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How to deal with public temper tantrums Add to ...

A column that tackles behavioural issues from tots to teens.

The problem

Running the candy gauntlet at the supermarket checkout, should you just buy your whining four-year-old the chocolate bar?

“I want it. I want it,” your darling sobs.

“When are you going to learn that I’m not always going to buy you candy every time we go to the supermarket!”

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“I want it. I want it.”

Now, the people in the line are giving you dirty looks. You can almost hear their thoughts.

“Buy her the stupid candy.”

“Take her home.”

“Just shut her up.”

You’re at your wits’ end.

“I don’t want to buy her the candy. But what else can I do? I need to finish my shopping.”

What not to do

Don’t go home. Everyone in the supermarket line is rooting for that one. But it’s a bad choice. It inconveniences you too much. It’s not good to have your child’s tantrums dictate your daily schedule. And it short-circuits your chances of having a child whom some day you can take to the store without a deep sense of dread.

Don’t buy her the candy either. If she learns that fussing yields rewards – even if infrequently – she will learn the following terrible lesson: “Sometimes they give in. So if they don’t give in, it just means that I haven’t fussed loud or long enough.”

What to do

Tough it out. Respond as little as possible to the fussing. It’s the only way. She needs to learn that the fussing gets her nothing. Only once she learns that will the behaviour start to change.

But isn’t it unfair to all the people in the supermarket line? Not really. It’s not like this is happening in a church or a fancy restaurant or a movie theatre. It comes down to you and the rest of the world. They want you to do something, anything, to shut up your kid. But you need to do what’s best for you, your child and your future trips to supermarkets.

There are children in the world. People can survive occasionally crossing the paths of bratty kids. It is unpleasant for them, but no more. You can always apologize.

“I’m so sorry. Sorry. Terribly sorry. Kids, you know.”

To which they will think, “Some people just shouldn’t have children.”

If you want fewer tantrums in the future, you can’t worry too much about the disapproving lady behind you in line.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at awolf@globeandmail.com.

 

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