Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Dreaded Public Tantrum

I have to admit that when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to get very annoyed by babies and toddlers who cried incessantly or threw wild tantrums in public. I would look at the harried mothers and fathers who either pleaded with their children to stop crying, or when that tactic didn't work, bought them whatever they wanted in order to make them stop. I shook my head disapprovingly and vowed to myself that if I ever had children, they would not act that way, and that I would not react that way. There would be discipline in my household, and consequences for not following rules. I would be the one in control and running the show, not my kids.

Well, now that I have a child of my own, I understand how unrealistic that vow was. Babies and toddlers don't reason and they don't listen to logic. They only know what they want, not why they can't have it. More importantly, they can't tell the difference between behavior that is acceptable at home and behavior that is acceptable in public. They only go at one speed, and it is up to us as parents to keep up.

My son was a great baby. He rarely cried, started sleeping through the whole night at a very early age, and never got sick. I felt that parenting was a breeze. And then he turned two. Once he hit that magical age, he started doing all the things that parenting books and websites warn you about. He started hitting, kicking, and biting his playmates. He started calling everything "mine" and would get very upset if anyone else tried to use or even just move "his" things. He learned that his most powerful weapon is a simple two-letter word, "no." And he started throwing tantrums when he didn't get his way.

My son's first public tantrum came very unexpectedly. We were in our regular grocery store on our regular shopping day. The first sign of trouble came when he refused to sit in the shopping cart. He wanted to walk, which meant he was planning on grabbing things off the shelves. We passed a special display unit that had candy bars with bright, colorful wrappers. This is what my son decided he wanted. He tried to put one in the cart, and when I said he couldn't have it and put it back, the uproar started. He was crying and screaming at the top of his lungs, "I want it! I want it!" I just made him sit in the cart and tried to continue my shopping.

But he wouldn't stop crying and screaming. I could start to feel the eyes of the other shoppers on me, and I started to become embarrassed. I left my cart and took my son outside for a timeout. It didn't work. He was still crying. I know that the experts say when something like this happens, you're just supposed to leave, but I couldn't. I needed the groceries to cook dinner and wouldn't be able to come back later in the day. There was nothing I could do but continue shopping with my 2-year-old son screaming bloody murder throughout the store.

That incident really opened my eyes about parenting. I'm sure there were some customers in the store that reacted much like I did when I was a young adult, and who thought I was a bad parent because of my son's tantrum. I just hope those people realize how impossible it is to "control" our kids sometimes!

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