Psychologists Secrets to Shopping With Your Children How to Avoid Temper Tantrums, Meltdowns and Upsets

By Dr Randy Cale

I am often working with parents who are frustrated when they go shopping with their children.  They go out to buy their children some new clothes and all their children do is whine and complain and sometimes throw temper tantrums.  They complain because it takes to long, or because they didn’t get what they want, or they have to wait on their brother or sister.  Some children meltdown and throw those ugly, extreme off the wall temper tantrums that are embarrassing and upsetting.

In this article, I reveal three of my key strategies for effective parenting in public. As a Licensed Psychologist and author of the Tantrum Fixer program, I have developed a simple set of clear strategies that will help you have peace and harmony.   Whether it’s shopping at the mall, or going to the grocery store, there are several key principles that will help you stay focused, and create a pleasant experience, with no temper tantrums or outbursts.

Shopping secret 1: Your words won’t teach.

Your children don’t need another lecture from you about how important it is for them to behave, or how frustrated you are.  They don’t need you to tell them again about how you’re going shopping for them, or how they have to be patient.  Just give it up.

Instead, your focus has to turn toward your actions as a parent.  It will be your actions that teach them to be patient, to appreciate their choices, and to honor the time that’s set aside to take care of them.  In the midst of a child who is whining, complaining or about to throw a temper tantrum, words will only feed the negative behavior.

Shopping secret 2: Clarify expectations in advance.

Before each of your shopping ventures, explain where you’re going, and what you’re going to accomplish.  You don’t need to go into an explanation about their behavior.

Instead, this is just a brief discussion to establish why you’re going shopping, and what you’re going to be doing.  Explain very briefly where the limits are at.

It’s essential for you to model that you do not do impulse buying when you go shopping.  The more that your children see you establish a reason for going shopping, and that you define what  you’ll be getting, the more that you model that you don’t respond to impulse.

If on the other hand, you don’t define what you’ll be doing, and where you’ll be going, and you just wander around and shop, you’re modeling the strategy that your children will likely follow.  While wandering and shopping isn’t such a big deal, it’s the response to impulse that’s problematic.  If your children view you as a parent who does this, you need to expect that your children will learn to do the same thing.  They’ll see something that they want, and begin to harass you to buy it.  You might then end up negotiating with them, and explain why you can’t do it this time and maybe next time and so forth.

You take a critical first step in eliminating these patterns by establishing clarity about why you’re going shopping, what you’ll be buying, and then staying true to that expectation.

Shopping secret 3: Follow Dr Cale’s three strike rule.

The three strike rule is this.  Whenever you are in public, your children get three strikes.  On the first strike, you’ll walk out of whatever store you’re in, and you go sit on a bench where you take a five minute timeout.  Everyone has to be quiet during the five minutes, and you’ll sit there until everyone is quiet for five minutes.  Any whining, complaining or negativity is ignored.  Any temper tantrums are ignored.  However, the five minute timeout does not begin till all are quiet, and remain quiet.  (This may take a while for the first couple of times.)

The second strike looks pretty similar.  You walk out, leaving whatever is in the store, and you take anther time out.  This time however, I suggest that you walk all the way to the car, and you sit in the car for five minutes of complete quiet time.

You don’t have to lecture the children about their whining or complaining.  You don’t want to remind them too much about their temper tantrums, and why those tantrums will get them in trouble.  You don’t have to tell them to be appreciative.  You don’t have to remind them of your expectations every single time.  Instead, when there is a problem, you just take them by the hand, and walk out to the car and do your time out.

If you get to the third strike, it means you are done.  Regardless of where you are at or what you’re doing, you put it all done and you simply leave.  You could be in the middle of their school shopping, and they’ll do without supplies for a few days.  They could be off to summer camp, and they needed some new sneakers, but they’ll have to deal with the old ones.  You can even be at the grocery store, and you’re desperately in need of groceries so it means eating a can of ancient soup.  That’s okay.

Why? Because tomorrow you will do it again.  And again.  Until they get it.

Now here’s the good news.  You children will be fast learners.  It usually only takes two or three times until they start to understand that you mean business.  No more temper tantrums.  No more whining.  No more constant complaints about shopping.

The more your children understand that you are a parent of action, and that your actions will lead the way, you’ll see that they’ll begin to honor the limits that you set.  And you need to be willing to walk out of the store.  You need to be willing to take a time out.  You need to be willing to leave, if your previous efforts haven’t made a difference.

Teach limits with firm, clear action.  Avoid those repeated lectures, and make sure that your behavior leads by example, and then your words will have more meaning as times goes on.

If you follow these three secrets, you’ll find that you may have several very challenging shopping experiences over the next couple of weeks.  However, after you get through those challenging experiences, you’ll see your children start to get it.  They really start to learn from the choices that you make.

All effective parenting is based on giving your children opportunities to learn, not trying to control or demand a particular response from your children.  You’ll see that these principals and approaches are remarkably healthy, and effective at helping your children to understand responsible, cooperative and healthy ways of being an active part of your family.  I wish you the best with this.  Please be patient and allow for learning to unfold over time.  It will happen, but the consequence will be the teacher….not your threats of the consequence!

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