- Running away from you. This includes running into the parking lot or running away in a store. When this happens, it is important to express that this behavior is not okay and is very dangerous so they understand the seriousness of the situation. (This will probably be easy to express since you’ll likely be feeling really scared and/or angry.) If this behavior happens frequently, sit down with your kids prior to the trip and explain that you now have a zero tolerance policy about running away, explain what the consequences will be, and then follow through on them. Natural consequences given calmly and matter-of-factly are most effective (as opposed to our likely inclination to yell). For instance, if he can’t be safe on his own, John will need to sit in the stroller or shopping cart until he is able to be safe. If this does not work or is not possible in the situation, another option is to immediately get back in the car and go home. If the behavior keeps occurring, and is truly dangerous, you may need to consider waiting until John can be safe to take him on errands. Lastly, and very importantly, notice when your kids do follow the rules. Give specific praise (“Great job holding my hand in the parking lot Ben!”), a high five, a hug, or a sticker to him when he does show safe behavior. A trip to a favorite location (i.e., playground) could also be used as a reinforcement if the rules are followed all day or week.
- Refusing to stay in the shopping cart. This is understandable for young children, particularly on long errands - it is really hard for them to stay seated for a long period of time. If you have tried different distractions to no avail, it may be time to get creative. Tell her that you will let her down, but give some rules. For instance, you can tell her to walk next to the cart while holding on to the side. This small bit of activity might be enough for her. If this doesn’t work, or if you have older kids, involve her in the shopping. Ask her to find certain items, such as a blue box or the picture of a tiger. Lastly, you should finish up as soon as possible, and give her a warning that she will need to sit in the cart again when you check out and walk to the car.
- Throwing a tantrum. Ah, the public tantrum. We have all witnessed one, whether from your own kid or someone else’s, and they are no fun. But, just the fact that we have all seen one should tell you - they happen to every parent at some point. Young kids have tantrums, it’s just a fact of life. However, a tantrum in a public place adds a whole other layer of stress to mom and dad since you are feeling every eye in the place on you. Just keep calm, you can handle this! When you see a tantrum beginning, you can try to distract your child to de-escalate her mood - show her a cool item on a nearby shelf, make a funny face, play peek-a-boo, or give her a job (for instance, ask her to help you put items on the conveyer belt). If distraction does not work and the tantrum still occurs, leave your cart off to the side somewhere and bring the kids outside to the car or to a bench. If she can calm down (and you still have the energy), first talk to her about the rules, and then go in and try again. If she cannot calm down, call it a day and head back home. Above all else - resist the temptation to give in to the tantrum. Do not give her that coveted toy, or that piece of candy. Although it may stop that particular tantrum, you have just bought yourself many more. Kids are smart, and yours just learned how to get what she wants. If your child frequently has tantrums in public, take a step back and look at what seems to be prompting them. Then, you can try to prevent them before they occur. For instance, does your child always seem to throw tantrums after you say no to a toy or snack? Make sure she knows before entering the store that you will not be buying a treat today, and then talk about what you will be buying. You can offer a different reinforcement if she follows the rules, such as a sticker.
Things to remember:
- Even the best laid plan may not work, especially when it comes to kids. All you can do is to prepare as much as possible, and then deal with things as they come.
- Taking deep breaths and counting to ten really does help. (And so does that glass of wine after bedtime…)
- Remember that taking kids on errands gets much easier as they get older, as long as there are consistent rules.
- Stay calm, firm, and consistent!