywhere!) who seem to be having a hard time with their kids. I give them a smile and “I understand” and reassure them that it happens to all of us.