Most every mother has experienced something like this — you’re at the grocery store, busy juggling carts, food items and kids, when one of your children starts throwing a temper tantrum. You do your best to console them, trying to ignore the irritated glances of your fellow shoppers, and then, with a stress level through the roof, you finally flee the premises. These experiences are emotionally draining and can feel a little embarrassing as well.
When you see another mom struggling with her kid(s) at the store, don't you just wish you could go over and help somehow to ease the stress you can see on her face?
I can remember a time when I was a young mother and my newborn baby screamed the entire time we were trying to check out. While this might not seem like an extraordinary experience, this particular instance was life altering for me.
As my son tested his young lungs to see how loud he could be, and as I allowed my stress to build, an older woman walked by and made eye contact with me. She smiled and said, “Be calm, let him scream. We’ve all been there. The most important thing you can do when your baby is crying in public is be calm and not worry about how other people are seeing you.”
I instantly felt the truth of her words. She was right. When I couldn’t console him immediately, my job was to be calm, to trust that it would not last, and to remember that he would be okay. Calmness is one of the most rare and powerful qualities in human life to develop. At that moment I knew I could choose calmness in spite of my son’s actions, and that I needed to develop that power to be successful in motherhood.
My 17-year-old daughter Paije had her own experience a few days ago that further emphasized this need to develop habits of calmness as a mother.
Tantrums and a Wise 17 Year Old
When Paije returned home from her trip to the grocery store the other day, she related a frustrating experience to me. While waiting in line to purchase a few items, a mother arrived at the self-checkout station with a full cart and two small children.
A little girl in the cart sat calmly and quietly, while a boy of about four or five years of age was screaming, shouting and crying uncontrollably as he pulled on his mother’s clothes to get her attention. As my daughter continued to listen, she deduced that the son was crying over a toy that he had been denied a few moments earlier.
“I … want my … motorcycle!!!” he cried repeatedly, as his mother determinedly ignored him.
“I … want my motorcycle!” he continued, as he sniffled and fussed.
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow when you’re calm and happy,” said the mother.
“I want it … now!” screamed the boy.
“No, we’re not getting it right now,” replied the mother.
As Paije was finishing up her purchase, the mother started yelling at her child to stop making such a fuss. As she struggled to keep him in control, she was losing her cool. The son then started to walk to the toy aisle to go get “his motorcycle,” even though his mother had told him not to. The mother then threatened him by saying, “I’m going to leave you!” The son trudged back, even more upset than he was before, and they quickly left the store.
If we took the time, we could probably diagnose what happened in this situation to cause things to escalate so quickly. Maybe the mom and her son had developed a habit of power struggles; maybe she was worn down by a pattern of tantrums in the past. In the end, it doesn’t matter why the situation started — the only thing that matters is how to stop it from happening again.
Paije told me she was sad that she didn’t have any of my business cards in her wallet with her to give to this mother, who was obviously at her wit’s end. I could tell it really broke Paije’s heart that she felt powerless to help.
“Mom, I really wanted to help this mother at the store," said Paije, "But I knew she wouldn’t have listened to a seventeen year old about how to parent an out-of-control child."
Could a 17-year-old youth really offer helpful advice to a struggling mother?
Since Paije regularly helps me train adult couples on how to teach their children self-government skills, I asked her, “What would you have said to her if you had the chance?”
A Letter From A 17-Year-Old Parenting Mentor
“To the Mother of the ScreamingChild in the Grocery Store Line:
Ma’am, I couldn’t help but notice that you were a bit stressed and upset with your son at the store. Don’t worry — everyone has situations like this at one point or another. Can I offer some advice? There are things you can do to stay calm, while at the same time helping your child be calm as well.
Here are four easy skills children can learn to help them be more happy and obedient:
- Following Instructions
- Accepting “No” Answers
- Accepting Consequences/Criticism
- Disagreeing Appropriately
The skills your strong-willed son needs most in situations like the tantrum about the motorcycle are accepting “no” answers and disagreeing appropriately. Then he’ll be able to calmly explain his thoughts and choose to be calm and say “okay” if you still choose to tell him “no.” Learning these skills will help your son learn to govern his emotions. I was raised on these skills and have noticed over the years that knowing how to govern myself has given me a lot of peace, freedom and happiness.
Paije (age 17)"
Skills Promote Calmness
Learning self-mastery takes time and is a lifetime pursuit, so the odds of children still having the occasional meltdown are still high. However, if parents learn to correct calmly and consistently with these skills, children will come to choose happiness and self-government — which are vital to family unity.