Bananaman

When your toddler has a tantrum, ignore it.  They want you to give them attention, and if you do, you reinforce the behavior.  I tell this to parents in my office almost every day.  Now that I have an 18-month-old at home, I do my best to follow my own advice and appreciate how hard it is to be a textbook perfect parent.  Beyond the embarrassment and shame you feel in front of other parents, there is the genuine concern for your child—maybe he is actually suffering—and your own personal desire to end the tantrum (and everyone’s misery) by giving in.  I am not easily rattled, though, so I usually hold out and this strategy was working well until I went to Whole Foods.

N has recently become obsessed with bananas, so when he shouted “nanas” and pointed toward the produce section, I figured it was a good idea to stock up.  While the bananas sat on the check-out conveyor belt, they seemed to taunt him and he descended into a banana-frenzied fit, complete with tears, frustrated pulls of the hair, kicking, and swatting away any substitutes I offered.  I thought to myself, well, he isn’t starving and they aren’t even ripe yet, so I’m just going to ignore him and hope this passes quickly.  I could feel the stares and glares from all around me.  I willed the cashier to speed up, but I held my ground.  Then, the Whole Foods Customer Service representative came over and said, “If you just want to give him a banana we won’t charge you.”  I was mortified that it had reached this point.  “It’s on the house!” he exclaimed, proud that he had solved this problem.  Doesn’t he know that this will only make it worse in the long-run?  I wanted to say, “Oh, why didn’t I think of that!” but instead, I surrendered, peeled, and handed over my power to my toddler.  As he furiously shoved the banana in his mouth, acting as if this was the first time I had ever fed him, I scanned the faces of the other customers hoping not to recognize anyone.   No friends, no patients, no DHS workers—phew.

There are times when every mom feels like a failure and tantrums certainly highlight these moments.  The next time we were at Whole Foods, a mom standing next to me apologized for her son’s whining with “I’m sorry, he’s a little wild,” and I gave her a knowing shrug and “so is he.”  N was amazingly calm though and a Whole Foods employee actually rewarded him with a knit giraffe.  This made me feel like the many moms who have reassured me in the past but then seemed to have angelic children, making me hate them even more, and I felt guilty for being on the other side.  I still give parents the same advice about tantrums, although I know we all break the rules sometimes.  Like toddlers, we all have our moments of success and failure.  One time Whole Foods is bribing you with bananas and the next time you are celebrated with handmade toys.  Either way, this kid has learned how to score Whole Foods swag.

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7 Comments

  1. I could feel your pain while reading this wonderful post. I have been there and still remember the anxiety those temper tantrums caused me.

  2. We’ve all been there!! At our Whole Foods in Hawaii, all kids can get a free piece of fruit when you’re shopping there, so I always take advantage of that…it will keep Malia occupied for at least 15 minutes while I run around throwing things into the cart 🙂 You’re doing a great job…I find that all these experiences (good and bad) make you a better pediatrician!

  3. Oh bananas–toddlers just love you waay too much!

    I’ve been lucky to not have many store/public tantrums…however, at the end of a rather short Costco trip my little one decided to throw a fit about not being allowed to sit INSIDE the cart. The two ladies helping to bag us up worked as fast as they could, and towards the end said–“Oh we left a space for her in the cart.”…and yeah, I wasn’t about to give in after all that, especially since it would probably set up some expectations for our next shopping trip. The ladies looked annoyed that I wasn’t giving into their suggestion, but ya know…sometimes you have to stick to your guns, and then sometimes you judge the situation and decide this is not the battle to fight. Either way, it’s never easy.

  4. My kid hasn’t reached this point yet, but I’ve been wondering: what do you do if a well-meaning acquaintance offers your kid something you *really* don’t want them to have? For example, chocolate candy at 9 am? Would it be too rude to say, “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow her to eat candy in the morning”? Accept it and save it for later? Or do you just give in and let the kid have it?

    1. Ah… that is always a tricky one. I usually try to defer it until later, like “thanks, we’ll enjoy that after lunch” or “oooh… a special treat for later.” If it’s harmless enough though, I just give in. Someone recently gave N a frozen Snickers bar ice cream at a BBQ. It was more than I would have given him, so I just said, “Mommy and Daddy are going to share with you.” We both took big bites and gave him the little bit left over. Everyone wins!

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