It’s 5:00 PM, you’re still in high heels, and the growing lines in the crowded grocery store appear to be stagnant. Your child’s rumpled hair and paint-spattered clothing hint at an active day at preschool. As the line slowly advances, you are now positioned DIRECTLY in front of the decadent candy display at the check-out counter. Time seems to stand still as you realize sweet little Skye spots his favorite sugary treat. He freezes, closing in on his prize target. He then removes his hands from his mouth and tugs on your now wrinkled sleeve, urgently pointing with his chubby, moist fingers. “Mommy, I want CANDY!” You know all too well that denying his increasingly desperate requests will result in a colossal meltdown. You become painfully aware that regardless of your next move, you are on display for the entire judge and jury of agitated shoppers. The stakes are high, but in your infinite wisdom you remember that you are older, bigger and smarter than a three-year old.

Suddenly, in what you believe just might be potentially your most brilliant parenting moment, you propose a Nobel Peace Prize-worthy compromise. You immediately take a knee, flash your most enchanting princess smile, and using your best ooey-gooey teacher impression explain that the coveted candy may be purchased, but not actually consumed until after dinner. Without warning, the negotiations take a spiraling nosedive as your child falls prostrate to the ground, wailing and gyrating with award-winning theatrics. The drama continues to escalate as you ponder your next move: abort mission, retreat, evacuate. In defeat, you shamefully relinquish your spot in line, scooping up your flailing child. As you leave behind a trail of carefully selected abandoned groceries, you frantically consult Siri for emergency pizza delivery.

Most adults have either witnessed the complete public unravelling of parent and/or child or have lived to tell of their own personal Mt. Vesuvius- sized shopping eruptions. If this is a relatively common problem, what can a savvy parent do to correct this behavior in their children? In the majority of cases, early childhood experts agree that, since it is extremely challenging to de-escalate an out-of-control preschooler, proactivity is the best strategy to combat tantrums. Here are three steps you can take today to tame your child’s inner ogre within from making his next unwelcome appearance:

1. Identify patterns and triggers.

After the shellshock of the dreaded ambush has subsided, take a good hard look at when the tantrums are occurring as well as any contributing circumstances. My younger sister and I have two completely different views of our childhood. She sums up the whole experience as being cold, wet, and hungry because our single dad kept us active with outdoor adventures including skiing and whitewater canoe racing. While my sister may be just a tad dramatic, I do recall most of our excursions resulting in her physical and emotional collapse. Watch to see if patterns emerge with your child. Is there a certain time of day that should be avoided such as when he is hungry or tired right before meal or bedtime?

2. Consistently set limits and follow through.

Once a pattern of triggers is established, use extra care around those times, places or people. Prepare him ahead of time by clearly explaining the expectations and outlining the consequences that will occur for making the wrong choice and be sure to follow through!

3. Adjust accordingly.

Early childhood is a fleeting season. My purse actually had crumbs in the bottom when my children were young because we never left the house without snacks. Start with realistic goals. I’m not suggesting avoiding restaurants and stores completely, but I have come to realize that grocery delivery is a truly beautiful thing. An added plus, you don’t have to push around a cart with the germs of every neighborhood toddler on the handle.

With just a little planning and a few minor adjustments, you can help your child successfully overcome temper tantrums. Mastering the supermarket is just the beginning. Imagine the possibilities! You might actually be able to tackle a play, tame a social event or even take on a cross-country adventure!

Cindy Hartwig
Preschool Director
All Aboard Preschool