Dear Mother Wit,
I took my three-year-old to the grocery store with me last week and by the time we got to the cashier, she lost her natural born mind. I should have torn her little butt up right then and there for acting up, but I was too busy paying, putting my groceries in the cart and getting out of that store while everybody was staring at us. How do I keep her from acting crazy the next time, without catching a case? — Grocery Gangsta
Dear Grocery Gangsta,
Trust me: I’ve been there. We all have. And when it was happening to me, I couldn’t decide what was more embarrassing: my toddler screaming and falling out at the register, or all those staring eyes burning a hot hole in my head while I was trying to get her and my groceries together. You feel judged. Like everyone watching is deciding that, based on your kid’s actions, you totally suck as a mother. You feel, too, like your kid should know better. And the only way to get people to think you’re a way better mother than your kid is showing them at the check-out line is by putting your parenting skills on full display—with a smack or two to show your kid and everyone standing around doubting your sills that you are, indeed, in charge.
Thing is, hitting your toddler at that particular moment doesn’t necessarily prove you’re a good parent. In fact, all it does, really, is make your kid cry more, or intimidate her into being quiet for that moment. But it won’t change your child’s behavior. Because you know what? Your toddler is three, and that’s how three-year-old humans behave. Truly, you can’t change that, especially when they’re bored, tired, hungry or sleepy. In other words, your kid is acting her age.
But what you can change are your parenting tactics. Getting a little “act right” into your daughter at the grocery store is possible. But that comes hours before you even make it to the store. Here’s what worked for this Black mom who considered a spanking at the checkout when the tantrum was too much:
I stopped taking my kids to the grocery store tired and hungry. If my daughters were sleepy and hungry by the time we got to the grocery store, they acted like it: the whining, the begging for food and drinks down every aisle, the fall outs if they didn’t get their way—all of that was a symptom of being tired and hungry, not being a bad kid that deserved to be hit for acting out. Think about it: when you’re tired and hungry, do you model perfect behavior? If you do, it’s because you’re a grown-up. Toddlers know of no such thing; they want what they want when they want it because that’s the toddler way, especially when they’re tired and hungry. Crying and screaming is pretty much the way little humans express themselves because they don’t have the talking down yet and they don’t know how to communicate their feelings like grown-ups do. How do you avoid the crazy? Don’t go to the store until your toddler’s had a nap, and feed her before you go. This way, she’s happy and can handle the aisles without working your nerves.
I brought snacks and entertainment and turned shopping into the best toddler game ever. Oh please believe: we put that Elmo tote to work, okay? I’d pack baggies full of peanut butter crackers, goldfish, apple slices and a spill-proof cup full of water, a couple of her favorite toys, and a book or two, and then as soon as we’d get into the store, I’d pop her into the cart and let her have at the bag. No kid can resist a bag full of goodies, and that bag of goodness would buy me at least 20 minutes-worth of shopping. If my trip took longer than that, the backup plan was to let her join in on the shopping. We’d practice our colors and foods: “Point out the red can! Which ones are the strawberries?” I’d let her pick up some items off the shelves—like cereal boxes and loaves of bread and yogurt. And when we’d get to the register, I’d let her help unload the cart. Yes, I know that sometimes toddler “helping” isn’t helping at all, but having her drop a loaf of bread was way easier to deal with than a fall-out.
I shopped like a pro and kept my trips short. Again: planning what I needed before I left was the best offense to a potentially defensive toddler. Wander into a store unsure about what you need and tripping down every aisle. See what happens. You’re there for forever, and the longer you stay, the more irritated your kid gets. Because that’s what kid humans do: they get tired and bored and they want to run around and move their legs and act the fool. I avoided this by making my grocery list at the house, and sticking to it when I got to the store. This cut what could be an hour-long trip down to no more than, like, 20 minutes. Get in and out and you won’t have no worries.
I wasn’t above bribery. Oh please believe, I was happy to pick up a Go-Gurt or a juice box or a bag of fruit snacks and put it in my pocket and let my kids know that if they “helped” mommy shop, they could get that little piece of goodness in the car. What did “help” mean? No acting the fool. Period. And I stuck to that. If they cried before we left the store, no treat. Having to go without the fruit snacks hurt way more than a tap on the butt, trust.
So try these tips the next time you take your little one shopping with you. And remember, when you find yourself frustrated — don’t hit the kids, hit the keyboard for more of Mother Wit’s soulful parenting advice.