Tantrums are traumatizing, but kids need to hear ‘no’

How to handle the supermarket meltdown


Published:

WE ALL KNOW this scene. There is a cute, chubby-cheeked toddler in the supermarket shopping cart, which is brimming with diapers, juice, carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes, milk, eggs, family-size cereal and about three dozen other things that will fuel a family for a week. Wheeling the cart is a tired and slightly harried looking mom (Sorry dads, data show it’s still mostly moms.). They’re third in line at the checkout: Toddler sees chocolate bar. Toddler asks for chocolate bar. Mom says no.

Toddler asks again.
Mom says no again.
Toddler persists.
Intensity and volume increase.
Mom holds the line.
Onlookers start to watch.
This is better than TV.
Mom looks embarrassed.
Mom is getting rattled.
Toddler escalates to screaming.
Mom gives in.
Toddler smiles through tears. Mom sighs with relief. Peace at last. But at what price?

In toddler-think, the child is learning this: “Mom doesn’t listen very well when I ask nicely for something. I have to ask about seven times, and it helps if I scream.” The toddler’s resistance behaviour (i.e., the screaming) has been reinforced, teaching that boundaries are permeable.

The supermarket is not unlike the dinner table. A small child refuses to eat the prepared meal, so parents cook custom food. The dinner table morphs into a restaurant. Once again, the lesson of the permeable boundaries has been taught.

And what about chores? We can nag till the cows come home, but if our children don’t obey, we’re in a pickle. The garbage starts to stink, and the dishes pile up until we give in and do the chore ourselves, teaching our children, again, that boundaries don’t matter.

All three situations — the supermarket, the dinner table and the chore challenge — share a central dynamic. They all look like power struggles, but under the surface, the core parenting issue is: how do we raise children who are responsible, resourceful and flexible people?

The first step is to accept that, when you go head-to-head with a child, you enter an unwinnable battle. Kids can scream louder and longer than you. They can refuse to eat dinner. They can tolerate stinking garbage and piled up dishes. You can’t.

The toddler in the supermarket desperately needs you to say no to the chocolate bar — and stick to it. Even when he or she screams, even (or perhaps most especially) when a small crowd gathers to see if you’ve got the balls for this, your toddler needs you to teach him or her that no means no.

This is powerful parenting because learning to hear and respect no lays the foundation for a built-in internal compass that will help kids to say no when they’re older. It will help them make good choices.

Saying no in the supermarket will teach your child to take no for an answer. Saying no to custom food at the dinner table will result in kids who are flexible eaters.

(Some non-eating might result along the way, but don’t worry. All kids will eat when they’re hungry enough.) Create logical consequences for undone chores, and your children will learn to help out or suffer the consequences. It’s that simple.

That said, none of this is easy. Social workers call it giving yourself “permission to parent.” The older our kids get, the harder it is to give ourselves permission to parent, because parenting often results in our children acting as if they dislike us, and that hurts. But it’s not about us. We need thick skins in order to grow good kids.

The Jesuits used to say: “Give me a child till he is six years old and he is mine forever.” Your child is that malleable. Give your child the gift of no, and you give the world a gift of a person with a strong moral compass.

We need more of them.

Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park where she teaches 150 staff to parent effectively and acts as “mom” to 300 kids at a time, every summer.

Join the conversation and have your say by commenting below. Our comment system uses a Facebook plugin. Please note that you'll have to turn off some ad-blockers in order to see the comments.

Edit Module

Follow us on Twitter @PostCity for more on what to eat, where to shop and what to do in Toronto.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

You may also like...

Thornhill teens get a side of entrepreneurship with their summer jobs

Thornhill teens get a side of entrepreneurship with their summer jobs

These teens are approaching their simple neighbourhood tasks with the mindset of startup founders
Posted 3 days ago
Thornhill retirement home seeks expansion

Thornhill retirement home seeks expansion

Construction noise and dust concerns for assisted-living residence and neighbours
Posted 7 days ago
Egg waffles are this summer's biggest hit

Egg waffles are this summer's biggest hit

This Hong Kong export has gone from a simple childhood treat into an international Instagram trend. Here's where to get it in T.O.
Posted 7 days ago
Long-time North York councillor steps down

Long-time North York councillor steps down

Posted 1 week ago
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module