It starts out as a simple trip to Target… you just need to get a couple of things, and your preschooler is with you. Your child sees a toy that they want and they ask you if you will buy it for them. You know what happens next…
You tell them you are not buying any toys today. They start to whine and ask over and over “But please mommy. Please can I have it!” When you stay firm with your “no” their voice volume begins to escalate and they start kicking the cart. “But I want it!”
Let’s stop here…. How are you feeling? Is your heart rate going up? Are you trying to stay calm but you really want to just raise your voice too? “I said no! it’s no! I’m not going to buy you something every time we go out. I’m not doing this with you today. You have plenty of those at home!”
Setting up for Success
So let’s back up the clock for a minute. First things first…let’s set ourselves and our kids up for success! Children have very little control over their daily lives. At this age, you as a parent determine where they go, when they go, how long they stay, what they eat and their whole routine!
- Involve your child in the process: Giving children some appropriate control helps them to learn how to plan, how to take responsibility and how to problem solve when things change from the plan. Talk about what you are going to the store for and involve them in the process of the chore so they are invested in the success of the trip.
- Keep predictable expectations. If you go to the store and sometimes you get them a treat and sometimes you don’t that sets you and your child up for potential conflict. Set the expectation clearly before you go.
- Determine emotional states before you go! Do you have enough time to run this errand right now or are you going to have to rush? Is your child too tired to manage the transitions necessary to run the errand right now?
What’s Happening in Target Right Now
So …. Back to the meltdown! Let’s get back to the scenario at hand. Your child is getting more upset at the store and people are starting to look at you and you can feel the irritation rising within yourself. What should you do first?
- Breathe. As simple as this sounds it is effective. Take three deep breaths before you say anything. This literally oxygenates your brain and gives you a chance to think clearly and from the higher centers of your brain. Train yourself to make this your first response.
- Your child is not doing this to you. They are not hoping to push all your buttons and anger you. They are young and are learning to self-calm and handle disappointment appropriately. You are their safe place. They feel comfortable with you and this is a good thing!
- Your relationship with your child is the key to success. The unconditional love they experience from you gives them a freedom to freely share their emotions. You see their raw emotions daily. The good, the bad and the ugly!
- Hold fast to your predetermined and communicated expectations. Be careful not to allow their heightened emotional state to sway you from your decision about purchasing the toy. Children repeat behaviors that get them their desired outcome. If they know it takes ten minutes of crying and whining for you to give in then they will do it. If they know it takes thirty minutes of crying and whining then they will do that. If they know they need to fall on the floor and kick and scream then they will do that!
- Stay calm. Refrain from responding in like to their emotional breakdown! Although the mirror neurons we have encourage us to respond in a manner we are being spoken to, this only escalates the situation and then there are two people with out of control emotions and problem solving becomes nearly impossible. Staying calm in voice and manner are hardest but most effective things you can do.
- Acknowledge your child’s emotional state. “I see you are disappointed. I see you are feeling sad/mad…etc.. You were hoping for………. we are not buying that today. Take some deep breaths with me. We are going to calm and then we can talk.” If your child continues to cry that’s ok. You can reassure them that they are safe and you understand their frustration and keep moving through the store. Don’t concern yourself with how other people are judging you or your child. As your child calms down (and they will the more you do this consistently and calmly with a loving but firm voice) offer them some appropriate choices. “Mommy still needs to get toilet paper and paper plates. Which one should we get first? Would you like to get that from the shelf?”
Take care of you!
Be honest and admit that children are exhausting and it’s hard to consistently manage their emotional world every day. Create good margin in your routine so you not feeling rushed and hassled and kid free time for yourself on a regular basis. You can rejuvenate and have energy again for this amazing gift that you have been given. The gift of mothering. The gift of being your child’s loving and safe place.