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.