Lately, there has been an recurring theme which parents are asking me about. Basically, what would I do when my child is acting up in the grocery store? This is a question that is easy on the surface but has a lot of different elements to consider.
Last night, I was doing a radio interview when a caller challenged me on the strategy my wife used to keep the kids occupied (which I am in agreement). I love being challenged for many reasons. One reason is that challenges make me reassess my position at a moment’s notice.
For the purposes of this blog, I am going to lay out three strategies I’ve heard lately (including the challenged one) then discuss each one’s merits/shortcomings. Finally, I’ll give you the best answer I can muster (which I am sure will be fodder for further debate).
My wife’s strategy: When the kids were 2-3 years of age, Lauren would walk by the bakery in the grocery store first and pick up a free cookie.
Advantage: My children liked going to the store with my wife. They stayed happy while eating the cookie. Also, my wife let them know the cookie was a special treat. One could look at the cookie as a preemptive strike against bad behavior.
Disadvantage: Though I don’t remember hearing about blatant misbehavior, I bet my children got a little squirmy once the cookie was gone. I remember my wife would occasionally complain she had to rush to get out because behavior would start to go downhill. One could also look at the cookie as bribery.
Brother-In-Law approach: My brother in law does a great job with his children though he and I have different approaches. He told me recently he tells his kids to chill and move. This occurs when his children are told “no” over purchasing a store item and they react in less than a positive way. When he hears complaints, he looks at his kids and says, “chill and move.”
Advantage: Though chill and move are funny words to me, he’s giving directions and is expecting them to be followed. After my years of working with children, any parent who can have their directions followed is in an advantageous position. The children may be momentarily unhappy but the meltdown is much less likely to occur.
Disadvantage: The only disadvantage I could see is if his children didn’t want to go to the store because they never got things they wanted. Mind you, my brother in law and I didn’t talk about how often he gives in so this may be a non-issue in his case. For some though, a store can be an excellent learning environment so I wouldn’t want to turn children off from going at all.
Caller on the talk show last night: His approach was to say “louder” to a kid hollering in a store or saying, “I can’t hear you yet.” The theory is that the comment actually throws the kid psychologically and will discontinue the behavior.
Advantage: When a child is misbehaving, throwing them off psychologically is a good tactic. When a parent can make a child “think” when they are upset, the anger can temporarily subside; thus giving time to the parent to get the situation under control.
Disadvantage: If the tactic doesn’t work, the child can actually go in the other direction. That means scream louder and possibly throw in a few punches or kicks. I’d have to have the strategy proven at home before I would use it in public.
So there you go- three strategies. Which one is best you may ask? The answer is simple with complicated undertones. My first thought is the best solution for any parent is THE ONE THAT WORKS in the heat of the moment. Any parent who has lost control with their child knows what an awful feeling it is. I had many circumstances at St. Joseph Children’s Home that I wish I would have handled in another way.
Here are the undertones though. First, why did the child misbehave to begin with? Is it because the parent lacks authority at home and the child is merely testing in another location?
Second, did the child go to the store hungry or thirsty? Have you ever been to a restaurant when everything on the menu looked good because you were hungry? To a certain extent, this happens to children in a grocery store. Sometimes when children are hungry, their behavior can slip.
I’ve gone too long on this post. This should really be a chapter in my next book. Regardless, a parent has to have the ability to say no to their children. When children melt down after being told no, there is a problem somewhere. It’s up to the parent to find where the problem is and solve it not only in the store but after they return home.
My next post will be on Tuesday. Have a terrific weekend!