Most people have witnessed children having tantrums in a shopping centre. You may even have been related to the child having the tantrum, yes; I’ll admit that I’ve been there.
Its one thing that a lot of parents dread, I know mothers who will only shop when their children are at school or when their partner is looking after the children. And it’s one question that I’m asked with awe “How do you take your four kids shopping every week?”
So why is the Supermarket tantrum such a common behaviour and a thing so feared by parents?
When my oldest son was little he had a few tantrums before I worked out how to change my behaviour. Now, it’ a very occasional occurrence that one of the kids has a melt down, and it usually happens if I’m stressed or tired.
My first insight was probably the easier one to change. Don’t shop when you or your child/ren are tired or hungry or rushed. Being in the right frame of mind makes such a difference to the outcome of the shopping trip. As an unschooling parent I look at shopping (like everything) as a learning opportunity for my kids.
They can learn so much about food; the different food groups, quality of food, additives, where the foods come from etc. They learn about budgeting, both their own pocket money and the family budget, meal planning and using mathematics with money.
Little ones can learn to read in the supermarket. My six year old pre-reading son loves to play the alphabet game. Where you have to find an A on the signs or packaging, and then a B, and so on. My two year old loves spotting things. Can you see a picture of a dog? Can you see the toilet paper?
With the effort and a bit of imagination you can keep kids engaged with the process and prevent them becoming bored and irritable.
Another thing I recognised in my own behaviour was my misperception that everything my son pointed to he wanted to buy immediately. So often I see Mums smacking their kids hands for taking something off a shelf or berating them, “No! You can’t have that!”
Let me put it this way, imagine if you were shopping with your partner or a friend and every time you pointed to something pretty or interesting your partner/friend yelled at you, “No! You can’t have that! Don’t even look at it!”
As adults we call it window shopping and its ok for us to look at things, to browse, even if you can’t afford to buy something or probably won’t ever buy the object.
Encourage your kids to window shop. If my child picks up a Teddy bear and says “Look at this Mum!” I stop and look. I get down at their level and say how soft the teddy is, how cute it is and maybe even have a cuddle with it myself. Then we put it back and continue shopping. Sometimes I point out interesting things for my children to look at.
When a child is older and directly asks to buy something I think it’s important not to automatically say NO. This sets up a negative vibe. If I really can’t or don’t want to buy something I find that my kids understand logic, so I explain to them why I won’t buy it.
There are certain diffusion responses I use too. Especially if I can see that asking for the product is just a whim brought about by bright packaging or advertising.
Yes, we can save up to buy that.
Yes, that’s expensive though, I could buy that for your birthday or for Christmas.
Yes you can get that next time you have spare pocket money.
Sometimes they save up to buy something they have seen and other times they forget about it or decide that they don’t really want it.
My last observation about children having tantrums in shopping malls is that parents really seem to fear the judgement of others. And it is true that judgement is alive and well! Feelings like, Oh my god, everyone is looking at me, they all think I am a bad mother, Everyone’s thinks I should smack my child and make her stop, are some of the thoughts I’ve had.
But remember that these thoughts are about how you the parents feel; they may not even be true. Often people are sympathetic, most of them have been there themselves. And it’s really not about you. It’s the child that is distressed.
My best advice would be to take a deep breath and forget what others may be thinking and focus on your child. If you need to wait and sit it out so be it!
So if you happen to be shopping and you come across a child screaming on the floor and a mother sitting cross-legged in the aisle, hand lightly resting on the child’s leg, serenely smiling at passersby, don’t judge. Smile back and say “This too will pass.”, because it could be me.