I stood horrified in the grocery store aisle. My two-year-old daughter was screaming and flailing her arms as she sat on the floor. I tried to whisper but my voice rose. “Stop it! 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 my daughter have so many temper tantrums in public? I whined. I felt overwhelmed to cope with her disobedience.
That was many years ago and now my daughter has her own little boy to respond to. Since then I learned some things that helped me deal with misbehavior in public places. As a result, my daughter became better behaved.
First of all, I learned not to take my daughters behavior personally. Although I was an imperfect mother, she 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, any child makes 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, 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.
What do you find effective for dealing with temper tantrums?