Children's Behavior: Preventing Tantrums while Shopping

You can reduce the number of times your children have outbursts in stores or other temper tantrums with a simple method of communication: Explain to your kids what you expect of them. Tell them how they are to behave.

Kids like to know what's going on just as much as you do; they like being prepared and informed. Set the ground rules before you go anywhere or do anything. Use this strategy when you can, and you'll see things go smoother with your kids. For example:

"Jonah, we're going into the toy store to buy Simon a birthday present. We're not buying you a present. You can look around. You can tell me what you like. But we're not buying you anything today. Today is for Simon. Do you understand?"

Don't be surprised when your child protests, whines, or still comes up to you with a toy, explaining that he's always wanted this special LEGO Millennium Falcon, and if you get it for him today, he never will ask for anything again.

Your response needs to direct your child back to the original conversation about Simon's birthday and explain that you both had an agreement. You'll be in big trouble whenever you give in to the whining and the major fits. Your kids won't believe you the next time, if you tell them they can't buy anything and then give in and get them that one little toy. Buckling under the pressure only leads you to more tantrums because, obviously, the tantrums work.

Keep these pointers in mind to prevent tantrums:

  • Before whisking your children out of the house, give them time to prepare whatever things they need. That's important. Their preparation may mean only tucking Barbie in her Malibu Barbie house before she leaves. It may mean searching for ten minutes for a toy to bring along. Whatever it is, give your children time to do their thing before you leave, and that way they won't feel rushed. Giving your kids a countdown helps. Tell them you're leaving in 30 minutes. Then tell them you're leaving in 15 minutes. Then give them a five-minute warning. Walking out the door is a breeze when your children are prepared.
  • Look your children in the eyes when you get to where you're going, making sure that you have their attention, and then tell them what your expectations of them are and why you expect this behavior. Be precise and clear about what you mean. You don't need to go into long explanations unless they ask for more information. But don't expect miracles. Children are children, and they'll behave as such. They squirm and wiggle and make noise and voice their opinions.
  • Never assume your kids know what you want. When you stop talking and start assuming, you get into trouble. For example, suppose that you're going to your cousin's wedding. Tell your kids what a wedding is, and what it's going to be like. Then tell them their job is to sit quietly and watch. No talking or getting up is allowed. Tell them that they need to get a drink and go to the bathroom before the wedding starts, so they won't have to do those things during the ceremony. Be a smart parent and bring a pen and pad of paper so your child can at least draw during the wedding. And, again, understand that kids are kids. Weddings and other formal events aren't exactly fun for them.

Plan wisely before putting your kids in an environment that's going to be difficult for them. Don't expect a 2-year-old to sit quietly in a theatre, at a wedding, or in an upscale restaurant. And, remember that it's unfair of you to scold a child for being a child when he's in an environment that he shouldn't be in to begin with.

If you have to put your child in a situation that isn't appropriate for his age, then giving him instructions beforehand is much easier than trying to set the rules while you're already involved in that activity. You end up saying, "Shhh-you-need-to-be-quiet," or, "No, you can't have anything," way too much. Instead, you'll be giving a few reminders of the rules you've already gone over.

Explaining things to children in advance works really well, too, especially when you're in a hurry: "We're going to the store for just a few minutes. Don't ask for anything." It may take awhile for them to believe that you really mean what you said, so they may go ahead and ask for something. But, don't give in, and eventually they'll get the idea.

Such planning works only when you don't give in to whining and change your mind about the rules. If you set rules but don't stick by them, you're in serious trouble. Your kids will always push you, whine, and throw fits whenever you go back on your word. This is a parental behavior that also is known as not being consistent.

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