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What to do when my child throws a fit in Target?

Part Two: What to do when my child throws a fit in Target and won't leave the store with me?

There are situations when parents do not have the time or space to offer

lengthy empathy. There are times when a parent needs compliance if they are going to get to their appointment on time, or maintain important boundaries. This blog is about the moments when a parent needs compliance, and does not have lengthy time for empathy.

In my last blog I described three questions parents must resolve when their child has an outburst. In this blog I have just one question for the parent to resolve: "Will I negotiate a deal or structure compliance?" By the end of this blog, my hope is for my readers to see why you can't do both.

In order to gain a child's compliance, the child must know without doubt, their best decision is the one the parent sets forth. If there is any uncertainty, the child has reason to continue a battle for other possible actions & decisions.

In order for a child to know the certainty of a parent's assertion, there a number of parameters which must be in place. Certainty is a byproduct of consistency in limits and follow through. When limits are communicated and remain the same over time, a child can predict where 'their fence will be, because it is where it has always been.' With Consistent follow through a child will know & trust you mean what you say - (and, they won't need to test you in times of struggle). For the parents who have now realized they could have been better with consistent limits and consistent follow through, all is not lost. These parents especially will want to read the next blog.

From the above, we can see what to do when your child throws a fit in target

begins well before you ever go to target. Start establishing a lot of communication about family rules and limits, and build consistency of limits with predictable follow through. A great short cut to assist your efforts for consistency is be prepared, practiced, and rehearsed with scripted short responses to use in times needing compliance. With practiced scripts for disturbances, you will be able to avoid negotiation, and convey certainty in having given them their best option - compliance. Very important: stick to your script! Any verging off your script means you have been pulled into negotiation!

My three principles for times needing compliance:

  1. This is not about what is "fair"

  2. This is not about keeping the child happy

  3. This is not open for discussion

All three of the above need to be accepted by the parent, because without these three principles the child will have openings for negotiation, and negotiation implies uncertainty of outcome. Uncertainty of outcomes give a child reason to continue a fight for other possible outcomes. For my sci-fi friends, you want the child to know with out a shadow of a doubt, "resistance is futile" - this is the limit, and it will be enforced.

So, inevitably tantrums will happen, and at inconvenient times, and you may find yourself

needing compliance - hopefully you are prepared. But, here is what you might try regardless to your level of preparation. Start with empathy every time (see my last post), but when you run out of time, move to giving two choices: compliance without consequence, and non-compliance with consequence. The compliance behavior should be stated as a specific one step command. Allow their choice, and follow through.

One example: (3 y.o.) Calmly stating, "If you choose to get off the floor and stop screaming, you are choosing to stay in the store with mommy. If you choose to continue screaming, you are choosing for mommy to carry you out of the store and go home." is a good example of stating a consequence for behavior you disapprove. The child continuing to throw a tantrum (and thereby choosing to be carried out) is likely example of a child deciding you don't yet know how mad they are. And, perhaps this is also proof for NOT having extended enough empathy. Empathy does not change the consequences of behavior, but lack of empathy may change the method the child chooses to express themselves!

Parenting has to be one of the biggest responsibilities, and toughest jobs. I can't

pretend to have an answer to every possible variation of resistance, opposition, or defiance. What I have given is the foundation on top of which specifics of naming & asserting consequences can be considered. For many practical and specific ideas, I suggest the following books:

References & Resources:

  • Parenting with Love and Logic (many specific examples)

  • Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood

  • No Drama discipline

  • Beyond logic, consequences, and control

Important last note: I do not consider consequence to mean the same as punishment. I advocate natural & logical consequences, and I do not favor punishment. Punishment interferes with connected relationship, and a safe relationship is what is needed most! To learn more about my distinctions between the two you can read my next blog post.

Playmore & Prosper is a collaborative community of health and wellness professionals who provide a unique, evidence-based, experiential approach to counseling and wellness services for kids and families. Our mission is to invite people into personal growth experiences through activity and the expressive arts. 

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