You’re in a supermarket with your toddler. You have your shopping list and your little one is every so sweetly “helping” you to select items from the shelf and (not-so) carefully put them into the trolley. All is going well.
They see it.
The toy on the shelf.
Strategically placed by the store manager next to the “need-to-buy” items to guarantee being in your child’s direct eye-line and make the situation completely unavoidable.
The child wants the toy. You kindly say no. In your mind you can see the situation unfold in slow motion before it happens in reality. You try to remain calm, but the meltdown begins and you feel your own face getting hot. The child’s emotions are building like a hot stew in a pressure cooker. You try your best to keep the lid on the pot. Maybe you stay firm. Maybe you beg. Maybe you try to distract with some other product on the shelf. Maybe you get more stern and start using your “I mean it!” voice. You top it off with “the eyeball”. Nothing works.
The child erupts in a way that would put Mount Vesuvius to shame.
All the eyes in the shop are on you. Emotions range from disappointment to rage to embarrassment to helplessness. Thoughts like “I’m a bad parent” or “my child is so rude” or “I have no control” flash through our minds.
Why do these situations happen? Is it possible that there is merely a difference in expectations for the situation? When our expectations aren’t met, it elicits frustration, which most often leads to an undesirable outcome.
What were the differences between our (the parent’s) expectations and the child’s? The ability to prepare for the future is a skill that children develop over time. As the parent, we can see the sequence of events: go to the shop, get groceries, get done in time to miss the traffic, cook supper, bath time, etc… Children, in contrast, live in the here and now. And in this moment, the only thing that matters is the toy.
When we try to reason with our child using logic, it falls on deaf ears. “This is too expensive” and “We don’t have time now” are concepts that don’t make sense to young minds.
Once you identify your child’s capacity to regulate their own emotions on a developmentally appropriate level, it’s gets easier to accept that the contradiction between their expectations and our own are often at the root of the discouraged behaviour from both sides.